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The Biggest Threats that Universities are Facing

February 3, 2023

Universities have been around for centuries, with some even suggesting that the first university was established in 859 A.D. Throughout its rich and ever growing history, universities have faced many challenges, but what are some of the biggest threats they are currently facing? 

  1. Funding: many universities have been facing financial challenges due to declining government funding and rising costs. According to data from the European University Association, 30% of universities in Europe reported a decrease in government funding in the past year. This has forced institutions to implement cuts in programs and resources, increase tuition fees for students, and decrease the number of student services. It’s also forced universities to become more scalable and digitalized. 
  2. Accessibility: although not entirely new, universities are also facing pressure to increase accessibility for underrepresented groups, such as low-income students and students from marginalized communities. According to data from the European Association for International Education, only 35% of students at European universities come from low-income households. The difficulty also arises that many students who have parents with university degrees are much more likely to also pursue a degree than students who do not have parents with university degrees. As a correlation exists between socioeconomic status and race/ethnicity, universities have generally been overrepresented by wealthier, non-minority students. 
  3. Mental health: an issue that has recently become more pressing, is the issue of student mental health. Although the problem existed before the global pandemic, student wellbeing has really been moved to the foreground in recent years.  A survey conducted by the National Union of Students in the UK found that 75% of students have experienced mental health issues while at university. As a result, university investment in student facilities and support programs has risen drastically. 
  4. Climate change: universities have also, similar to other large institutions, been pressured to respond accordingly to climate change. There have been more and more reports of student protests and demonstrations for universities to reduce their carbon footprint and promote sustainability on campus. For example, in 2022 at multiple Dutch universities, student groups took over the offices of top-level management, demanding they take more steps to appropriately tackle climate change.

Although the exact threats that every university faces will be different, the four challenges above seem to be a common denominator. Other challenges that have not been addressed include the rise of student debt, the decreases guarantee of finding a job after graduation, the rise of AI tools to circumvent traditional plagiarism tools and sexual harassment.

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