The Government wants to stop having universities with barely a thousand enrolled in undergraduate degrees, that do not have doctorate courses or whose scientific activity is close to zero. That is why the ministry of the branch has prepared a decree for the creation, recognition and authorization of the universities so that all (public and private) demonstrate that they fulfill with quality the three missions they are entrusted with ―teaching, research and knowledge transfer― and if not , stop teaching careers within five years. The text is not excessively demanding (in the opinion of the university community), but only 18 of the 81 institutions (22%) analyzed in the rigorous report comply with it in its entirety What can be called a university?, from the Observatory of the University System, which was presented this Thursday. This analytical watchtower is made up of professors from the public campuses of Barcelona who are concerned about the future of higher education and who periodically analyze official data around a debate.
The figures, a priori, are very impressive, but sources from the Ministry of Universities reassure: “This decree is a tool that is committed to quality and that generates consensus among a large majority of university actors: the rectors, the unions … And it proposes a period of five years, a sufficiently flexible and wide term for universities to adapt to the new norm ”. These sources are convinced that in the long run “this quality approach will revert to the entire university system.” Any political party outside the camera or any private campus of entity recognizes that it is necessary to curb those known in the union as universities chiringuito.
The first conclusion of the study, based on data from the Integrated University Information System and the IUNE Observatory on scientific activity in Spain, is that only one (Navarra) of the 33 private universities – the five campuses approved since 2019 have not been included – meets all research criteria. The private ones traditionally focus on teaching – which is what pays for the operation with the payment of tuition fees – and neglect research and transfer, which require strong funding. And, on the contrary, the public companies fail in the working conditions of their staff, precarious with the previous economic crisis.
Offer of degrees and students
Until now, the law forced the campuses to offer 10 degrees without specifying what type and the decree details that they must have at least ten degrees (careers), six masters and three doctoral programs. Only three of the 81 universities do not meet the new degree requirement and they are all private and Canary Islands (Mid-Atlantic, Europea de Canarias and Fernando Pessoa). The average for public universities is much higher, at 46 degrees.
In the case of master’s degrees, there are again three centers that are short of degrees (Atlántico Medio, Pessoa and San Jorge, in Zaragoza). And the difference is abysmal in doctorates. The public ones pass the cut without problem, while half of the private ones (16 of 33) do not arrive. What’s more, eight private companies don’t even have doctoral programs, although many of them are at it in a hurry. The private ones have an average of 23 doctorates.
The decree also forces the campus to teach studies in three areas of knowledge – Engineering, Science, Social and Legal Sciences, Humanities or Health Sciences – with the exception of polytechnics. Again, on the black list are Pessoa and Atlántico Medio and this time accompanied by the University of Mondragón (Basque and private), very focused on entrepreneurship. With all three branches the ministry tries to keep the campuses of a reasonable size with the critical mass necessary for ideas and knowledge to flow. But the private ones, dissatisfied, remember that Stanford has an enormous technical specialization and despite this it is considered one of the best universities in the world.
Rubén Calderón, rector of the European University of the Atlantic – with 4,000 undergraduate and master’s students and another 10,000 of their own degrees – since it was created seven years ago with much controversy, believes that the decree “is going to set trends” but is not going away to apply as is. “The ministry can say what a degree should be like or the maximum number of students it can have, but not interfere in the percentage of total students at the university. Because that undermines free competition ”.
The ministry forces the institutions to have at least 50% of undergraduate students to end the universities on-line that what they want is to specialize in offering their own degrees (which to date do not pass regional or ministerial audits) under the claim of a certificate issued by a university. The Valencia International has only 23% of students in the race and the Middle Atlantic one 14%. The Emilia Pardo Bazán Forum, which encompasses private companies, recalls that Harvard has more graduate students than undergraduate students and no one takes it down from the Olympus.
This Wednesday the renowned ESIC marketing school, created more than half a century ago and linked as a center attached to the Juan Carlos I University, presented its project as an independent university without apparent nervousness about the decree. “It is an opportunity for us to create a higher quality university environment in Spain”, assured Teresa Freire, its executive director. “In more specialized centers, like ours, we will have to make a change to something better. We are going to look for lines that join our know-how, which is innovation in the business world: a more humanistic line and a more technological one. But in the end they are small ramifications, we will not try to get out of what is our field of knowledge ”.
