An opportunity to design universities for the 21st century?

At present, the average age of lecturers in Spanish public universities is 53.4 years old, that of those on contracts is 45 and only 6% of lecturers are under 35. This means that in the not too distant future, it will be necessary to renew, as a priority, the teaching staff of universities, thereby offering a great opportunity to boost Spanish universities.

A few weeks ago, FEDEA brought together various experts in this area in order to try to analyse the situation of Spanish universities and propose ideas about how to modernise them.

One of the subjects examined was the limitations of the current system for recruiting new lecturers, which is a mixture of the Anglo-Saxon model, based on the autonomy of each university, and the continental model of lecturers as civil servants, which has reduced mobility and favoured endogamy. Thus, 70% of the lecturers did their PhD in the university where they currently work, while the figure was 86% for those who did it in the same Autonomous Region.

Another of the points discussed were the measures that the Government and certain regional governments had taken to encourage better selection processes for the recruitment of university lecturers. However, these measures have not been able to change the way that lecturers and researchers are selected.

During the FEDEA Seminar, one of the points insisted on was the need to establish a good recruitment policy that would form the cornerstone of university renovation. Such a policy would result in greater diversity as regards study programmes and research, the redefining of the degrees offered while also helping postgraduate schools to become competitive on the international stage. The main proposals were as follows:

  1. The imposition of a standard reform model applicable to all public universities is unviable.
  2. Complete freedom to recruit staff requires the existence of an effective system of external assessment, either through international agencies or objective indicators, which at present do not exist and should be introduced.
  3. The current system of certification should be subject to in-depth reform in order to make it open, public and transparent.
  4. Based on the U-Ranking 2016 (and other indicators) a distinction should be made between:
  • Teaching universities, whose growth over the next few years should be linked to an improvement in the adjustment between supply and demand for university degrees.
  • Research universities, those which have powerful research groups and postgraduate programmes or those which may be based on the country’s central research principles.
  1. Among the best practices mentioned, the following are worthy of note:
    1. Open job offers, published in the usual media and forums for each subject, with the participation of international evaluation committees.
    2. The offer of temporary contracts of 5-6 years, with the possibility of these becoming permanent positions. Assessment throughout the contractual term, as well as in the middle of it.
    3. Strict application of the “up or out” principle in the event that the individual in question successfully completes the evaluation foreseen at the end of the initial years of the temporary contract.
  2. The teaching universities may become research universities and vice versa. Universities may lose their research status according to their position in national and international rankings and the practices they use to recruit lecturers.
  3. The increased funds available and the lifting of the current restrictions on recruiting staff should be linked, with respect to teaching universities, to their capacity to adjust the number of degrees so that demand matches supply, while as regards research universities, they must show that they have implemented recruitment policies that are open and competitive at the international level.