Spanish lecturers ‘unhappy’ about teaching accreditation drive

Poll finds staff believe reforms have undermined academic freedom and created more bureaucracy

March 7, 2017
A child react (R) as Caravinagre 'Vinegar face' kiliki (C) approaches during the Comparsa de Gigantes y Cabezudos, or Giants and Big Heads parade on the third day of the San Fermin Running of the Bulls festival on July 8, 2016 in Pamplona, Spain.
Source: Getty
Toe the line: 65 per cent of respondents believed that ‘academic principles and values are losing validity’ and being replaced by university rules

Higher education reforms that have forced lecturers at Spanish universities to gain teaching accreditation have resulted in significantly reduced job satisfaction, a new study says.

Analysing a survey of more than 1,000 Spanish university staff, researchers at the University of the Basque Country, in Bilbao, found that the vast majority of respondents were unhappy about many of the recent state-led organisational changes relating to teaching and accreditation.

Legislation now requires universities to submit study plans for an independent review by an authorised agency, such as the National Agency for Quality Assessment and Accreditation of Spain (Aneca). Prospective lecturers must gain an Aneca-backed teaching certificate and hold a PhD to apply for “public service teaching positions”, says the paper by Jon Olaskoaga-Larrauri, Xabier González-Laskibar and Pablo Díaz-De-Basurto-Uraga, titled “Spanish university reforms and job satisfaction: is there only one way out?” and published in the journal Educational Policy last month.

A majority of the 1,134 teaching staff who answered a questionnaire sent by the authors believed that the recent changes had made teaching much more bureaucratic and had eroded academic values, the paper says.

Some 88 per cent agreed that their teaching duties were “increasingly more subject to rules and procedures”, of whom 72 per cent said this had significantly lowered their job satisfaction.

A total of 75 per cent also said that they now “devote more time to purely administrative tasks”; of that group, 89 per cent said this had significantly lowered their job satisfaction.

Some 65 per cent of respondents also believed that “academic principles and values are losing validity and are being replaced by the specific rules of the university I work for”, the paper says.

Of those who perceived this loss of academic autonomy, 85 per cent said it had made their job satisfaction much lower. Some 49 per cent of staff also felt that they “no longer have the same freedom to make decisions on my teaching duties”.

Academics with at least 10 years of teaching experience, who accounted for 75 per cent of respondents, tended to view the impact of reforms less favourably than newer lecturers, the results also suggest.

However, staff are not wholly pessimistic about some of the audit-led changes occurring in Spanish universities, the paper says.

While 53 per cent of respondents agreed that universities now have more methods to assess teaching quality, only 15 per cent of these respondents were unhappy about this. In contrast, 37 per cent of these respondents were more satisfied with a closer monitoring of teaching, with the remainder offering no opinion on this.

“Any assessment implies recognition, even if only implicitly, and those who consider they are doing a good job may well be grateful for that recognition,” the paper suggests.

It adds: “Most lecturers…seem willing to submit to the developments that imply quality assessment, provided it is not interpreted in a narrow sense, such as accountability or the fulfillment of standards that restrict their academic freedom and reduce their job satisfaction.”

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