Lifelong Learning Platform | LLLP - European Civil Society for Education

Worrying trends in financing education in Europe: down by 11% since 2009!

Recently, Eurostat compiled an informed study on how much of their GDP EU countries destine to education, in all of its forms. The study refers to expenditures in 2015, and data are somehow very low. But they made us wonder: what’s the trend throughout the years?

We have compared the same study that Eurostat publishes regularly, and found out what we feared: Member States are decreasing their share of budget, diminishing the support to education.

2009 – 2013

This early report from Eurostat helps us set the context. In 2009 the average EU budget for education was 5.5%. It then decreased to 5.4% in 2010 and to 5.3% in 2011. In 2012 it went further down to 5.2% of the total national GDP, while in 2013 it stagnated.

File:General government expenditure on education, % of GDP V2.png

Public expenditures in education as percentage of GDP in EU Member States, 2012


In 2014, Juncker’s Commission settled in. The new President proclaimed that education would be a vital part of their European programme, and stated that MS could be convinced – in times of crisis – to invest in the social dimension. However, the correspondant Eurostat study shows that, at that time, the EU average was 5.1%. The highest public spending on education relative to GDP among the EU Member States was observed in Sweden (7.1 %), followed by Finland (6.8 %), while relatively high ratios were also recorded among the northern EFTA members of Iceland (7.0 %) and Norway (6.7 %) — see image below. Aside from Sweden and Finland, most of the Member States reported ratios of public expenditure on education relative to GDP that were between 3.5 % and 6.0 %, with only Romania below this range and Belgium, Cyprus and Malta above it.

Public expenditures in education as percentage of GDP in EU Member States, 2014


In 2015, the last available year, over €716 billion of general government expenditure was spent by the Member States on education. This expenditure is equivalent to 4.9% of the EU’s GDP. ‘Education’ is the fourth largest item of public expenditure, after ‘social protection’ (19.2%), ‘health’ (7.2%) and ‘general public services’ such as external affairs and public debt transactions (6.2%).

In 2015, the ratio to GDP of government expenditure for education varied by more than one to two across the EU Member States. Overall, 18 of the 28 Member States recorded a ratio of 5% or more. Which, despite its apparent positive impact, tells us that weaker countries are being left behind.

At the lower end was Romania (3.1%), followed by Ireland (3.7%), Bulgaria and Italy (both 4.0%), Spain (4.1%), Germany and Slovakia (both 4.2%) as well as Greece (4.3%). In contrast, Denmark (7.0%) spent the most in relative terms, ahead of Sweden (6.5%), Belgium (6.4%), Finland (6.2%), Estonia (6.1%), Latvia and Portugal (both 6.0%).

Public expenditures in education as percentage of GDP in EU Member States, 2015

Finally, a useful comparison: let’s check how much of their internal budget MS allocate to other sectors in the other Eurostat studies:


To sum up, the average expenditures on education decreased constantly from a share of 5.5% of GDP in 2009 to only 4.9% in 2015, despite the proclaims of the European Commission and national governments. We’re talking in 11% of disinvestment since 2009.

This trend is extremely worrying and the shrinking of funding undermines education in all of its sectors and forms. Furthermore, it reflects the increasing privatisation of education in our continent, that will eventually enlarge the economic and social cleavage in Europe. The Lifelong Learning Platform strongly opposes the voluntarily dismantling of public education and the increasing tendency to treat education like a marketable good: we will not stop asking the European institutions to increase their expenditures in education at European, national and local level.