Spain takes Dearing track

June 5, 1998

EUROPE

SPANISH universities will have their own Dearing-style report by the summer of 1999.

It will focus on the problems affecting the university system and recommend reforms.

The initiative stems from the Conference of Spanish University Rectors, which has chosen Josep Mar!a Bricall to chair the investigation.

Professor Bricall is due to step down as president of the European Conference of Rectors in August and has eight years' experience behind him as rector of the University of Barcelona.

He is under no illusions. "It will be neither easy, nor will it be without conflict," he said, "but I am sure we can arrive at a consensus."

Professor Bricall's team aims to ensure the debate involves as many sectors of society as possible. The commission will start its work in October and hopes to present its findings to the Spanish government next summer.

Areas to be covered include funding, the legislative framework of higher education, university organs of government, research, the employability of graduates and lifelong learning, according to Carles Sole, president of the CRUE. There are several more areas he might well add.

The first national Quality Evaluation Plan, published last January, highlighted problems such as low exam pass rates, students taking too long to complete their studies, the lack of academic and careers guidance as well as the need for greater co-operation between institutions and for stronger links with industry.

Add to this the most pressing problem, namely the lack of job stability for the more than 40 per cent of Spanish lecturers on temporary contracts, and Professor Bricall has his work cut out.

Relations between Spanish university leaders and central government have been strained over the past year. Many rectors have criticised central government's slowness in reacting to problems.

The plight of Spain's army of temporary lecturers is a case in point.

"We would like to see measures taken which would allow the unsatisfactory situation of contract lecturers to be tackled," said Professor Sole.

Another example is the changes to new curricula finally approved by government at the beginning of May after a long passage through parliament.

Many people fear, however, it is now too late to have changes in place for the next academic year.

Nevertheless, Spanish prime minister Jose Mar!a Aznar has given the idea of a Spanish Dearing report "a warm welcome," according to Professor Sole.

This does not mean the report's findings will be automatically taken on board in a year's time, but Professor Sole is confident they will be influential.

"We can give no guarantees," he said, "but if we manage to achieve a high degree of participation by Spanish society, this will give an extraordinary momentum to our recommendation".

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