As I noted yesterday, the American debate on PBF has more or less ignored evidence from beyond its shores; and yet, in Europe, there are several places that have very high levels of performance-based funding. Denmark has had what it calls a “taximeter” system, which pays institutions on the basis of student progression and completion, for over 20 years now, and it currently makes up about 30% of all university income. Most German Länder have some element of incentive-based funding on either student completion or time-to-completion; in some cases, they are also paid on the basis of the number of international students they attract (international students pay no tuition in Germany). In the Netherlands, graduation-based funding makes up over 60% of institution operating grants (or, near as I can tell, about 30% of total institutional income). The Czech Republic now gives out 20% of funding to institutions on a quite bewildering array of indicators, including internationalization, research, and student employment outcomes.
Given this, you’d think there might be a huge and copious literature about whether the introduction of these measures actually “worked” in terms of changing outcomes of the indicators in question. But you’d be wrong. There’s actually almost nothing. That’s not to say these programs haven’t been evaluated. The Danish taximeter system appears to have been evaluated four times (haven’t actually read these – Danish is fairly difficult), but the issue of dropouts doesn’t actually seem to have been at the core of any of them (for the record, Danish universities have relatively low levels of dropouts compared to other European countries, but it’s not clear if this was always the case or if it was the result of the taximeter policy). Rather, what gets evaluated is the quite different question of: “are universities operating more efficiently?”
This is key to understanding performance indicators in Europe. In many European countries, public funding makes up as close to 100% of institutional income as makes no odds. PBF has therefore often been a way of trying to introduce a quasi-market among institutions so as to induce competition and efficiency (and on this score, it usually gets fairly high marks). In North America, where pressures for efficiency are exerted through a competitive market for students, the need for this is – in theory at least – somewhat less. This largely explains the difference in the size of performance-based funding allocations; in Europe, these funds are often the only quasi-competitive mechanism in the system, and so (it is felt) they need to be on the scale of what tuition is in North America in order to achieve similar competitive effects.
Intriguingly, performance-based funding in Europe is at least as common with respect to research as it is to student-based indicators (a good country-by-country summary from the OECD is here). Quite often, a portion of institutional operating funding will be based on the value of competitive research won, a situation made possible by the fact that many countries in Europe separate their institutional grants into funding for teaching and funding for research in a way that would give North American universities the screaming heebie-jeebies. Basically: imagine if the provinces awarded a portion of their university grants on the same basis that Ottawa hands out the indirect research grants, only with less of the questionable favouritism towards smaller universities. Again, this is less about “improving overall results” than it is about keeping institutions in a competitive mindset.
So, how to interpret the evidence of the past three days? Tune in tomorrow.