The Spanish government has unveiled plans to abolish national university entrance exams and to introduce a test for would-be lecturers.
Other changes in the long-awaited proposals for the Universities Law include new contracts for lecturers and the creation of a national quality agency.
Spanish universities will be free to set their own entrance exams or use other means to select their intake, although the methods must comply with "the principles of equality, merit and ability", education minister Pilar del Castillo said.
The scheme will mean that students may have to sit exams at several universities to make sure they get a place.
The government will continue to limit the number of places on popular courses such as medicine or telecommunications engineering.
The system should replace the existing entrance exam, which has been criticised frequently by students, rectors and unions alike, by 2004.
Rectors have welcomed the proposals as a boost to university autonomy, but they criticised the lack of details about how the system would work.
The scheme's introduction coincides with the lifting of barriersto mobility that have caused most Spanish students to study close to home. Rectors are worried that introducing these two radical changes at the same time could cause serious disruption.
While universities will gain the ability to choose their students, they will lose some powers to select their staff. Under the habilitation model borrowed from Germany, lecturers will have to pass a national exam before applying to universities for a job.
The move is designed to tackle an appointments system that many people claim is riddled with cronyism and where nine out of ten university posts are filled by internal candidates. This problem has been a fiercely debated issue in academic circles and in the media during the past 18 months.
Mrs del Castillo's proposals also include creating two new contracts for lecturers: the contract lecturer for people who have at least two years' postdoctoral research or teaching experience and the trainee lecturer contract for those people who have a doctorate but less experience.
Significantly, trainee lecturers must have spent at least two years' training at a different institution before they apply for a post. The aim, Mrs del Castillo said, is "to make the system more dynamic and to avoid lecturers spending all their careers at the same university".
A national evaluation and accreditation agency will be set up, although participation will be voluntary and there are no plans to use the results to allocate overall funding. However, top-performing universities will receive money for specific projects according to their quality score.
The measures should introduce a greater degree of competition between universities becausethe student-age population is declining. They should also promote more staff and student mobility in a fairly stagnant system.
However, the proposals are currently only a statement of the government's intentions. Many changes could occur before the law is finally passed in September.