Spain 'drags its heels' over university reforms

March 15, 2002

Spain's government has pledged that education will be a priority during its presidency of the European Union, but it stands accused at home of dragging its heels over university reform.

Education is one of the five priorities of the Barcelona Council, the key event of the Spanish presidency that will bring heads of state to Spain's second city today. Spain is also one of the signatories of the Bologna Declaration, which aims to bring about higher education convergence in Europe by 2010.

But critics say that the recent reform of universities largely ignores the changes needed for convergence.

January's universities act brought in far-reaching changes but mention of the Bologna agenda was appended only in a last-minute amendment.

Jaime Lissavetzky, spokesman on science and technology for the Socialist Party, said: "Unfortunately, the universities act has been a lost opportunity in terms of convergence with the rest of Europe."

He believes Spain cannot hope to reach European standards without spending more money. While in other Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development countries 40 per cent of students receive grants or loans, in Spain only 17 per cent do.

But Gemma Rauret, director of the Catalan quality agency, said Spanish universities had been making progress towards convergence. Many faculties had groups working on adapting the Spanish system, and there had been advances in areas such as the European credit. "Universities are working hard on this, but we have seen much less progress from the government," she said. "In the end, the law included a short chapter on Europe but it is only good intentions. There are no documents or initiatives to put it into practice."

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