Although public and private expenditure as a percentage of GDP is a good measure of the effort made by countries to support their education systems, these financial resources can be used on pupil and student populations of very different sizes. When considering the performance of the education systems and how this relates to the financial resources made available to them, it is necessary to look at the expenditure per pupil or student.
The direct expenditure on educational institutions, funded either by public or private funds, is typically used as a measure for the financial resources made available per student. Expenditure on educational institutions is more directly connected to the provision of educational programmes and therefore to the quality of the education provided. For 2008, the expenditure in EU educational institutions, from primary to tertiary education, was 6 459 PPS (Purchasing Power Standards) per student (Table 2). It ranged from 2 840 PPS in Bulgaria to 8 836 PPS in Austria.
In general, the expenditure per student increases with the level of education. In 2008, in the EU, 5 348 PPS were spent per pupil in primary education, while in secondary the amount was 6 607 PPS and in tertiary education it was 9 296 PPS. The cost per student at tertiary level was higher than for other educational levels in most other countries. The only exceptions were Estonia, Cyprus and Slovenia. Likewise, secondary education does not always cost more than primary. In Latvia, Poland, Slovenia and Slovakia, primary education costs more per pupil than secondary education.
In tertiary education (The expenditure per student data for tertiary education includes R&D expenditure, which in many countries makes up a significant part), Sweden had the highest expenditure per student in the EU, with 15 556 PPS. Four other EU Member States spent more than 12 000 PPS per student on tertiary education (the Netherlands, Denmark, Austria and the United Kingdom), while in five countries (Estonia, Poland, Bulgaria, Lithuania and Latvia) it did not reach 5 000 PPS.
However, not even the EU countries which spent the most per student in tertiary education can match the expenditure in the United States. The 15 556 PPS spent per student in Sweden are just slightly above 65% of the 23 562 PPS spent per student in the US. Overall, for the entire EU, expenditure per student was less than 40% of what the US spent per student in 2008 in tertiary education.
More than 90% of the expenditure in public educational institutions was current expenditure. Capital expenditure was particularly significant in 2008 in Latvia (16%), Cyprus (15%), and Bulgaria, as well as the Netherlands (14%) and Spain (13%). It had the lowest weight in total expenditure in Belgium and Portugal (4%).