Student mobility promoted for Spain

April 14, 2000

Spain's Bricall report proposes "revolutionary changes" to the higher education system with profound implications for Spanish students and staff.

But author Josep Maria Bricall stressed that "everything is debatable". After 18 months' hard work coordinating the report, he is keen to see how the debate over the future of his country's higher education system shapes up. Professor Bricall, who has been called the Spanish Dearing, is former president of the European Conference of Rectors and former rector of Barcelona University.

A major concern is how to increase funding for Spain's higher education system, including students. The report calls for an increase in student grants, but also proposes introducing a system of student "income loans" based on the Australian model. "The idea is to fund but in an equitable way," Professor Bricall said.

He believes that comparisons between American and European universities must bear in mind that political and taxation systems are very different on either side of the Atlantic. But while the structures are different, the guiding principles of student finance are not. "When United States alumni give money, this is practically the same as an income loan; when you earn money, you give some to the university," he said. "It is just that in Europe we organise things via our tax systems."

Professor Bricall has joined the debate on staff selection procedures in Spain, a system many say is plagued by cronyism. The report recommends tightening appointments procedures by ensuring that academics on initial selection boards are not from the university offering the post. But rather than setting rigid selection parameters, Professor Bricall favours a system that concentrates on how well a candidate fits a specific job profile.

While Professor Bricall recognises there have been "abuses", he does not see these as proof that universities should have less freedom to select their academic staff.

"It is not the fault of individual universities, but rather the way in which things have been done," he said. "In practice, it is not universities that take the decision but departments."

If Spanish universities as a whole choose staff, Bricall believes, they are more likely to choose on merit and ignore departmental politics.

Professor Bricall is a firm believer in encouraging staff and student mobility within Spain and abroad in what is still a relatively closed system. He sees mobility as a way of improving quality by introducing an element of competition between universities. Boosting student income is one way of achieving this, but social attitudes must also change.

He believes schemes such as Erasmus have had a great impact on Spanish universities and that internationalisation must continue. "Mobility is a measure of institutional quality, so we have to increase the number of foreigners in Spanish universities."

For more information in Spanish go to informeuniv2000.htm.

Bricall Report - key recommendations: Student finance Increase number and value of student grants Pilot student loan scheme starting with final-year students "Income-loans", administered and guaranteed by state, repayable once graduate income reaches national average.

Academics New categories; contract lecturers and researchers Appointments procedures tightened up Role of visiting professors revamped.

Funding Increase higher education funding by 60 per cent over next ten years, up from 1.1 per cent of GDP to OECD average of 1.5 per cent State/private funding equation should change from 76/24 to 80/20 Proportion contributed by tuition fees to remain constant.

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