Hope for university reforms follows Spanish election

March 24, 2000

As Spain's ruling Popular Party savours victory at the polls, academics are critical of the government's record on universities but cautiously optimistic for the future.

"The last legislature was not especially brilliant for universities," said Antonio Aguado, head of civil engineering at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia. "Now they have an absolute majority and economic conditions are good, so let's see if there is a real will to achieve something."

The urgent task facing the new minister of education, who has yet to be appointed, is the reform of cornerstone legislation, the Law of University Reform, passed by a socialist government in 1983.

Francisco Michavila, former secretary general of the Universities Council, said: "Today society expects more and different things from universities."

Academics have welcomed the government's promotion of student mobility and hope that more student choice and an element of competition between universities will shake up a relatively closed system. However, new grants to help mobility, which this year will pay about 20,000 students about E4,500 (Pounds 2,773) each, are seen as inadequate.

"We need more student support," said Saturnino de la Plaza, head of the Spanish rectors' association. "If not, only better-off students will benefit from mobility."

Extra money to ease the problems of lecturers on temporary contracts, approved last January, also received a mixed reception.

Education minister Mariano Rajoy's reform of university entry procedures was halted last February under a hail of criticism. Adjustments to new curricula introduced at the beginning of the Popular Party's mandate are seen as largely the work of the Universities Council and the previous administration.

Mr Rajoy is credited with re-

establishing university-government dialogue and a more accessible style of government but not much more: there were "good intentions, but few results", said Professor Michavila.

Hopes are now pinned on the Bricall report, a Spanish version of Dearing, due out at the end of this month. The report is expected to deal with issues such as funding, the status of teaching staff, university management structures and how rectors are elected.

"We will have to wait and see if the Bricall report is well received and becomes the basis for the new law," said Josep Ferrer, national lecturers' union coordinator at the trade union, Comisiones Obreras.

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