The University Today: Economics


This is the third of four posts on trends shaping the world of higher education today. The original audience for this material was the 2015 World Assembly of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, a gathering of collegiate ministry leaders from over 150 countries in Oaxtepec, Mexico. The two previous posts have dealt with internationalization, and technology.

This week, I turn to the economic issues shaping the landscape of higher education and consider the implications this has on research programs, the fate of academic programs, and access to higher education for prospective students from various socio-economic backgrounds. The questions I pose at the end concern the issues of justice and equity raised by these economic trends.


Universities in most countries are facing economic pressures. In many settings, state subsidies of higher education has been significantly cut. Part of this reflects the massive debt loads many countries are facing. This also is reflected in changes in global research funding trends. The U.S. accounted for 37 % of research funding in 2001, but only 30% in 2011. EU funding dropped from 26 to 22 % in the same period while East and Southeast Asia research funding increased from 25 to 34 %.[1]

What these economic pressures have led to is the increasing corporatization of the university. Academic departments are being treated as “profit centers” and expansions or cuts in programs are determined almost solely on the basis of revenues generated. There has been a spate of articles in American media about the growth of the administrative class while growth in tenured faculty positions has been far slower, and universities increasingly rely upon lecturers or adjunct faculty to control costs.

One of the factors that drive international student enrollments is that many are subsidized by their governments or represent the economic elites of their countries and can afford to pay premium tuitions, enhancing the bottom lines of cash-strapped institutions.

The other economic issue is that students and their families are bearing increasing financial burdens for education, and this may lead to a new elitism in education. Student debt in the U.S. is currently estimated at $1.3 trillion dollars.[2] In countries where the cost of education is increasingly shifted to students, there is a danger of accentuating class divisions and opportunity inequities.


  1. How might we advocate for shalom and justice in the university as it struggles with issues of cost?
  2. What ought to be our response if we find ourselves in the elite, or ministering to the cultural elites on our campuses?

[1] (last accessed 6/22/2016).

[2] (last accessed 6/22/2016).

One thought on “The University Today: Economics

  1. Pingback: The University Today: Secularization | Bob on Books

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