Spanish students are being encouraged to study away from home in a move to stimulate competition between universities and raise standards.
The Spanish Rectors' Conference has unveiled a scheme to assist students who wish to study away for part of their degree, while the government is planning a grant aimed at students who wish to study at an institution in another region.
If approved by the education authorities, the rectors' scheme is sceduled to start operating in early 2000. Known as Sicue, it is based upon the European Credit Transfer Scheme, whereby course units studied at the host university count towards the student's degree. It is hoped that 7 to 10 per cent on students will participate within five years.
Fernando Romero, rector of Jaume I University in Castellon and rectors' head of student affairs, expects the scheme's impact to be far-reaching. "Exchange and comparison of systems is the best instrument for improving quality," he said. "Students can compare courses and lecturers will need to learn about other systems and adapt."
The ministry of education has earmarked ¤60,000 million (Pounds 40 million) for grants to students who opt to take their degree outside their region, starting in October this year. The grants are intended to cover fees and contribute towards living expenses.
At present, the mobility of students in Spain is limited by law. The country is divided into 17 regions and only 10 per cent of university places are reserved for students from outside the region. Take-up of these places, however, is only about 6 per cent.
Jorge Fernandez, secretary of state for universities, said more Spanish students study abroad than at universities outside their own region. In 1998, 12,000 students studied abroad via the Socrates programme, but only 6,000 studied elsewhere in Spain.
"Studying away from home is very difficult for the family budget, especially if your brother also happens to be a student," said Ana Calvo, student representative at Jaume I University.
Carlos Prieto, secretary general of the Catalan student association AJEC, says that there is no a tradition of mobility in Spain, which has strong regional identities and three regional languages. Students generally only go to a distant university if unable to get a place at their home university or if their chosen subject is not available.
Jose Manuel Bayod, vice-rector of student affairs at the University of Cantabria, welcomed the new grants as "a first step in the right direction", but is not sure the amounts proposed will be enough to make much difference. Greater mobility of students forces universities to improve overall quality. "Right now we have a captive audience, and that is not good for any institution," he said.