SPAIN: Protests against Bologna begin to spread

Resistance to the Bologna process is growing among academics and students in different countries across Europe. In Spain, angry students have stepped up their protests by occupying university buildings, blocking train lines and interrupting senate meetings. The Spanish government has tried to defuse the situation but last week more than 600 students were occupying various buildings at the University of Barcelona while universities in Madrid, Seville and Valencia were also affected.

The past month has seen major protests in several Spanish cities, including large demonstrations in Madrid, students blocking train lines in Barcelona and others interrupting a senate meeting in Valencia. The students are protesting at what they see as a creeping privatisation of state universities, in which they allege private interests such as those of employers are taking precedence over the common good.

With few grants available and, as yet, no student loans, most Spanish students work and study at the same time. They complain that Bologna developments such as the European Credit are increasing workloads and making this impossible.

"The Bologna criteria such as continuous assessment, the need to attend more classes, the emphasis on lots of hours of personal work at home are all very valid criteria," says Francesco Castells, a sociology student at Barcelona University, "but they mean students can no longer combine work and study."

Many students also believe the introduction of the three or four plus one or two plus three formula that Spain has opted for will devalue first degrees. It will force students to complete an often expensive masters degree, they say, to obtain the same recognition and job prospects they would formerly have earned with a first degree.

The anger of Spanish students at Bologna puzzles many outside observers as the process of harmonising higher education has caused barely a ripple on campuses across much of Europe. Spanish media commentators put this phenomenon down to misinformation and believe more must be done to show students and society the positive side of the Bologna process.

Another interpretation is that student ire is being caused by the way the Spanish government has chosen to implement Bologna. An initial attempt by the government to take advantage of the Bologna process to reduce the number of degrees offered by universities was abandoned in 2006 after student protests. Universities can now propose whichever degrees they wish, but the new bureaucratic process for getting them approved is causing bottlenecks.

The decision to opt for three or four years for first degrees, which used to last between three and five years, is also causing discontent and not just among students. The need to cut back on teaching hours in certain subjects, or reallocate teaching staff as universities reorganise their programmes, have unleashed many internal power struggles among academics.

"The problem is that all of this does not mean convergence with the EU," said Carlos Berzosa, Rector of Madrid's Complutense University speaking to Spanish daily El País. "The process has been badly managed from the start and lots of things have got mixed up, thereby complicating everything.

"Now all the messages reaching society about Bologna are negative ones... Bologna is something positive and necessary, it is a chance for students to be more mobile and the ministry has not done enough to defend it. The problems with funding or the changes deriving from setting first degrees at four years when most countries have opted for three ... are a different matter. This has caused a lot of problems."

After mounting protests and a plea for government intervention by rectors of the five universities most affected, the government finally reacted. It announced changes in some aspects of Spain's Bologna Process such as simplifying procedures for approving new degrees, according to Spanish Secretary of State for Universities, Màrius Rubiralta. The Minister of Science and Innovation, Cristina Garmendia, will meet the rectors shortly and a public declaration of the outcomes is expected soon after.