Friday, 01 June 2012

Reforms and cuts, the prelude of a reconversion of Spanish universities

Reforms and cuts, the prelude of a reconversion of Spanish universities

Cuts and erosion of education are not something new in Spain, a country where public expenditure in higher education is only 1.1%. Regions finance more than 90% of education, and those in the hands of conservative parties have reduced education funding since 2009. The situation rapidly deteriorated during 2011, when 15 of the 17 regions were governed by conservative parties. The worst cuts have been inflicted on universities whose budgets have been reduced by 12% on average, with decreases up to 20% in some regions.
After the financial asphyxia of public universities, the conservative government (Partido Popular), who won the national elections in November 2011 and holds most of regional power, have continued with their disastrous plans to reform public universities.
First, national funds that are given directly by the Ministry of Education to universities will be cut. A total reduction of 62.5% is planned in the General Budget. In addition to this, grants and scholarships at all levels of education will suffer a reduction of 8.5%, Erasmus grants will decrease by 41%, and the funds that the central government directly reimburses to universities to compensate for those students who are partially or totally exempt of fees have been reduced by 19.4%.
Second, in another turn of the screw, a recent decree will increase privatisation in higher education and undermine quality, equity and institutional autonomy. Tuition fees will increase from 15% to 25%. The purpose is to adjust prices to total cost. Also, perfectly in line with the decrease in grants mentioned above, family income will no longer be the main criteria by which grants and scholarships are assigned to students. Professors' teaching hours may be raised by33% (but also decreased) taking into account a non-compulsory evaluation of research (used to complement salaries) that discriminates against professional categories and even disciplines. The reform establishes a minimum number of students required maintain a university programme, and private companies can additionally propose programmes. Also, very worrying are the reforms related to university financing and budgetary control. The university deficit is set to 0. Those universities that incur debt will see budget cut to the same amount. Universities can be directly supervised by regional governments in case they do not follow new very strict requirements. The decree, aiming a reduction of staff, sets strict limits to new contracts. All teaching careers, but especially early teacher ones, are at risk.
Once the foundations are placed, the next step will be a new university law. A commission of eleven experts falsely point out the inefficacies of the system (in this plan misinformation is a very important weapon). Before their report even began the conclusions were already written: fee increases; privatisation; closure of universities, faculties and programmes; the reduction of collegial governance and changes to the procedures for selection of professors (eliminate tenures).
Universities and all the education community oppose these reforms and unions have driven the mobilisations of the 'Red-Hot Spring' in defence of public education which led to a national strike on May 22. We oppose the reforms because we all know that - aligned with international trends - they aim to place higher education under the control of markets and to influence the education of citizens.

Last modified on Wednesday, 06 June 2012
María Luisa Sánchez Simón

María Luisa Sánchez Simón is an advisor on higher education for the Spanish teachers' federation, FECCOO. At the regional level in Galicia, she is a member of the executive board of CCOO. She is also a professor of fluid mechanics at the University of La Coruña, Spain.

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