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Spain - Higher Education

Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comGlobal Education ReferenceSpain - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education

HIGHER EDUCATION


Historically, the Spanish university system has been a very uniform and centralized educational organization. For many years it was characterized by an autocratic system of Catedraticos or permanent professors who controlled departments and subject areas. For most of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, much of the Spanish university system was regulated by the state. During the 1960s and 1970s, a system of university departments was introduced in order to reform the outdated system of Catedras or professional chairs. The new position of Professor Numerario (University Professor) was created. During these years, student populations in universities increased, as did labor issues associated with university professors.

One of the most important changes to the university system came with the adoption of the Spanish Constitutions of 1978 and the creation of Autonomous Communities. Along with these changes came the recognition of autonomy for universities and the decentralization of the system of Spanish higher education. However, the most important reform in higher education came with the adoption of the University Reform Law of 1983. This legislation not only renewed the legal foundation of the university, but it also set out to regulate working conditions for university faculty.

The Spanish Constitution of 1978 provides for the existence of both public and private universities. There are two types of private universities in Spain: those that are Catholic, and those that belong and are administrated by other private organizations. There are four Catholic universities: The Pontifical University in Salamanca, The University of Duesto in Bilbao, The Comillas University of Madrid, and The University of Navarre in Pamplona. The first three of these universities are Jesuit and the last is run by the Opus Dei. There are four other important private universities: The S.E.K. University of Segovia, The CEU-San Pablo University, The Europa University, and the Pompeu Fabra.

Spanish universities are structured around the following administrative bodies: university council, governing board, faculties and department councils. The university council is made up of professors, students, and staff. The governing council or junta de gobierno is made up of the rector or president of the university along with vice-rectors, deans, and representatives of the students and professors. Each faculty, such as the faculty of philosophy and letters is governed and administered by the faculty council, which is made up of deans, associate deans, the directors or heads of departments, and representatives of professors and students. Departments, in turn, are administered by the department council, which is made up of the director of the department, professors, and students. The rector or president, as well as all deans, associate deans, and department deans, are elected by popular vote. Each university also has a university manager who is in charge of technical administrative matters. This is an appointed position.

As of 1999, Spain had 62 universities; the majority were public. Eight of these universities were Catholic. Catholic universities have traditionally been regarded as very effective and influential. Two Spanish public universities, the Complutense University of Madrid and the Central University of Barcelona, accounted for almost 20 percent of all students enrolled in Spanish universities.

Before the establishment of the Law on University Reform in 1983, universities were under the direct control of the government's Ministry of Education and Science. As a consequence of the 1983 Law on University Reform, one of the first educational reforms put in place by the new socialist government, control by the central government of universities was weakened and autonomy was increased. In the past, senior faculty exercised a great deal of control in university matters. The new law stipulated a shift of power from the faculty or a university council or Claustro. The Spanish university system is divided into two very distinct tracks. The first of these, the more academic, is a track where students follow a five-year or some six-year programs in liberal education and professional programs offered in facultades (academic departments in faculties) or three-year programs in socalled "University Schools" such as teaching or nursing.

Spain's universities exhibited a dramatic growth in the 1960s, more so than primary or secondary schools. From 1960 to 1972, university enrollments increased from 70,000 to more that 200,000. In the 1970s, the government was forced to reintroduce university entrance exams. The General Law of Education of 1970 had guaranteed places for all students who had completed the bachillerato program. The entrance of university bound students had to be restricted. Nevertheless, during subsequent years in the late 1980s, universities continued to enroll large numbers of students. The vast majority of those students were enrolled in the traditional faculties (law, medicine, philosophy and letters). In many cases, especially in medicine, the university was producing too many young people for professions that were already over crowded. Too many university graduates were not able to find jobs in professions for which they had been trained. This also contributed to Spain's already high rate of unemployment.

The ability to pay for a university education has also presented another problem. Most Spanish students have depended upon parental economic support for their education. Very few can work while completing their studies. For many years Spain has lacked the sufficient number of scholarship and student subsidies necessary for university age population. As a consequence, a university education remains the privilege and opportunity for the more financially secure population.

