A doctoral researcher, who has not yet defended his thesis, “may collaborate in teaching tasks for up to a maximum of 180 hours during the extension of the predoctoral contract”, according to his statute approved in 2019. But the truth is that for years many have taught classes In solitary. Moreover, some have been forced to design the entire program for a subject because the tenured professor has retired without sharing his knowledge. For this reason, the doctors who work as assistant professors (called doctor assistant professors in the universities) consulted by this newspaper do not understand that the Ministry of Universities pretends that they are the professionals hired through this figure ―with years of experience behind them and read the thesis―those who receive initial teacher training in the first year of their contract, when their average age is around 40. They argue that it is a positive measure―the first novelty of Minister Joan Subirats in the project of the Organic Law of the University System ( LOSU)―, but also that predoctoral students should take the course. These, however, are not considered teaching staff, as they are in training, fundamentally as researchers, not as teachers.
The Coordinator of Student Representatives of Public Universities (CREUP) applauds, however, the initiative of Subirats. “It is one of the proposals that we have been carrying out for the longest time”, they assure in a tweet. Among their proposals for the LOSU, they propose: “Access to university teaching bodies will require, in addition to the doctorate degree, the passing of a course on teaching methodologies and pedagogy that must be taught by universities and the prior obtaining of state accreditation.” That is to say, like the ministry, it focuses on doctoral assistant professors, since there are no job categories below.
The course should not be associated with a job category, but rather at the beginning of teaching
This academic year there are 5,545 professors with a doctoral assistant contract (5.4% of the total teaching staff, which does not include pre-doctoral students). One of them is the Asturian Lucila Pérez, 39, assistant doctor of English Philology at the University of Cantabria. “What fails in the approach is that the proposed course should not be associated with a job category -in this case, doctor’s assistant-, but at the beginning of teaching, which for many does not coincide with the first doctor’s assistant contract” , maintains this passionate about teaching. She is an example. He works as an assistant, but he has been in the classroom for 11 years: he came into contact with teaching methodologies in the United States, he did the CAP (the old Certificate of Pedagogical Aptitude) in secondary school in Spain, he trained in the United Kingdom with a scholarship from his Government, He has done about 10 training courses at the University of Cantabria and is studying a master’s degree in bilingual teaching.
José Manuel Muñoz, 35 years old and assistant doctor at the Faculty of Biology at the University of Salamanca, limited his contact with teaching during his predoctoral stage to supporting other professors during their internships: “I supervised the boys in the laboratory”, he explains, although he assures that other assistants in the areas of Humanities and Social Sciences did give theoretical classes. The Statute of Research Staff in Training (EPIF, 2019) does not contemplate teaching without a tutor at your side, but, in times of great financial cuts, they have been used and false associates ―professionals who contribute the value of their experience to university, but who end up dedicating many more hours than what their contract says―to cover subjects. Muñoz spent five years in the United Kingdom with a postdoctoral research grant and a year ago he returned to his city, Salamanca, as a hired doctor with a salary that in many communities does not reach 1,500 euros. Despite the salary, “very low for all the training behind it”, Muñoz feels lucky because it usually takes longer to achieve stability. The doctor’s assistant contract is for five years and the LOSU intends for six.
He admits that he did not start teaching until a year ago, already as an assistant, but he assures that it did not go badly either; he once did a master’s degree in secondary school teaching ― “Those of us who work in science always need a second path” ― and he was used to giving seminars for experts, often in English. In any case, he adds: “The proposal of the minister [el curso de metodologías docentes] I think it’s fine as long as it’s not a problem to access job stability”.
Nora Rodríguez Loro, a 33-year-old professor at the University of Salamanca ―after passing through the universities of Seville, Córdoba and Valencia―, breaks the average age of the doctor’s assistants. The winner of the National End-of-Study Award for French Philology, who chairs the association The Invisible Faculty (which brings together many of these winners), believes that the course is too late: “It is a requirement at the wrong time, when you have already given many classes . It seems that they doubt our professionalism. Some pill would have to be given to some holder, especially in new technologies”. Lucila Pérez adds associate professors to the list: “They are professionals from various sectors who do not necessarily have teaching training.”
Only 9 of the maximum 100 points to be a doctor’s assistant come from teaching
Rodríguez Loro recalls that for those known as FPU -predoctoral students of the University Teacher Training program that lasts four years- there are already courses taught by the education faculties of the universities, although he acknowledges that they are brief (about 10 hours each) and without a corpus. Most doctoral students sign up because “teaching is scary” and, furthermore, it is counted as merit to be accredited by the ANECA evaluation agency to be an assistant professor. “You have to scratch points and you have to distinguish yourself because you are competing”. Although, in reality, only 9 of the 100 maximum points to be a doctor’s assistant come from teaching (up to 180 hours of hours taught, training received and production of material for teaching). She was lucky and her department shared material with her.
Nuria Aranda, from Zaragoza, winner of the National Final Degree Award in Hispanic Philology, will return from Lyon with 500 hours of teaching as a reader. She is accredited as a medical assistant, but, due to a lack of places in that body, she packed her bags two years ago and left for France. She is not very clear about the need for training. “There are things that work with one group and not with another, you learn by teaching,” she says. And she says that her arrival in Lyon disconcerted her. She asked her department colleagues for the teaching guide for the subject, which sets the objectives to be met, and it did not exist. Academic freedom taken to the extreme. Aranda, 31, is very angry about continuing to stumble to get a permanent job as a civil servant. She understands that many colleagues choose to be interim or associate professors to not keep moving. She has obtained a Margarita Salas scholarship – a new item from the ministry with European funds to requalify – and she will teach the next course in Verona and the next at the University of Valencia.
Daniel Tordera, assistant doctor in the Physical Chemistry department of that Valencian university, is not enthusiastic about the idea of receiving training. He loves teaching and is self-taught. “During the doctorate you can give classes… and now, for example, I make videos, inverted classes [los alumnos trabajan de forma autónoma con materiales proporcionados por el docente]a escape room [resolución de enigmas en un espacio]”, he lists. Tordera has very good references from an annual course at his university, but he prefers to learn on his own.
The freezing of new places for years in the public university ―in different percentages between 2011 and 2016― makes the average ages of the labor figures blush to any Administration: those hired doctor ―the next step to that of assistant doctor, fixed place but not civil servants ― are 48 years old, full professors 54 and professors 59. But the new replacement rate ―for every 10 who retire, 12 will become civil servants― imposed by the Government last October supposes a hope of a permanent position to which Lucila, José Manuel, Nora, Nuria and Daniel cling tightly.
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