Jaume Pages, rector of the Polytechnic University of Catalonia, is one of the prime movers behind attempts to improve the employment status of temporary university lecturers in Spain.
A third of university teaching staff are on short-term contracts, with low pay and few prospects (THES, January 24). The Conference of Spanish University Rectors has suggested either offering assistants long-term contracts without civil servant status or creating a new category of tenured staff on lower pay who would not carry out research.
Professor Pages said: "The reasonable thing is for these people to have expectations of getting a permanent post once they complete their doctorates".
He favours allowing universities much greater flexibility to take on staff. Institutions have only two ways of employing lecturers - either as civil servants with tenure and nationally-agreed pay and conditions, or as trainee lecturers.
Trainee positions were originally intended to allow novice lecturers to complete their doctorates, gain experience and prepare for the competitive examinations which award tenure.
However, as student numbers have shot up from 700,000 in 1982/83 to over 1.5 million today, trainees, known as assistants or full-time associate lecturers, have taken on a growing workload. At the same time, cash-strapped universities' inability to fund enough permanent posts has relegated most to temporary, low-paid jobs.
The problem is at its most acute in the arts-orientated institutions and new universities. "In the case of my university, the situation doesn't have such gloomy prospects as at other universities," says Professor Pages. He believes the demand for places on technology-based courses in Spain, and in the region of Catalonia in particular, will make it easier for him to justify a gradual expansion of his permanent teaching staff.
Before 1983 all lecturers had little job stability. When the 1983 university reform law ruled that they should become civil servants, many Catalonian academics were against the move. "I was one of those who opposed the idea of becoming civil servants," Professor Pages said."I still think that it would be better if universities could have alternatives."