Society 21/10/2021

Catalan vice-chancellors and government form united front against "the threat" of new Universities Law

Processing of new law for university coexistence starts thanks to ERC's support

3 min
The councillor of Universities, Gemma Geis, with the rectors of the Catalan universities, at the beginning of the legislature

Barcelona / MadridARA published a few days ago that Catalan universities are revolting against minister Castells's plans. Among other things, they criticise that the new law the ministry is preparing, known as LOSU, hyper-regulates the sector and constrains it. The Catalan Minister for Universities and Research, Gemma Geis, has now joined vice-chancellors criticism, calling the new law "a threat" and warning that "the Catalan university system does not feel recognised". That is why the minister and the 12 Catalan vice-chancellors are preparing a joint document to position themselves against the new regulation, the third since the end of the dictatorship. First came the university reform law of 1983 and the organic law of universities of 2001, which is the one that is now in force.

Basically, the minister's arguments are practically the same as the vice-chancellors: "The new law is excessively detailed, uniform and centralist", she criticised. According to the minister, if the goal is to renew a 20-year-old regulation, the proposal ought to be "modern". But it is not, it has an "absolutely regulatory" bias, which, moreover, "is not accompanied by guarantees". "We need better funding, better scientific structures and to ensure the generational replacement," she said. For Geis, there is an "excess of regulation": "You don't know if you are reading an organic law or the statutes of a university".

The draft bill presented by Castells establishes that temporary lecturers may not make up more than 20% of the staff – now the percentage is 40%, although this is not being met – and that civil servant lecturers will have to increase from 51% to 55%. In addition, it obliges universities to allocate a minimum of 5% of the budget and 15% of permanent positions to research and also includes changes in the model for electing the vice-chancellor – candidates will not have to be professors. Precisely, for the university sector, one of the red lines is to increase from 51% to 55% of civil servant professors, as it is specially relevant for Catalan universities: in the State, the permanent professors are civil servants, but in Catalonia, the only community that has developed its own hiring system, contracted professors, who are permanent but not civil servants, were introduced. "Now the law says that 55% must be civil servants, but in Catalonia it is very difficult to achieve this because our labour market has been strengthened. That is why we are asking that instead of civil servants they should just be on a permanent contract," the director general of Universities, Victòria Girona, told ARA.

Agreement between ERC and Castells

In this context, Geis has asked all parties represented in the Spanish Parliament to "defend" the Catalan university model this autumn, when the regulation will begin to be debated in parliament. In fact, this Thursday in Parliament there has also been a debate on universities, specifically, on the law of university coexistence also promoted by Manuel Castells. It seeks to repeal the Francoist decree of 1954 still in force at the moment. The regulation has begun its parliamentary procedure with the support of the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC), which has finally withdrawn its amendment to the totality. The PP had also presented an amendment to the totality, but it has not prospered (it has only received the favourable votes of Vox and Foro Asturias).

The Republican MP Marta Rosique explained that her group has reached an agreement with the government that includes "shielding universities' autonomy" and also preserving the right to demonstrate, two points that the Republicans had put in writing in their amendment. Rosique has claimed that the issue of sanctions for picket lines has been "resolved", although she has not given details of how it is included in the text. The regulation provided sanctions for "preventing the holding of university activities of teaching, research or knowledge transfer". Despite admitting that the law is "four decades late," Manuel Castells defended the importance of the law in repealing a decree that contradicted "democratic principles and values, freedom and religious pluralism". According to Castells, the new law is agreed with the university community and "safeguards the rights and duties of students".

A website to streamline complaints about the "linguistic violations" in faculties

After complaints from some students over teachers switching to Spanish, Plataforma per la Llengua, the Federació Nacional d'Estudiants de Catalunya (Fnec) and the Sindicat d'Estudiants dels Països Catalans (Sepc) have launched a website –https://www.launiversitatencatala.cat/– to speed up student complaints about "violations of linguistic rights". According to the entities, it is an "endemic and systematised" problem that demonstrates the decline of Catalan in faculty classrooms. According to official data, 60% of university teaching is done in Catalan, but for these organisations these are "false" figures.

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