Government slashes funding for excellence, universities face cuts

The Spanish government is to slash funding for its Campus of Excellence programme, a further blow to universities that are already dealing with cuts and a harsh economic climate.

Loans totalling EUR74 million (US$98 million) agreed during 2011 under the previous socialist administration will now not be forthcoming, according to the Spanish Ministry of Education. Only two universities, one in Madrid and the other in the Rioja region, will receive loans, for a little over EUR1 million.

The Campus of Excellence programme, launched in 2008, aims to encourage universities to innovate and improve quality by coming up with projects that not only encourage excellent research and teaching but also promote technology transfer and collaboration with other universities and with business.

The initial mix of grants from central government and soft loans distributed by regional governments was made less generous in the 2011 round of the contest, when most new funding was converted into loans.

With the new right-wing government of Mariano Rajoy, loans promised in 2011 will not even materialise.

Projects affected include the International Campus of Excellence of the Sea, involving five public universities of Andalusia, set to lose EUR4.8 million in loans, the University of Castilla La Mancha’s project on energy and the environment, set to lose a loan of EUR2.9 million, and initiatives of four public universities in Catalonia, which were due to receive a total of EUR16 million between them.

The universities of Burgos, León and Valladolid, whose joint project on human evolution, ageing and sustainable transport stands to lose a loan of EUR5 million, have announced that the project will continue, although initiatives such as attempts to attract top researchers, some research programmes and plans for taking on a new project director will be curtailed.

The Spanish University Rector’s Conference (CRUE) held an urgent meeting with ministry representatives on 20 February to try to safeguard the future of the programme, but was only able to extract promises to keep the aims of the initiative going.

The CRUE president, Adelaida de la Calle, highlighted the importance of the programme, saying it is “a very necessary and valid tool for modernising our universities”.

For some, it never rains but it pours.

Five universities in the region of Valencia stand to lose loans worth EUR7 million for Campushabitat5U, a project to create long-term, sustainable economic growth in the region. The bad news comes as the universities struggle to deal with late payments for running costs by their cash-strapped regional government.

In early January, the heads of the five institutions released an open letter calling on the Valencian regional government to hand over monthly payments corresponding to November and December of the previous year that had not yet been paid, a total of EUR193 million.

By late February, Valencia University had received payment for November 2011, but not for the following months.

“Of the roughly EUR350 million that constitutes the university’s income, around EUR260 million comes directly from the regional government,” said an official spokesperson for the university.

“If these resources do not arrive, the situation is dramatic.”

Funding cuts over the past four years have forced the university to tighten its belt. Austerity measures include halting all new building work, reducing energy consumption and not replacing staff who retire.

“We are in a very difficult situation and if these delays with paying funds continue, soon we may not be able to pay some of the salaries,” said the spokesperson.