“Students are given sizeable sums of money’ enabling them to study without getting a part-time job on top, and do not have to pay it back when they finish college,” says State Secretary for Education, Professional and Vocational Training and Universities, Montserrat Gomendio.
Who will pay the bill?
Gomendio, during an international seminar on education in Spain, explained that in Britain those who go to university borrow money from a student loan company, paying it back ‘in comfortable, interest-free quotas’, and only once they have found a job paying more than 21,000 pounds a year before tax.
“It’s not a question of whether or not university education is free of charge – it’s a matter of who pays it, when and how,” Gomendio stressed. She considers it “very important” for private-sector credit to increase within the university environment – not just in terms of students paying for their education, but with job and work experience contracts and research fellowships sponsored by high-street banks.
Spain has a total of 82 universities, with an average of one per year having been created in the last decade, offering 7,000 degrees to 1.5 million students. Until recently they all received government grants covering at least their tuition fees and normally a subsidy towards living costs.
In the last two years, only students who achieve a grade of 55 per cent in their university entrance test have been entitled to grants covering their tuition fees. To get funding towards their living costs, the minimum grade in 2012 for the college aptitude test, or Selectividad, had to be 60 per cent, but last year went up to 65 per cent.
More status for teachers
Education authorities said this is to filter out those who are not suited to higher education. Students and teachers alike criticize the fact that when a candidate has a ‘bad day’ or suffers unduly from nerves when taking the exam, they can effectively scupper their career unless their parents can afford to ‘keep’ them and pay course fees for four or five years.
Other changes Gomendio proposes in the State education structure include moves to ‘close the gap’ between vocational and professional qualifications and university degrees. She also wants to reward excellent teachers with incentives other than just pay rises. “Teachers who ‘get the best out of’ their students may be given greater career status in recognition,” says Gomendio.
She reveals that school teachers’ wages in Spain are above the European average, ‘which does not mean they are too high’, but shows that increasing salaries as incentives is ‘not the solution’ to better-quality schooling.