Laggard students drain the resources in Spain

March 20, 1998

Less successful students tend to use far more of a university's resources than students who pass course units first time, a study of Spanish universities has found.

Students who fail exams and take the same course units several times cost their universities twice as much as faster learners, the Conference of Spanish University Rectors was told at a meeting on funding in Jaen this month.

Juan Hern ndez, lecturer in applied economics and bursar of the University of Jaen, said: "Universities would need fewer resources if they improved their level of academic performance and cut the number of students taking courses for the third time or more, or if these students were obliged to pay the real costs of their studies." His study on the funding and productivity of Spanish universities is based on data from more than a million students enrolled at 38 state universities in 1996.

That year, Spanish universities spent an average of Pounds 2,245 per student. The government contributed Pounds 1,715, students paid Pounds 449 in tuition fees and external sources such as contracts covered the rest. In the case of those who study the same course unit three times or more, these costs rise to about Pounds 4,082 a year, with the government contributing Pounds 2,653 to Pounds 3,265.

Dr Hern ndez has also found disparities of up to 15 per cent in what students in different regions must pay towards their education.

In terms of the cost in tuition fees for individual course credits, students in Navarra pay the most, an average of Pounds 6 a credit. Students in the Valencian Community get the best deal, an average of Pounds 4.70 a credit. In the past ten years, responsibility for higher education has been devolved gradually to 17 regional governments, but Dr Hern ndez said his findings show the need for a national framework to keep the differences in check.

Universities in Spain are still chronically underfunded compared with institutions in the rest of Europe, according to the rectors.

Spain's university system gets far less money than universities in other developed countries - only 1.01 per cent of gross national product compared with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development average of 1.5 per cent or the United States figure of 2.5 per cent. "It stands out that Spain -Jwhich spends $4,030 per student - is below countries such as Ireland, with $7,600, or Portugal, with $5,667," the rectors' conference said.

A key problem is the inadequate student grants system. In 1996, the average monthly grant in Spain was Ecu109 (Pounds 71), while French students got Ecu197, Dutch Ecu204 and Germans Ecu320. The conference said the grants system must expand to broaden access for lower income students and to aid "policies designed to encourage efficiency, improve academic performance and stimulate student mobility".

Most Spanish students live at home, and no more than 10 per cent may enrol at a university outside their region. "The lack of mobility is one of the biggest obstacles to achieving equality and efficiency in the university system," the rectors said. A rectors' conference white paper on funding is due this year.

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