Women's enrollment in a university program has also increased in the 1980s. In 1984, about 47 percent of Spain's university enrollment were females. However, women were not and are not represented in all academic areas. The largest numbers of women are found in professions such as pharmacy, teaching, and journalism, professions which have always attracted large female populations.

Issues of autonomy and self-regulation have been central to the reforms in Spanish higher education from 1977 to the end of the twentieth century. Political events associated with the death of Franco and the coming of democracy brought about significant transformation in the structure and organization of Spanish universities. As indicated, Spanish higher education during the nineteenth century was characterized by a system of rigid centralization with power and control in the hands of the Ministry of Education. The 1960s and 1970s witnessed a further increase in government control in higher education. This system of centralization was characterized by very limited autonomy in a system where the central government appointed Rectors and controlled higher education through bureaucratic agencies.

Spanish universities focused their efforts on professional training and neglected scientific research. Universities were organized in traditional faculties (law and medicine) that produced the most students. Other faculties, (humanities, social science, and natural science) were not linked to the needs of the labor marker. Within the faculties, control over teaching was in the hands of a special corps of full professors known as catedráticos, who were also civil servants. In order to enter this corps, one had to pass through a rigid and formal system of admissions and examinations known as oposiciones (national examinations). In most cases, universities had little or no control over the admission and examination process for catedráticos. These full professors organized their teaching around their catedras (chairs) and they were not dependent on formal academic departments. The catedra was the department. It was often the case that there was only one chair per academic department or area of teaching. Junior lectures worked in the apprentice model teaching in and for the catedra while working on their doctorates. The catedraticos exercised total power and often had substantial freedom, autonomy and influence.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, Spanish higher education experienced attempts at deregulation and greater autonomy. These attempts focussed on strengthening of managerial autonomy of universities and the progressive reduction of direct supervision by a central administration.

Demographic and political changes during the 1960s and 1970s stimulated the calls for more autonomy in Spanish universities. First, there was an enormous growth of students in Spanish universities. From 1960 to 1970, the student population in Spanish universities grew from 76,000 to 213,000. As the student population grew, however, the basic structure of the universities did not grow. Students experienced over crowding and were taught by following outdated and outmoded curricula teaching methods. Frequently, recent graduates faced increasing unemployment.

The 1960s and the 1970s were also times of increased political unrest. Students frequently protested poor conditions in the university, especially teaching by staff who held non-permanent positions. There was also continued protest against the authoritarian government of Francisco Franco. Students also pointed to the failures of the Franco educational reforms, notably the failures of the General Education Act of 1970. With the death of Franco in 1975, and the coming of the transition toward democracy, beginning with the first democratic election of 1977, calls for autonomy and self-regulation in higher education were again heard. The government responded with the creation of the University Reform Law. At the center of these calls for reform were the new Spanish Constitutions of 1978, which proclaimed that university autonomy was a fundamental right.

The drafting of the then new university law needed to be contextualized within complex political debates between new political parties, the traditional political parties of the transition and the new Socialist party. Increasing discussions on regional autonomy also fueled these disputes, especially by nationalists from Catalonia and the Basque Country. The University Reform Law could not be enacted until the victory of the Socialist Party in 1982. It was not passed until August 1983. The principle objectives of this legislation were to provide universities with greater autonomy and further extend the process of political decentralization. This law stipulated that university autonomy was not to be in the hands of professors but rather in the hands of university decision making bodies controlled by a consejo social (social council). The law also gave regional governments more control in the funding and management of universities in autonomous regions. Furthermore, the law stipulated that on the national level, universities were to be coordinated by a National University Council.

The University Reform Law focused on issues of equal access and quality of teaching and research. The law was intended, first and foremost, to provide equal access for all Spaniards in order that they might have the same opportunities in terms of university education. This law also sought to improve teaching and research by improving the departmental structures within universities, thus reforming the traditional chair (catedra) based system. Furthermore, the law sought to improve the quality of teaching by raising academic standards and provide the university with a more flexible system of recruitment for new lecturers and professors. The later stipulation gave universities the power to create new posts and exercise influence and control over them. Finally, the new law gave universities more flexibility over course standards and curricula.

