Legislation to tackle the problem of Spain's army of temporary contract lecturers could be on the statute book by the end of the academic year. Possibilities include creating a new body of permanent civil servant lecturers, oriented towards teaching and on lower pay, or allowing universities to give lecturers long-term contracts.
But in the meantime lecturers on short-term contracts at the University of Barcelona have threatened to lock themselves into their rector's office for a week unless solutions can be found to their problems.
Thirty demonstrators held a deafening protest outside the rectory complete with whistles, rattles and banners. Contract lecturers in the geography and history faculty, and until recently, the modern languages department, are also refusing to pass on examination marks for the second semester.
Agust! Colomines, assistant at the department of contemporary history, said: "If we don't hand over the marks, the university administration system will collapse." Without marks, students will be unable to enrol for some of next year's subjects. Unless rector Antoni Caparr"s agrees to negotiations the Barcelona contract lecturers plan to occupy his office next term.
The lecturers in question are employed on five-year "assistant" contracts, a formula originally designed to give postgraduates practical experience while they finish their doctorates.
As student numbers at Spanish universities have increased dramatically in recent years, the number of temporary contract lecturers has also shot up and is now estimated to be a third of teaching staff. The supply of permanent teaching posts, which carry civil servant status, has not increased at the same rate and many would-be academics are finding their career paths blocked.
Most universities have opted for stop-gap solutions. The conflict has been especially intense at the University of Barcelona, where the university management is offering part-time contracts on much reduced pay and some 350 assistants expect to be out of a job in September.
Mireia Giralt, assistant in the botany department, says that training staff only to deny them jobs makes a mockery of the university's drive to improve teaching standards. "I am not asking for a job for life, only that if I fulfil my obligations, I should be allowed to continue working here on decent terms," she said.
Barcelona students, who have also recently demonstrated for more resources for higher education, seem generally understanding of the lecturers' industrial action. "Things are bad enough to justify their action. It is a nuisance but if I were them, I would do the same," said Laura Alonso, 19, a student of German.
S!lvia Perez, a fourth-year Spanish student, describes the lecturers' situation as "very unfair" and is worried about the effects on teaching standards if experienced lecturers are forced out.