The Program for Research on Private Higher Education
Dedicated to Building Knowledge about Private Higher Education around the World
WP No.21

The Relative Importance of Private Higher Education in Europe


Levy, D.C. (2016).  "The Relative Importance of Private Higher Education in Europe." PROPHE Working Paper No.21.

This working paper is a revision of “How Important is Private Higher Education in Europe? A Regional Analysis in Global Context,” European Journal of Education, Vol. 47, No.2, 2012 : 178-97, with expressed permission from John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Although the more conventional trajectory is that working paper precedes published journal article, the present reverse conversion has its purposes. The main one concerns readership. An article published in a European education journal has a mostly regional readership interested in various education issues. Scholars and others with large interest in private higher education (PHE) are much more likely to see this working paper here on the PROPHE website than as the journal article. We tweak the original accordingly. We also insert updated data but we leave the original data and calculation intact. One reason is that the data have not changed fundamentally and thus do not change our substantive conclusions. 


The importance of private higher education (PHE) is clear globally. But how much does Europe fit the global generalisation? We assess this question with reference to two major considerations: the size of PHE and the degree of private-public difference. The growth of PHE in Europe has been delayed and limited compared to that in most of the world, though still significant. For the 27-member European Union, the PHE share is best put at 15.6% or 12.0%. Our own dataset for Europe defined more broadly, as over 40 countries, produces similar figures. (Our latest dataset for Europe puts the share at 14.6%.) These figures portray a region whose private enrolment share is less than half that of the global private share. Within the region the share is higher in Eastern than in Western Europe. In terms of distinctiveness, European PHE differs from public higher education in important respects that reflect world patterns. Inter-sectoral differences are decisive in finance. Though less quantifiable, they appear fundamental albeit blurred in some but not all aspects of governance and activities. Blurring in activities, governance, and even finance occurs through changes within both sectors, especially through partial privatisation within the public sector. Still, Europe's private sector is far from simply isomorphic to the public sector. Considering together size and distinctiveness, a reasonable assessment is that PHE has moderate and increased importance in Europe.

Date Published:
Jun 2016