This morning I was helping my 9-year-old niece to do her homework: a set of terminally boring exercises on how to use punctuation, designed to make any child hate commas and semi-colons for life. The cynical author had the gall of writing an exercise with the wording “Write an exclamatory sentence expressing how you feel right now.” My niece and I burst out laughing, we just could not stop. She came up with all kinds of nasty little sentences, as I wondered what kind of moron thought that generating frustration is educational at all.
Then I thought of my own frustration, produced by a meeting this week in which my university gave us, heads of Department and degree Coordinators, the basic set of instructions to produce yet another reform of our BAs (‘grados’). Basically, the idea is that the decision made back in 2007 to implement 240 ECTS, four-year BAs, is plain wrong. We need to go back to the drafting board and produce 180 ECTS, three-year BAs followed by 120 ECTS, two-year MAs. This way, we’re told, we’ll fit better the European system of higher education and facilitate mobility. Deep sigh. Abysmal sigh.
It seems that seven years ago the smaller universities pushed as mightily as they could to have a 4+1 system, on the grounds that students would leave them to take MAs elsewhere after only three years. My own university, very keen on the idea of the internationally attractive MA, wanted the 3+2 system we need to impose now (and which is apparently based on the British model). From what I hear, though, the universities now taking the lead and forcing the rest to follow are the private universities and, closer home, a public university behaving as a private one. As happened seven years ago, we’ve been told at the same time that we need not hurry and that we must hurry like Formula 1 racers: take the chance to consider in depth what’s been achieved with the new degrees, but prepare the reformed version in less than six months.
The Spanish Government has not issued the decree yet, which circulates just as a draft. This is enough, however, to set anyone’s teeth on edge. The whole key to this mess is that nobody seems to have considered how students will react to the very likely possibility that fees are raised once more. From what I gather, students are to be sold the idea that the three-year BA will not guarantee their professional insertion and will be ‘invited’ to take an MA, so that a) their education will be prolonged for up to five years (like the old ‘Licenciatura’), b) the fourth year will be more expensive –no longer part of the BA but of the MA. Surely, this will push many students out of the more serious part of the university –or is this the plan, that only middle-class students can get MAs and get the best jobs?
I personally have very serious misgivings about the three-year BA in the context of Spanish education, with a notoriously weakened secondary school. In the particular case of the degree I coordinate, ‘English Studies’, I see no way at all we can send into the market graduates with a competent level of English in just three years, particularly taking into account the plans to make the first year common to several degrees. We’ve been told not to approach the BAs as something specific to a speciality, as if they were to be just a glorified follow-up to secondary school. The real specialisation should be that of the MA. But, then, how can we train professionals in a second language? Add to this the last straw: the new law actually allows universities to offer degrees between 180 and 240 ECTS so, technically, we might decide at UAB to defend our current 4+1 system. Now, suppose our neighbours UB opt for the 3+2 system –who, then, would take our degree? And how can you put in the market-place graduates with this diverse education? I shudder to think of future doctors…
The person who gave us all this ‘good’ news, one of us, acknowledged that this is a very bad moment to ask our professional collective to make yet another massive effort: our salaries have been frozen for years, part of them simply stolen by the diverse Governments, we’re overwhelmed by the bureaucratization of education, and, most important, most degrees only started six years ago… But we have to go for it, and brave it with a smile. I am personally depressed and desperate, as I was in the front line during the preparation of the new degrees and endured a great deal of psychological anguish only last year, modifying the whole paperwork for purposes I’m not sure I understand. My successor as Coordinator (I’ll be done by the end of January) is a much more stoical woman and she has decided to take things as they come. Fair enough. She does not have, though, the experience of wasting precious hours in filling in 400-page documents with newspeak that puts Orwell to shame…
I’m very much aware that many European countries have this 3+2 system we need to introduce now but, if I’m not mistaken, these are the countries that back in 2007 changed nothing, as they already had short BAs followed by MAs. We saw our old ‘Licenciaturas’ destroyed, then the new degrees imposed with no time to consider their impact on us and now, once more, we need to imitate educational systems very alien to our own to please… the international students we want to attract to our MAs? That was my impression…
In the meantime, few are thinking of the enormous frustration that the students in our classrooms, engaged in four-year BAs with no future, will feel the moment they learn about this. And as I said, generating frustration is no way to educate anyone –nor to encourage those in charge of educating.
And, here the worst nightmare: if each reform is increasingly short-lived, for how long is the new system going to survive? Sisyphus comes to mind (without his original sin).
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