Bail out the Spanish University System

Last November 20 The Times released its World University Rankings, where the only Spanish University to rank in the top 200 is Universidad Autonoma de Barcelona (position 186 out of 200). Spain’s banking sector does not need a bail out. The Bank of Spain is perhaps the European Union’s best Central Bank. Jaime Caruana, former Governor of the Bank of Spain, has recently been appointed to head the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) based in Lausanne. The BIS is arguably the World’s Central Bank. Spain’s University System is a in serious need of reform, and has remained uncompetitive since the recent democratic stage began in 1976. The author comments on a necessary bail out that should be implemented the sooner the better. Any other alternative defers in time a necessary policy making, without which Spain’s graduates will not be able to compete with other European nationals.

The author graduated from Universidad Politecnica de Madrid in 2000, from Universidad Nacional de Educacion a Distancia in 2002 and from Universidad Carlos III de Madrid in 2003. The former was ranked in El Mundo’s University Ranking of 2008 Spain’s best University. El Mundo conducts a yearly University ranking that is the sole of its kind and could be compared to the USNews college rankings in the United States. Carlos III was ranked number 7 by the same ranking. The author has subsequently graduated from four Universities that rank in the World’s top 200, namely Columbia (#10), Berkeley (#36), the London School of Economics (#66), Georgetown University (#110), has also attended Universitat Stuttgart (#190) as an Erasmus student, and is in a good position to draw comparisons between Spain’s arcaic University system and that of the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany or France.

A closer look at the 2007 rankings show that not a single Spanish University appears in the top 50 universities for natural sciences, the top 50 universities for life sciences and biomedicine, the top 50 universities for technology, the top 50 universities for social scienes, or the top 50 universities for arts and humanities. Many Erasmus students from Spain that spend one year abroad at another European university come back to Spain commenting about the strength of the Spanish curriculum and the weaknesses of that of other countries. It must be our own idiosincrasy, or perhaps our own inability to acknowledge other systems’ strengths. The fact of the matter is that an unbiased, non-partisan approach to assessing the quality of the Spanish university system should look at the international rankings and conclude. Other universities are doing their homework much better than Spain’s consecutive Education ministers and University presidents. They ought to be changed, but change does not occur and is not likely to occur unless innovation is brought to the table.

In the last five years the author has attended four of the finest academic instititutions in the world. Their ability to attract the finest international students stems from their ability to attract the best faculty. Some argue university fees are much higher and the international student ends up carrying a lot of debt after graduation. There is some truth in that statement. But many universities in the top 200 are public that subsidize the student fees. In Spain the economic premium of a college degree is minimized by the fact that millions have a graduate degree. Universal education is important, but college for all as a Universal right is not the right policy. College for those that show the academic skills and merit is the right policy. Students have to be matched according to their academic skills, merits and effort.

If other countries have been granted the privilege of spending billions in bailing out their financial sectors because there is a significant risk of economic recession and depression, Spain should be granted the privilege to bail out its University system, because if there is a perpetuation of the current structural model, the children born in today’s Spain will be at a serious disadvantage to compete in the globalized world of 2025.

Zapatero announced recently the allocation of EUR 11 billion to the building of infrastructure and public works. I am certainly not questioning the appropriateness of such Keynessian savoir faire. But I would encourage the Spanish President of the Government to contemplate a massive investment in Spanish universities. There has to be competition among universities to attract the best talent. High school seniors rarely move to another province to attend a better university, because the notion that a student can do better in the labour market if he or she attends a certain college simply does not exist in widespread terms. But ask HR specialists where they get the best minds from and they are likely to mention universities such as Carlos III, Pompeu Fabra, Politecnica de Madrid, or Politecnica de Catalunya.

Open up a two year period in which every university in Spain is given the opportunity to upgrade its structures. After two years hire independent, foreign consultants and have them conduct an unbiased ranking of Spanish universities, similar to that of The Times or USNews. Pick the best ten public Universities, independent from their location. The goal is simple, to include five universities in the World’s top 200 in a ten year period, and 10 universities in a twenty year period. Raise EUR 10 billion and create 10 EUR 1 billion endowments. Allocate EUR 1 billion to each of the ten top universities. Build dorms, sports facilities, bring back the best Spanish minds that today teach and do research abroad. Then build up master’s programs and phd programs that are competitive. Charge high fees for graduate studies in the top ten universities selected. Use the fees to sponsor phd students and undergraduate degrees. Undergraduate degrees ought to be as inexpensive in the future as they are today.

There is no secret formula to envision the future’s success. There is reform and sacrifice, without which Spain will continue to be a seemingly services economy unable to make it to the group of G7 industrialized countries plus Russia because simply stated, Spain’s industrial fabric does not exist.

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One Response to "Bail out the Spanish University System"

  1. Guest   December 11, 2008 at 8:04 am

    “Spain’s banking sector does not need a bail out.”Wait…