Spanish rectors unite in protest against spending cuts

Spanish rectors have spoken out with one voice against plans to cut funding for higher education and research. All but one of the heads of 50 public universities took the unusual step of staging simultaneous readings around the country of a joint declaration of protest at midday on 10 December.

They were protesting against plans to cut 18% from funding for universities and 7.21% from funding for research and development from the 2013 central government budget.

Taken together with the financial difficulties of regional governments, this reduction “is bringing our university system to the brink of economic asphyxiation and will cause irreparable harm,” said the declaration.

“If universities do not do research, not only are they not fulfilling one of their essential functions but the country as a whole is being deprived of one of its main drivers for development, progress and well-being,” said José Manuel Roldán, rector of Córdoba University.

The cuts are currently working their way through the Spanish parliament and if, as seems likely, they are approved, this will represent a cut in research funding for the fourth year running.

“The most important thing is not so much this year’s cuts but rather the brutal drop in funding since 2010,” said José de Nó, a researcher in automation at the Spanish National Research Council, or CSIC, and co-author of a recent analysis of the cuts.

At the CSIC, which employs around 6,000 researchers nationwide, the effects have been seen in several ways – “research projects have had to be stopped and there is less money for maintaining the buildings”, said De Nó. JAE, the CSIC’s programme for training students, researchers and technicians launched in 2003, will be put on hold in 2013 due to lack of funding.

Córdoba University has been able to avoid the worst effects on staffing so far according to Roldán, but even so was unable to renew contracts for around 50 part-time lecturers during 2012.

A tough year

All in all 2012 has been a tough year for Spain’s universities.

In April, the government announced a freeze on recruitments and promotions for permanent teaching and administrative staff. Budget restrictions have also meant that many institutions have been unable to replace staff who have retired, or renew temporary contracts.

By December, Spanish universities were having to function with 3,000 fewer lecturers than a year before, according to Adelaida de la Calle, president of the Spanish Rectors Conference, CRUE, and rector of Malaga University.

At the beginning of October, many Spanish students found themselves having to pay substantially more for their education as increases in tuition fees, ranging from 33% in the region of Valencia to up to 66.7% in Catalonia, came into effect.

At the end of the month, 39 of the country’s top researchers sent a joint letter to Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy asking him to use a strategic vision when carrying out the cuts to avoid reversing the advances made by Spanish research in recent years.

The rectors are now adding their voice to this plea. “Investing in education is investing in the future,” said De la Calle. “If we want to progress and be able to transfer innovation to industry and help our businesses be competitive, universities are the key.”