Rectors enjoy honeymoon

August 9, 1996

Three months into office, relations between Spain's right-wing government and higher education leaders seem to be running smooth despite initial uncertainty about what was in store for universities.

The new government's attitude has been one of negotiation and consensus, which differs markedly from the radical changes promised in its election manifesto.

The election result gave the ruling Popular Party a slim majority, which may explain the realpolitik and alliance building taking place. As Carles Sola, rector of the Autonomous University of Barcelona, pointed out: "The current political situation does not permit radical change".

Surprise at the appointment of Esperanza Aguirre as education minister, given her lack of experience, has been mitigated by her choice of Fernando Tejerina, rector of the University of Valladolid, as deputy minister for higher education and research.

Fears about cuts to research funding have been allayed by the announcement that the total reduction will be just Ptas23 million (Pounds 117,000) less for the Scientific Research Council and Ptas25 million less for the Canaries Astrophysics Institute.

Recommendations from the Spanish Conference of University Rectors on the curricula introduced in the 1991 higher education reforms have been taken up by the ministry of education and are likely to be implemented soon.

The rectors' recommendations included lowering the credit load for some qualifications and redefining the value of a credit to include student's unsupervised work and work placements. The problem for many lecturers is that such wide-ranging reforms were not accompanied by any extra funding.

Professor Tejerina agrees. "If more academic resources had been made available, implementation would have been easier," he says.

Spain only spends 1 per cent of its gross national product on universities compared to the West European average of 1.5 per cent, but Professor Tejerina is noncommittal about the possibility of any new money. The tight economic climate would seem to back this up.

Student discontent at the complicated university entrance exam, called selectivity, is high. It is estimated that 20-25 per cent of candidates do not get to study the degree they want at their preferred university, although most do subsequently obtain a place.

Professor Sola believes the specific subjects a student is intending to study should be given a higher weighting in the selectivity results. In this way the examination could give a better idea of a student's ability to take a given degree.

He is hopeful that as the university-age population shrinks, selectivity will do more than just distribe a scarce resource: a place at university. On the government side, Professor Tejerina is content to wait for the results of a report this September.

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