Rectors postpone revolution

November 29, 1996

UNIVERSITY rectors and government officials have unexpectedly failed to agree on a blueprint for changes in Spain's complex university entrance system.

A meeting of the university council in Barcelona was described as "very positive", agreeing on three broad recommendations, but the outcome fell short of a plan for action.

Would-be students in Spain sit a national university entrance examination after a year's preparation. The results, combined with average marks over the past four years at school, determine which students go where. Discontent with this system is widespread among both students and academics.

Students have to apply for courses with little idea of how likely they are to get a place. Success or failure can be decided by mere fractions of a mark and many people end up studying for degrees they have little interest in.

The council recommended: * a distinction between the general assessment of aptitude to enter higher education and entrance exams for specific courses * better coordination of students' routes from secondary to higher education * more orientation for students while they are at university.

Manuel Marti Recober, a university council member, said: "Many students get into university then fail because of inadequate guidance from the institution."

He believes that part of the solution is to make the university entrance exam more specific to the course the student wants to do.

This approach was echoed in a recent meeting of schools of architecture at the Polytechnic University of Madrid. Architecture heads are concerned that gifted students may be being denied a place by weaknesses in other, less relevant subjects. They propose introducing a specific entrance exam for architecture.

The university council gave several reasons for proceeding with caution. Any reform would obviously involve changes to the nation's system of secondary schooling, already immersed in big reforms.

As secondary education is outside the universities' remit, a high level of consensus would be called for. However schools could prove reluctant to consider more changes so hard on the heels of the upheavals.

The rectors are also keen to ensure any changes to university access in Spain are in line with developments throughout Europe. Last but not least, the rectors point out that changing such complex areas as access and admissions is always delicate and they are anxious to get it right first time.

"Students do not deserve to be faced with continuing confusion or great revolutions," says Alfonso Fernandez Miranda, director general of higher education at the ministry of education.

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