The Universidad de Alcalá de Henares

April 1, 2005

Spain has had further to go than many European countries in implementing the Bologna Process. Despite several reforms of higher education in the past two decades, Spain’s tendency has been to adapt while retaining traditional structures.

Since the controversial Ley Orgánica de Universidades of 2001, however, things are moving. A national quality assurance and accreditation agency has been established, followed by half a dozen regional bodies. Selection criteria for teaching staff have been reformed.

Royal decrees are paving the way for the Diploma Supplement, the European Credit Transfer System and, most recently, the new graduate and postgraduate structure. Yet the door is still open for a first degree cycle of four years (240 credits) and a second cycle of one or two years (60 to 120 credits), lagging behind the general European Union tendency of a three-plus-two structure.

The Universidad de Alcalá de Henares, founded in 1499, has taken part in pilot schemes set out by the Ministry of Education and the National Quality Assurance Agency. The university, which is located 30km from Madrid in the town in which Cervantes was born, has 22,000 students and 1,600 teaching staff and a long record of international programmes.

Alcalá has created a vice-rectorate of European harmonisation to monitor the convergence process, a major challenge of which is the learner-centred focus of teaching. So it is adios to traditional learning, where the student’s role was restricted to copying lessons and reproducing class notes in a final exam. Alcalá has implemented a scheme of pedagogical training and teaching support, and some 200 staff have taken part in special workshops and seminars.

But José Gurpegui of the department of modern philology thinks there is still considerable confusion and believes that staff would welcome a greater role in redesigning the course architecture.

“We are all in favour, but it’s the way the ministry handles it we criticise - similar to the last reform. And, of course, many academics fear losing ground.”

The ministry and the Spanish Rectors’ Conference expect the new system to start in 2007 and to be working fully in 2010.

Although not everybody is quite so optimistic, there is agreement that the European Higher Education Area offers a range of opportunities to update Spanish higher education for the 21st century.

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