“In Nebrija we are very calm since in the last decade we have made an unequivocal commitment to the research work that has resulted in five doctorates and a network of research groups and chairs that we only think of increasing,” they explain from the Madrid private university , which is very fair in students enrolled in the race. “The new Faculty of Life and Natural Sciences has just been approved, which is going to offer new undergraduate degrees,” they point out.
The decree requires universities to allocate at least 5% of their own budget to research. Keeping track of this data is not easy because private campuses do not show their accounts and public ones do not go into that detail. The text also requires each university to submit five proposals for research projects to national and international calls per year and to obtain at least five in that five-year period. 42% of private universities (14 out of 33) do not reach that figure and the differences between campuses are stark. The average number of research projects awarded in five years (2014-2018) is 246 in public centers and 12 in private ones.
Private universities do not receive direct funding from the State for research, but they can apply for public funds by presenting themselves to projects within or outside of Spain. The best example is the University of Navarra, a benchmark in health research, which competes without complexes for major European projects. “Some universities don’t look like they are getting ahead. Because they have almost zero scientific publications, doctoral courses…. Producing, writing and reviewing an article can take two years. There are universities, in addition, in the hands of investment funds and it remains to be seen that they are interested in this model [que potencia la investigación]”, Says Vera Sacristán, director of the Observatory of the University System.
The private labor agreement allows teachers to teach up to 15 hours of class per week – almost twice as much as in the public -, so many barely have time to do science, but if they do not publish they will not achieve merits to progress professionally. Despite the restrictions, the production of private teachers continues to grow. “In our structure we have designed a vice-rector for Research and Innovation that gives visibility to the efforts that we have been doing for a long time,” says Ramón Arilla, rector of ESIC, a university approved by the Government of the Community of Madrid in 2019, the same day as other two (Villanueva and Cunef). “We have multiplied by 10 our budget in 10 years and by 15 our scientific production in high impact journals. Are host, hosts, of congresses at an international level ”, he is proud.
Ten of the 48 public universities will have to write more to meet the scientific output parameter (the equivalent of three full-time professors have to publish six articles in three years) and almost all of the private ones (29 of the 33). Furthermore, only in three private universities (Loyola Andalucía, Navarra and UNIR) have 60% of the professors been awarded a salary supplement for their research work. In nine private universities, more than half of the staff have not read the thesis and will now have five years to fix this training deficiency.
In the labor chapter, there are infractions of the law that have survived for decades in public universities because the ministry and the regional governments chose to look the other way. For example, 47% of PDI (Research Teaching Personnel) have temporary contracts when it has been illegal since 2007 for the percentage to exceed 40%. Only 16 public universities are below that figure. All Catalan institutions ―which always sneak into any ranking quality – they have blushing numbers. Even the University of Barcelona, the only Spanish one among the 200 best campuses in the world according to the ranking of Shanghai, it has 60% of temporary IDPs. With the previous economic crisis, the University stopped taking over from retiring tenured professors and professors and was filled with tremendously trained young people – with better curricula than their elders, on many occasions – with precarious contracts.
The private university has a problem in its research facet so serious that it overshadows its precariousness in teaching. According What can be called a university? only 39% of its PDI work full time.
Calderón, rector of the European University of the Atlantic and education economist, recalls that they survive with the slightly more than 5,000 euros that the student pays for the course when, according to his calculations, the investment per student in the public oscillates between 10,000 and 20,000 euros (the official figures are lower, but analytical accounting works in few campuses). That is why it is an effort for his entity to do basic science, but he affirms that they are participating in national and international competitions and that 26 of his professors are now trying to achieve a six-year term after signing an agreement with the Aneca evaluation agency. In addition, they are awaiting validation by an industrial technology institute.
Since 1998 no public university has been created in Spain – the Polytechnic of Cartagena was the last – while the private ones have gone from 20 to 39 since then. “The Spanish system is known to be, in general, good for everyone. Angela Merkel asked for Spanish engineers and many nurses came to the United Kingdom. The decree tries to maintain that ”, confides Sacristán who demands from the ministry a monitoring plan that the requirements are met. The decree, he thinks, does not make it clear.
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