Academics in Spain are deeply divided about the country’s employment accreditation system, which requires a government agency to approve anyone applying for a permanent faculty role, a major survey has revealed.
At present, those seeking to become a professor or associate professor at a public university in Spain must first submit their CV to the National Agency for Quality Assessment and Accreditation (Aneca), with about a third of all applications rejected by its panels of experts.
Critics argue that this is an unnecessary bureaucratic barrier that undermines university autonomy and delays faculty appointments. But a new survey of almost 4,500 Spanish academics, published in the European Journal of Higher Education, reveals that about half of respondents (49 per cent) supported the current accreditation system.
Those who had been through the vetting process, which was introduced in 2008, are 40 per cent more likely to favour it than those who had not, according to Luis Sanz-Menéndez, from the Spanish National Research Council, and Laura Cruz-Castro, from the Madrid-based Institute of Public Goods and Policies.
“It is not that surprising to find the community so divided,” the authors told Times Higher Education, saying that some scholars simply saw “university academic jobs as regular civil servant positions” that required central vetting, whereas others who valued “high international standards” over accreditation disagreed with it.
“Some people demand more control of the ‘access’ [to academia], which usually means a loss of autonomy for departments, while others insist on [institutional] autonomy and put little emphasis on accountability and the consequences of low performance,” they explained.
Most respondents are also unconcerned by the refusal rates, they added. “Even those that did not prefer accreditation did not see the merit required to pass as too demanding,” they said.
Many academics also accepted the current system as a “compromise” between the unfettered university autonomy over hiring that existed prior to 1983, which led to cronyism and corruption, and the system of centralised national exams for hiring decisions that existed between 2001 and 2007, the authors added.
“The accreditation was a compromise between those asking for centralised quality controls and those who asked for the return of hiring control to departments,” they said.
Higher levels of support among those familiar with the process was also expected and came from those “invested in the bureaucratic process, [such as] people waiting for promotions”, the pair added.
The authors admitted, however, that the system was unhelpful for Spain’s efforts to internationalise its academy, stating that the “system blocks the access to permanent positions to foreigners, despite a special procedure [for non-Spanish applicants]”.
However, the accreditation system was likely to endure despite strong criticism from many quarters because regional governments, which heavily fund Spanish universities and influence their direction, are likely to block any changes, they said.
“You could say that we have 17 university systems, so changing the law in a clear direction will be a complex business for regions, which are ruled by different political parties and have different levels of university strength,” they concluded.