Spain short of high-tech dons

May 4, 2001

Spanish universities are feeling the strain of a shortage of information technology personnel. A lack of IT staff at Madrid's Autonomous University (UAM) has forced it to shelve plans to expand computing courses.

As a result, the seven state universities of the Madrid region are planning to launch a course to train graduates of other disciplines in IT. They also aim to retrain their own teaching staff.

US consultants International Data Corporation estimates that 22,000 computing and telecommunications posts are vacant in Spain and demand is set to grow.

Although the private sector can adapt by offering higher wages for such personnel, universities do not enjoy this flexibility.

Xavier Alamán, vice-dean of computer studies at the UAM, said: "It is difficult to get people to stay on to train as researchers and lecturers [in the IT field], thus it is hard to find lecturers with the right qualifications, which translates into problems for training more students to satisfy the demand."

Competition for tenured posts at Spanish universities is fierce, but the past three computing post vacancies at the UAM attracted only a single applicant each. The number of people who fit the job description - PhDs with postdoctoral and teaching experience - is low at the best of times, according to Professor Alamán, but now they are practically non-existent.

"But we don't want to lower our standards as we think that would be suicidal," he said.

Professor Alamán believes grants for PhD students and pay for trainee lecturers must be increased.

Guillermo González de Rivera, 37, assistant lecturer at the UAM, said: "At the age of 23 or 24, my former students can earn more in their first job than I do now."

A grant for a PhD student is about €720 (£450) a month. Basic pay for a trainee lecturer starts at €900 a month, though in computing many can top this up to about €1,500 via contract work for business. Recent computing graduates can command monthly salaries of €1,800-€2,400.

Sergio López, an assistant lecturer in computing, said: "If companies can offer big starting salaries and they still have problems recruiting, it is hardly surprising we have recruitment problems here."

The Madrid universities hope their new qualification, which in two years aims to turn graduates of any discipline into IT specialists, will ease the situation.

The UAM will begin offering 80 places from October. Universities in Barcelona are planning a similar initiative. Companies will be invited to offer second-year students work placements and will be expected to pay for the privilege. Many have already expressed an interest.

"We aim to kill two birds with one stone - first by reducing the lack of qualified workers; second, as companies will pay to participate, we can use the money as an incentive for our younger lecturers," Professor Alamán said.

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