3+2 DOES NOT EQUAL 5: ON THE NEW DEGREE REFORM

The Spanish Government has finally approved the ‘Real Decreto’ by which universities may choose to offer BAs of 3 or 4 years, accompanied by MAs of 2 or 1 year, respectively. Just yesterday, the CRUE (the organization gathering together the principals or ‘rectores’ of all Spanish universities), agreed to delay the revision of the degree to the 2017-18 academic year. Students are furious at the Government while they claim this new reform is for the sake of finally bringing Spanish degrees into the European system.

I myself have a ‘Licenciatura’ corresponding to the 1977 Ministry-approved syllabus. ‘Licenciaturas’, if you recall, consisted of 2 cycles: a first cycle, lasting for 3 years, in which students took a list of compulsory subjects; and a second cycle, lasting for 2 years, in which you specialised taking a considerable number of elective courses in your area. You might obtain a title at the end of the first cycle, called ‘diplomatura’, and there were actually independent ‘diplomatura’ degrees. Yes, we already had a 3+2 system, with the whole 5 years costing the same fee. Funnily, we were told that the ‘Licenciatura’ was extravagantly long in relation to other European countries which already had a 3+2 system. Then the fashion started for the very rich to pursue MA degrees abroad…

The ‘Licenciatura’ was reformulated for the new 1992 Ministry-approved syllabus, and reduced down to 4 years, still with no MA degrees. If you wanted to pursue further studies then the next step was a doctoral programme. The one I started back in 1991-2, consisted of 2 years tuition on the basis of elective subjects, followed by 1 year to write the ‘tesina’ or small dissertation, followed by 3 years for the ‘tesis’ or main dissertation. When I started teaching in this programme, we all referred to the first two years plus ‘tesina’ as the ‘master’s equivalent’, though I’m not sure you could obtain a title. Yes, anyone my age had to spend 8 years in university before writing the first line of a doctoral dissertation, now it’s down to 5.

The 4-year ‘Licenciatura’ was remodelled again in 2000 before the European Union decided to implement the Bologna agreements for convergence into the European space of education. In 2006, then, the ‘Licenciatura’ was transformed into the current 4-year BA degree, the doctoral programme lost its courses and the new MAs were implemented. I was there in the front line and I very clearly recall the chaos as we were given very lax instructions about what kind of MAs we should devise and how many to offer. At one point, my Department thought of offering 3, this was reduced to 2 and after trying to stay afloat independently, we finally merged 2 years ago our 2 MAs into 1. In 9 years, then, the MA I teach in has been reformed 3 times–not a good sign.

I am glad, then, that CRUE has decided to take some time to organize the new reform as, to begin with, we still haven’t tested the performance of the 2007-8 degrees. It seemed as if we would be running the tests at the same time that we did the paperwork for the new option. My own personal view is that English Studies should keep its current 4+1 scheme, as students need time to learn the language apart from the contents. We cannot put anyone at C1 level at the end of only 3 years, much more so if the first year, as rumoured, is entirely transversal (= not in English). I also believe that students would chose 4+1 English Studies degrees rather than a 3+2 version for the same reason and also, here’s the crux of the problem, because whereas in the old 5-year Licenciatura fees were the same for all years, this is NOT the case in the new 3+2 system.

Here are the maths: 60 ECTS (=one year) of the BA in English Studies cost 1657.12 euros, hence, the complete degree costs 9536 euros. The MA’s fees are 2907’52. Students can complete a 4+1 education investing a total 9536 euros. With the 3+2 formula, using the current fees, the BA would be down to 4971.36, but the MA would amount to 5815.04, and the total cost would be 10786.4, that is to say, 1250 euros above the current 4+1 system. This might not seem a lot to English students paying up to 9,000 pounds a year for BA degrees (and leaving university heavily indebted) but it is very high considering the post-crisis catastrophic situation of most working-class families (in Scotland, a referent for the, ehem, future Catalan state, local students pay no BA fees).

The Government claims quite cynically that families will save 150 million euros with the new system, as young persons will be able to enter the job market in a shorter time and at a lower cost. Then, they can save money and decide whether to take an MA. What job market, I wonder? The only jobs available are badly-paid subsistence-level jobs that make being a ‘mileurista’ seem a dream. Anyone but the Government can see that these extra 1250 euros (far more in other specialities) will tip the scales against the economy of most working-class students. They will fail then to compete in the top rank of the tiny job market with middle-class persons in possession of an MA degree (the upper classes really compete with nobody).

In short: while the simple transformation of the old Licenciatura into a formal 3+2 system maintaining the same fees would have been quite smooth, the Government has chosen the worst possible moment to implement the new system. 2006, when the chance was missed, would also have been preferable, as the crisis had not started yet and the current resistance to the MA programmes’ inflated fees had not materialized.

Supposing the fees problem were solved, we still need to tackle the pedagogical problem. In my 23 years as a teacher I have seen university degrees progressively lose much of their conceptual density (their ability to train people seriously). This is partly due to the lowered standards of secondary education and partly to the increasingly widespread idea that having a degree matters more than accruing real knowledge in a field. From what I hear, there is more concern about the matter that oh, poor Erasmus students have so many problems because of our 4+1 system than about what exactly we teach students. I heard a top-ranking person at UAB speak of MAs as a key tool to internationalize our university and of BAs as general courses in which the process of accumulating knowledge, which so dramatically varies from the first to the third year, was totally ignored.

So: yes, why not? Let’s have 3+2 but let’s retrieve the best we lost with the 5-year Licenciatura and, please, prioritize equal-opportunity, non-classist education over the needs of foreign international students. I see the despair of the working-class students seeing the Government callously pushing them out of a serious university education and I can only sympathise, as I was one of them, and I have never ever forgotten what it was like.

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