Time to wield axe at excess credits

April 19, 1996

Spanish universities are struggling to broaden their curricula. Rebecca Warden reports from Valencia where the country's rectors drew up their rescue plan and where staff and students at the city's university express their views on the situation .

The man who oversaw the planning of the reforms at Valencia believes the system is at a crossroads.

Josep Martinez Bisbal, lecturer in philosophy, says: "Either we take the rational path and press on with the reform no matter what or we take swift, drastic measures to stop scandals erupting."

For him, the most urgent need is to reduce the credit loads of first degrees, otherwise universities will have little power to resolve other problems until this is addressed.

He thinks the best way would be by cutting the minimum number of credits from 300 to 240, something he calls "not an easy solution, but the correct one". The biggest obstacle would be in deciding where the axe should fall and he is wary of reviving the battle of interests between academics caused by the original syllabus reforms.

Another alternative would be to slim down the value of individual credits. However, while this could be "more acceptable to departments", he fears that, if it is not carefully done, lecturers could be tempted to try and give students the same content in less hours.

"Lecturers must be told to completely rethink their programmes," he says. He approves of the original idea of making syllabuses more flexible and introducing an element of student choice. He believes this gives the students the initiative as they are obliged to design part of their syllabus.

Nevertheless, his previous role as vice rector of academic affairs has made him aware that changing the courses a university teaches also requires a root-and-branch transformation of basic university structures. He cites the example of introducing a choice of subjects and therefore a more multidisciplinary approach. The fact that a student can now be enrolled in one department and studying some modules in another means administrative services must also adapt.

By replacing single department secretariats with a multidisciplinary faculty office, he found he came up against a whole new set of vested interests, "and that's when the conflicts began". He believes that the necessary changes to organisational and management structures are working their way through the universities, but not without pain.

"We need new ways of organising university management and planning teaching."

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