Change of rule pleases rectors

March 26, 2004

Spanish universities face sweeping changes after voters brought the Socialist Party to power in a surprise victory after the Madrid bombing.

The socialists have promised to increase funding and to reverse changes pushed through by the previous government.

Many academics are likely to view the departure of Jose Mar!a Aznar's rightwing government with some relief. His eight-year rule was marked by frequent confrontations between government and rectors.

"We feel more hopeful now that things will be done in cooperation with the government," said Domingo Docampo, rector of Vigo University.

The new government is expected to change significant aspects of the 2002 universities law, which has provoked protests.

One crucial change will be to replace the habilitation exam with a system of accreditation for would-be lecturers, giving universities more freedom to choose their academic staff. "Getting rid of habilitation is the biggest favour you can do for universities," Professor Docampo said.

The socialists will increase the independence of the national quality agency, Aneca, set up in 2002.

Mar!a JesNos Sansegundo, an economist from Madrid's Carlos III University, is seen as the most likely new education minister.

The incoming government intends to bring higher education and research back under the same ministry, dismantling the Ministry of Science and Technology.

The ministry was often accused of inefficiency. "The constant changes in funding methods have been very negative," said Francisco Toledo, rector of Castell"n's Jaume I University.

New prime minister Jose Luis Zapatero has pledged to increase funding for universities to 1.5 per cent of gross national product in four years. Some of this money will go directly to students to ensure 40 per cent of them get a grant within four years. Student loans will be introduced for third and final-year students.

There will also be more money for research. The government will increase spending on research and development by 25 per cent a year, aiming to reach 2 per cent of GNP by 2010. An agency for funding research will be established to combine "private sector efficiency with public sector accountability", according to Mr Zapatero.

Most rectors see the change of government as positive. Juan V zquez, president of the Conferencia de Rectores de las Universidades Espanolas, said: "The Socialist Party's speeches (during the electoral campaign) share a lot of our concerns and ideas."

  • Sir Colin Lucas, vice-chancellor of Oxford University, sent a message of sympathy to Carlos Berzosa, rector of Complutense University of Madrid, after the terrorist attacks. The message was delivered on behalf of the Europaeum consortium of leading European universities.

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