Spain's rollercoaster of reform

March 31, 1995

Spain, a country which has seen more rapid change than most over the last two decades, has been engaged in a far-reaching reform of its higher education system since 1983.

In the early 1980s, Spain's higher education system was in crisis.

Based on the Napoleonic model - a centralised system teaching a uniform syllabus largely geared to training future state employees - Spanish universities enjoyed limited autonomy.

However, while the French system underwent several reforms, the Spanish one did not.

Nationwide only 60 approved degrees existed. As new areas of knowledge developed, they could only be mentioned within the existing syllabus or ignored. In subjects like biochemistry, food technology or environmental science, there were no qualifications.

At the same time the number of students increased, from 700,000 in 1982 to 1.3 million in 1991/92.

A consensus developed calling for university reform to respond to profound changes in Spanish society since the end of the Franco regime in 1975. This process, begun in 1983 with the Law of University Reform, has been working its way through the system ever since.

Since 1991, reform has been implemented in some of Spain's autonomous or regional governments, meaning the pace of change varies greatly from one university to the next.

1983 Reform Act * Statute of autonomy for each university; * University council set up in 1985 comprising rectors, ministry of education, autonomous governments, consultative powers; * Switch from continuous year to two semesters; * Degrees divided into three cycles; first and second together make licenciatura, equivalent to UK first degree, with the third for postgraduate studies.

New syllabuses * New qualifications created to take account of increasing knowledge and social changes; * Can shorten licenciatura from five to four years; * Courses structured in credits, ten hours of teaching, theoretical or practical; * Four distinct categories of course unit established; * Core curriculum (65 per cent of whole) set by state, applies to subjects across Spain; * Obligatory subjects, set by universities, allow institutions to develop distinct identities; * Optional subjects, including courses from other faculties, allowing multidisciplinary approach; * Free subjects, allowing students to pursue own interests, can be taken outside university and convalidated; * First two-year cycle - mainly core and obligatory course units; * Second two-year cycle - more specialisation possible.

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