Spain's new government is to cut education spending by 0.78 per cent cut as part of reductions intended to slash state expenditure by 4.5 per cent this year.
How the cuts will be shared between higher, primary and secondary education will be revealed shortly by the new education and culture minister, Esperanza Aguirre. The minister has stated that private universities in Spain are to be encouraged and is known to favour state universities increasing their own funding from links with the private sector.
Opinions are divided as to the impact of the cuts. Ministry of education spokesperson Javier Fernandez described the cut as "not insignificant, but not too hard to assume".
Due to power being devolved to the country's 17 assemblies under the Spanish federal system, the financial muscle ot central government has been much diminished. Since the beginning of 1996 for instance, the country's 40 state universities are now largely financed by their respective regional governments. Responsibility for paying student grants, for funding some research activities and for academic salaries still remains with the centre. However, many fear that research could be the most vulnerable sector.
Julio Serrano, trade union representative for the four universities of Castilla and Leon, sees the cuts as "very negative". He believes that universities such as Valladolid that offer a generalist range of sujects and that serve less industrialised areas than Madrid or Catalonia, will be hard pushed to forge lucrative links with business.
Josep Ferrer, professor of applied mathematics at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia, thinks that as most research carried out in his institution is applied and already largely funded by contracts with industry the cutbacks will not affect his university too much.
On the other hand, he is concerned that the new right-wing government will use financial control to boost subsidies to the private sector. "This would affect the state university sector as a whole," he said.