Catholic university meets its saviour

June 19, 1998

A PRIVATE university in Spain may be saved from the threat of closure by a last-minute agreement with new financial backers.

The Catholic University of Avila, whose foundation provoked protests from many state universities last year, faced closure when the local bishop and university chancellor refused to act as its financial guarantors. The unnamed backers are believed to include religious organisations.

The university was founded by the former bishop of Avila, famous as the birthplace of St Theresa. The bishop claimed an obscure agreement between the Spanish state and the Vatican gave him the right to do so, but many state-sector academics did not agree. The protests that ensued created uncertainty that has kept student enrolments down to about 100.

The new bishop, Monsignor Adolfo Gonzalez, calculates the university needs more than Pounds 4 million to keep afloat. Although he supports the university, he said he could not risk the financial health of the diocese when he was asked to guarantee loans of Pounds 1.9 million.

"At the moment we cannot say that the university will continue or not, rather that we are working so that it may continue," he said.

Francisco Zurrian, deputy rector of academic affairs, is optimistic. "The board of governors has found a solution that is not just short term, but offers long term guarantees," he said. "The ball is now in the chancellor's court."

Professor Zurrian is convinced the university is viable, pointing out that 1,000 local students have left the city to study elsewhere and many more commute to the nearest universities in Salamanca, Segovia or El Escorial every day.

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