Dhe sharp increase in heating and electricity costs affects private households, companies, hospitals – and universities. This alone made their operation more expensive by around 1.3 billion euros last winter. The energy costs per student have increased by around 347 euros on average. This is shown by a study by the Donors’ Association for German Science in cooperation with the Heinz Nixdorf Foundation, which is available to the FAZ in advance. Many universities are now under pressure to implement savings because the financing of such high additional costs is not secured. About a third of university management fears that cuts in research or staff reductions will also be necessary.
The analysis is based on a broad-based survey of more than 400 public and private universities in Germany. This comparison shows the extent of the additional costs determined in this way: In 2021, the universities spent 9.1 billion euros on energy. The most recent price hikes have increased energy spending by a good 14 percent. This is due to different additional expenses depending on the university and subject area: While heating costs for lecture halls and offices are usually the largest item in the humanities, energy-intensive systems and laboratories are also particularly important in technical disciplines.
Different location depending on the state
According to the survey, more than half of the universities have so far assumed that their respective funders will not, or only partially, compensate for the acute increase in energy costs. For public universities, this is primarily about the so-called basic funding from the state budgets. In some federal states, tuition fees are also charged, for example for a second degree or from foreign students. Naturally, fees are a particularly important source of funding for private universities.
12 percent of the universities, including a disproportionately large number of private universities, did not expect any compensation for their additional costs for energy. Almost 40 percent had the prospect of partial compensation. Only 13 percent firmly believe that their sponsors will bear the additional costs in full. A good third did not yet have a clear overview at the time of the survey.
Depending on the federal state, public universities have to deal with very different conditions: According to the study, some states, including Bavaria, quickly agreed to take them over completely. Others, such as Hesse and Schleswig-Holstein, set up emergency funds. This means, however, that there are often gaps in financing – and usually also the question of how universities are to cope with the presumably permanently increased energy costs.
Higher tuition fees as a result?
The TU9 alliance of leading technical universities has drawn a vivid picture of the problems: Of course, all universities are making efforts to save heat, electricity and thus costs – but there are limits: “The suspension of complex computing power as well as the postponement of Experiments with particle accelerators lead to competitive disadvantages in the competition for the best international researchers,” they warned in a Bundestag hearing. Research Minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger (FDP) has now launched a hardship fund for very energy-intensive research. However, this does not yet look like a permanent solution, and the first funds will probably flow from it in the second half of the year.
And less energy-intensive areas remain dependent on other solutions. In addition to higher tuition fees, which the authors of the analysis, Pascal Hetze and Marian Burk, are already hinting at at some universities, the main focus is on cuts: According to the study, around half of the university management is preparing for economic losses for the university as well as savings in IT, in libraries or leisure facilities. A third each considered savings in research infrastructure, staff cuts in administration and cuts in scientific staff to be likely.
However, the authors warn that high energy costs “should not permanently damage the key tasks of teaching, research and transfer for Germany as a location for innovation”. In addition to funding for science, concrete solutions should also be considered: more investment in energy-efficient university buildings. Since the federal government wants to make the entire German building sector climate-neutral, it makes sense to set a good example with public buildings such as universities.