Castells' Law: the danger of a more rigid university

2 min
The Minister of Universities, Manuel Castells

The new law on universities that minister Manuel Castells is preparing is generating a lot of discomfort and protest in the Catalan university system, from where the regulatory bias that tinges the text is not understood, especially unpredictable coming from an academic like Castells, with experience in the United States and also linked to a centre like the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (Open University of Catalonia). The governance profile of the Catalan universities, which, despite their funding problems, usually top the quality rankings in Spain, has been distancing itself from that of the rest of Spain by gaining autonomy. However, paradoxically, the draft law, instead of rewarding this model, or at least respecting it with a flexible legal framework, opts for a rigid, functional and recentralising system.

The alarm bells have gone off with the first concrete shock, once the elimination of three-year degrees, which are the norm in Europe instead of the four-year degrees predominant in Spain, has been consummated. It so happens that most of these degrees which consist of 180 credits and not 240, which represent a tiny part of those in Spain as a whole, are completed in Catalan universities, which will now have to abolish them all at once. Not only is this an excessive zeal for uniformity, but it also distances us from Europe. It seems that the main reason would be to favour convergence with Latin America, where four-year degrees also predominate, which is understandable - but why, if a centre wishes to, can't it offer three-year degrees? It is true that this desire to equalise does not make much sense in such a competitive global university environment. Wanting to establish an absolutely homogeneous system is typical of another era: it gives the impression that the text suffers from inertia and union pressures, and that it has not wanted to reflect the best international experiences, as well as falling into the everlasting centralist tic that once again ignores the autonomous competences. Neither the autonomous governments nor the rectors seem to have been listened to. They have wanted to go into so much detail, to regulate everything so much - for example in the case of the status and recruitment of teachers - that the result runs the risk not only of provoking a setback in the autonomy of the centres, but also of creating a law that is unrealistic and therefore, in practice, difficult to apply. The questions are many and the answers are too general. In short, what the Catalan universities are calling for is a general framework that gives them the freedom to govern themselves, to innovate, to attract resources and to seek excellence, not a law that would restrict them. Minister Castells would do well to listen to them before moving forward with the text as it has transpired so far.