Higher Education

, Volume 59, Issue 1, pp 85–103 | Cite as

Comparing efficiency in a cross-country perspective: the case of Italian and Spanish state universities

  • Tommaso Agasisti
  • Carmen Pérez-Esparrells


The growing internationalization of European Higher Education requires more emphasis on cross-country comparisons. In this paper, an efficiency analysis of Italian and Spanish universities is conducted; as well as from a comparative perspective. The efficiency scores are obtained using data envelopment analysis. The results demonstrate a good average efficiency in both countries relative to each “country-specific” frontier; but when compared together, Italian universities seem relatively more efficient. Malmquist indexes show, in both cases, efficiency improvements in the period considered. In the Italian case, this improvement is due to major “technological changes”; that is, the introduction of some structural reforms in the sector (e.g., Bachelor/Master curricula). In the Spanish case, there is an improvement in “pure” efficiency, which is due to new funding models. Further stages of the study underline the role of “regional effects”, probably due to different socio-economic conditions in Italy, and to the decentralization process in Spain.


Efficiency analyses Universities Data envelopment analysis Malmquist indexes Decentralization 



We are grateful to M. Abbott, A. Dal Bianco, G. Catalano, B. Jongbloed, G. Johnes, M. McMillan, J. G. Mora and C. Salerno, who provided useful comments on earlier drafts of this paper. Comments by anonymous referees also helped in improving the paper. Obviously, all eventual errors are our own.


  1. Abbott, M., & Doucouliagos, C. (2003). The efficiency of Australian universities: A data envelopment analysis. Economics of Education Review, 22(1), 89–97. doi: 10.1016/S0272-7757(01)00068-1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Agasisti, T., & Dal Bianco, A. (2006). Data envelopment analysis to the Italian University system: Theoretical issues and policy implications. International Journal of Business Performance Management, 8(4), 344–367. doi: 10.1504/IJBPM.2006.009613.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Agasisti, T., & Johnes, G. (2006). Heterogeneity and the evaluation of efficiency: The case of Italian universities. Lancaster University Management School (mimeo).Google Scholar
  4. Agasisti, T., & Johnes, G. (2009). Beyond frontiers: Comparing the efficiency of higher education decision-making units across countries. Education Economics, 17(1), 59–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Athanassopoulos, A. D., & Shale, E. (1997). Assessing the comparative efficiency of higher education institutions in the UK by means of data envelopment analysis. Education Economics, v5(2), 117–134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bonaccorsi, A., & Daraio, C. (2007). Universities and strategic knowledge creation. Specialization and performance in Europe. Cheltenham, UK and Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar.Google Scholar
  7. Carrington, R., Coelli, T., & Rao, P. (2005). Measuring the performance of Australian universities: Conceptual issues and initial results. Economic Papers, 24(2), 145–163.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Caves, D. W., Christensen, L. R., & Diewert, W. E. (1982). Multilateral comparisons of output, input, and productivity using superlative index numbers. The Economic Journal, 92(365), 73–86. doi: 10.2307/2232257.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cohn, E., Rhine, S., & Santos, M. (1989). Institutions of higher education as multi-product firms: Economies of scale and scope. The Review of Economics and Statistics, 71(2), 284–290. doi: 10.2307/1926974.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cooper, W. W., Seiford, L. M., & Tone, K. (2006). Introduction to data envelopment analysis and its uses. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  11. CRUE. (2006). La Universidad Española en Cifras. Madrid: CRUE.Google Scholar
  12. EU—European Commission. (2006). Efficiency and equity in European education and training systems. COM (2006) 481 final.Google Scholar
  13. Johnes, J. (2004). Efficiency measurement. In G. Johnes & J. Johnes (Eds.), International handbook on the economics of education. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd.Google Scholar
  14. Johnes, G. (2006a). Education and economic growth. Lancaster University Management School. Working paper no. 2006/019.Google Scholar
  15. Johnes, J. (2006b). Data envelopment analysis and its application to the measurement of efficiency in higher education. Economics of Education Review, 25(3), 273–288. doi: 10.1016/j.econedurev.2005.02.005.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Johnes, G., & Johnes, J. (1995). Research funding and performance in U.K. Departments of Economics: A frontier analysis. Economics of Education Review, 14(3), 301–314. doi: 10.1016/0272-7757(95)00008-8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Johnes, G., & Salas-Velasco, M. (2007). The determinants of costs and efficiencies where producers are heterogeneous: The case of Spanish universities. Economic Bulletin, 4(15), 1–9.Google Scholar
  18. Joumady, O., & Ris, C. (2005). Performance in European higher education: A non-parametric production frontier approach. Education Economics, 13(2), 189–205. doi: 10.1080/09645290500031215.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Malmquist, S. (1953). Index numbers and indifference surfaces. Trabajos de Esdatistica, 4(1), 209–242. doi: 10.1007/BF03006863.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Martínez Cabrera, M. (2000). Análisis de la Eficiencia Productiva de las Instituciones de Educación Superior. Papeles de Economía Española, (86), 179–191.Google Scholar
  21. McMillan, M. L., & Chan, W. H. (2006). University efficiency: A comparison and consolidation of results from stochastic and non stochastic methods. Education Economics, 14(1), 1–30. doi: 10.1080/09645290500481857.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. McMillan, M. L., & Datta, D. (1998). The relative efficiencies of Canadian universities: A DEA perspective. Canadian Public Policy, 24(4), 485–511. doi: 10.2307/3552021.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. OECD. (2006a). Education policy analysis: Focus on higher education. Paris: OECD.Google Scholar
  24. OECD. (2006b). Education at a glance 2006. Paris: OECD.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. OECD. (2007). Education at a glance 2007. Paris: OECD.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Pérez-Esparrells, C. (2004). La Educación Universitaria en España: El Vínculo entre Financiación y Calidad. Revista de Educación (Ministerio de Educación y Ciencia), Septiembre–Diciembre(335), 305–316.Google Scholar
  27. Warning, S. (2004). Performance differences in German higher education: Empirical analysis of strategic groups. Review of Industrial Organization, 24(4), 393–408. doi: 10.1023/B:REIO.0000037538.48594.2c.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Zhu, J. (2003). Quantitative models for performance evaluation and benchmarking. Boston, MA: Kluwer.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Management, Economics and Industrial EngineeringPolitecnico di MilanoMilanItaly
  2. 2.Department of Economics and Public FinanceUniversidad Autónoma de MadridMadridSpain

Personalised recommendations