Foreigners need not apply

March 16, 2001

Lioba Simon-Schuhmacher is disturbed by Spain's unwelcoming attitude towards foreign academics.

Spaniards with degrees obtained in their home country are to be found teaching at almost every European university. But it is a tough task to trace academics from other European nations working at Spanish higher education institutions.

Why is this? Despite Spain's membership of the European Union, making it subject to EU regulations on the validation of diplomas and degrees obtained in other member states, the Spanish authorities continue to use the tactics of Come Back Tomorrow , the famous essay in which 19th-century writer Mariano José de Larra criticised the clumsiness and inefficacy of the Spanish bureaucracy, which caused applicants to give up.

Spanish universities require validation procedures to be completed before they consider applications for academic posts. The original degree or diploma certificate has to be submitted to the Ministry of Education and Culture, together with copies of officially translated and legally validated documents.

EU regulations stipulate a four-month limit for this procedure: under Spanish law it should not exceed six months. But in many cases, it has taken three or four years. Candidates who inquire about the progress of their application find the six telephone lines at the ministry either engaged or unanswered.

The ministry compares the content of subjects and the duration of courses completed by applicants with degree courses considered to be their equivalent in Spain. The ministry can consult the university council, whose opinion, though it may be favourable, is not binding. In many cases, the education authorities inform the applicants that the content of the courses they studied does not coincide with the Spanish equivalent. Then the candidates have to take examinations, repeat academic years or resit final exams under the Spanish system. In several cases, the application for validation has been refused outright.

To illustrate the hardship this causes the many EU citizens who wish to settle in Spain, the cases of three European graduates are worthy of consideration. Their names have been changed to avoid further delays or possible rejection.

• Italian Paola P. completed a degree in German language and literature at the University of Turin in 1986. It was accepted by the German authorities and, after the selection and interview process, she was appointed associate lecturer at the University of Halle in 1990.

For family reasons (her Spanish husband was appointed to a post in a university at home), she decided to move to Spain. At the beginning of 1999, Paola asked for a leave of absence, submitted her original degree for validation by the Spanish authorities and applied for a post similar to the one she held in Germany.

After eight months she was asked to submit the list of contents for all the courses she had taken 15 years earlier, to determine which subjects she would need to study again for validation to be granted. In the meantime, her leave expired and she had to return to Germany while her husband remained in Spain.

• Kees M., from the Netherlands, has an MA in European and Spanish studies from the University of Amsterdam. Through the EU's Erasmus programme he undertook doctoral studies at a Spanish university, deciding to finish his thesis and settle there.

In March 1998, he sent the original degree certificates to the ministry. Meanwhile, he has applied for several associate lecturer posts, but he was excluded from the selection procedures.

• German Monika K., who speaks four languages, holds a degree in agricultural engineering from the University of Hohenheim. After completing her doctorate, she obtained her first job as a scientist, working for the research councils in Great Britain, where she worked for two years. Then, within the same organisation, she was appointed as a research and development representative in Brussels as well as being accepted as an expert in scientific matters by the European Parliament in Luxemburg.

When she moved to Spain for personal reasons in autumn 1995, she collected (and had official translations made of) all the documents for validation. The first official response arrived in February 1998, stating that deficiencies had been observed in diverse subjects. Immediately she lodged a counterclaim and after another year she was informed that her degree was not acceptable, despite a favourable opinion of the university council that recognised her degree and her doctorate as equivalent to Spain's.

She resigned in June 1999 and reapplied for validation of an inferior qualification - a diploma in technical agricultural engineering.

The list of similar cases could be as long as the list of Spaniards working in higher education in the EU. Apart from the lack of bureaucratic courtesy, it is a deliberate flouting of the European Community regulations and even of national ones.

Are the Spanish authorities implying that course design at the universities of Almería or La Coruña is superior to that of the universities of Heidelberg or Toulouse?

The professional and personal damage caused to the individuals concerned is obvious, but Spain is potentially harming itself by rejecting or dissuading qualified experts, especially at universities where a breath of fresh air and a healthy sense of competition is most needed.

Finally, is it in the spirit of the EU that a member country can freely send its nationals abroad while discouraging fellow EU citizens from coming in?

Lioba Simon-Schuhmacher is a lecturer in philology at the University of Oviedo, Spain.

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