The establishment of the University Reform Law, brought with it some desired and some undesired results. First, there is no doubt that Spain witnessed an increase in political decentralization during the years from 1983 to 1996. During this time, there was an overall expansion of the university system in Spain. As a consequence of decentralization, the central administration of individual universities saw their control and power increased because of increased autonomy. However, universities experienced a different rate of autonomy. Autonomy in higher education was closely connected with increased autonomy of different regional governments. It was not until 1996 that this type of control was given to other regions. We must recall that the coordination of this decentralized system was in the hands of the University Council.

From 1983 to 1996, Spanish universities saw the number of their student bodies rise. This population increased from 692,000 in 1982 to 1,370,000 in 1994. With this increase came an increase in public funding for higher education. However, these increases were not enough to support the increase in student numbers, and Spain still lagged behind other European countries in terms of public expenditure on higher education. With some success, there also came failure in terms of university reform. The imprisonment that the University Reform Law hoped to attain in terms of quality had not been met. Among the failures of these reforms we can cite: failures to improve the department structures of the university; failures in improving the quality of teaching standards; and, failures in the modernization of the curriculum. But not all was failure. During the years of 1983-1996, Spain witnessed an increase in scientific research carried out in universities. But we must also remember that in Spain, not all research is done in universities. A substantial amount of research is carried out under the umbrella of The Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC), which competes with the universities for government funding. In addition, more and more university-based scholars are seeking external funding for their research projects.

In short, changes to the basic structure of higher education in Spain have been modest. There has been a marked increase of autonomy and decentralization of the political administration of Spanish universities. The numbers of Spanish universities had increased, as had the output in research. However, the quality of teaching and the recruitment of teaching staff have not attained the levels sought by the reforms of 1983. Little progress has also been made in the course of study programs and curricula. While there have been some changes, the organization of courses into a system of credits, greater choice in electives and the division of the academic year into semesters, tradition modes of instruction based on lecture format teaching and note learning by students has not changed. Increased autonomy has solved the problems of localism and endogamy, which plague Spanish higher education. For the most part, Spanish universities while being bureaucratic institutions have not been able to structure themselves into more efficient bodies without appropriate regulatory or evaluative mechanisms.

Another significant reform in Spanish higher education provided for by the University Reform Law of 1983 concerned access and appointment to university teaching positions. Since 1983, university professors are hired at public universities through a system of competitive examinations consisting of two exercises. The first deals with a discussion of the professor's academic and research record, his or her curriculum vitae, and a detailed syllabus for the academic subject which is the candidates specialty. The second part of the examination includes a delivery and defense of the candidate's major theme. A jury of university professors awards these appointments. Candidates may apply for various types of university professorships, all of which require competitive examinations.

Those candidates who apply for university full professorships must hold the same position at another university or have up to and at least three years as professor. All candidates for these positions must have a doctorate degree in the area of specialization. In order to sit for the examination for professor, candidates must only have a Doctorate degree. Those who wish to apply for the position of full profesor licenciado need the Architect or Engineer degree. There are other venues of university appointment. Candidates may also seek a university position by means of applying for a contract. Each Spanish university has its own procedure for hiring by means of contracts. According to legislation stipulated in the University Reform Law of 1983, universities may also hire visiting professors or associate professors on a part-time or full-time basis. These positions are usually offered to well known experts in their fields of study. Spanish universities may also grant several types of honorary degrees, including profesor de honor or profesor honorario and professor emeritus, which is reserved for retired professors who have served the University for at least 10 years.

Finally, universities frequently hire full-time assistant professors for a maximum of two years. In order to apply for these positions, candidates must sit for a special examination and in addition, must have completed all their coursework for the doctorate as well as several years of research. These types of contracts may be reviewed for a period of up to three years providing the candidate has completed his or her Doctorate in the university period.


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