A special inquiry into the state of the nation's universities commissioned by the Spanish ministry of education has angered university leaders, who last July launched their own initiative, billed as the Spanish Dearing report under the leadership of former Barcelona University rector Josep Bricall.
The government-backed project will be directed by Jose Mar!a Flux , head of the Social Council of Madrid's Autonomous University, and a close friend of education minister Esperanza Aguirre.
While Dr Flux denies that his report is a competitor to the Bricall report, the rectors have described it as "duplication of efforts" and are worried it will be divisive. Many see the education minister's support for Dr Flux as a calculated attempt to undermine the Bricall report before it is even published.
"What we cannot accept is that a report promoted by Flux , with the support of the government, should give the impression that our report is just for internal consumption," said Saturnino de la Plaza, head of the Conference of Spanish University Rectors .
The social councils of the six state universities in Catalonia, north-eastern Spain, have since made a point of distancing themselves from the Flux report, describing the idea of a separate report as a "a serious error".
Social councils are a relatively new phenomenon, intended to give representatives of society a direct input in governing Spanish universities.
The Bricall report is expected next summer. The aim is to diagnose and suggest solutions for the problems facing the university system, incorporating the views of as wide a cross-section of society as possible.
The Flux report, The Learning Society in Spain and its Funding, will take six months to complete and is expected to recommend a more market-orientated approach to higher education and an emphasis on lifelong learning. It has already drawn up draft proposals that include raising tuition fees to cover 25 per cent of the cost of degrees and rewarding universities which are most responsive to student demand.
Mrs Aguirre's support for an alternative report is another sign of the stalemate between central government and university leaders in Spain. Rectors have become increasingly frustrated over the past 18 months at the government's failure to take their ideas on board or implement reform.
In turn, the education minister has come to regard rectors with increasing distrust.