The student assembly at the Facultat de Filosofia i Lletres where I work have decided that the national student strike announced for tomorrow is not enough and so have extended it to yesterday, today and tomorrow. I have lost count of all the strikes I have witnessed in my 30 years at UAB, as student and teacher–one thing I know is that none of them have bothered the diverse Ministries of Education at all… I certainly am in favour of people struggling to defend their rights but I wonder why the methods have not adapted to the 21st century. Also, I fail to understand why suspending one’s education for a few days may send the Ministry any message, as there is no way a students’ strike can reproduce the effect which a workers’ strike is supposed to have. Anyway… the same arguments all over again every few years if not every year.

I have already written here about the reasons for the protest: the new degree reform announced in 2014 (see my post for 19 October) and legislated in 2015 (see my post for 4 February). Although we have not yet started drafting the new syllabus and we are actually going through our first process of BA degree accreditation, it seems that the Catalan universities will go ahead with the plan to transform our degrees into the 3+2 model beginning in 2017-18 (some new degrees are starting in September). I was reminded yesterday that the Generalitat has not yet appointed a Secretary for the Universities; besides, there is currently only a provisional Spanish Government, with a most likely chance of new elections in June. How wise it is for any reform to begin at this point is for the reader to decide.

My own view, already expressed here again and again is that the 3+2 model might be acceptable for English Studies provided a) the 3-year BA is taught only in English, including possible common courses shared with other language and Literature degrees; b) the fees for the 2-year MA are the same as for the BA, so that all newly graduated students can have the option to complete the 3+2 model. This is pretty much the official position of my Department. I have observed also again and again that this apparently new 3+2 model reproduces that of the old ‘Licenciatura’, which consisted of a first cycle after which you could be granted a ‘Diplomatura’ degree and a second cycle, followed by a doctoral programme. Actually, the Spanish Parliament has recently determined that in legal terms possessing a ‘Licenciatura’ is the equivalent of possessing a ‘Grado’ and a Master’s degree. So, why, many of us are wondering, not go back to the ‘Licenciatura’.

I’ve done my digging at the website of the Boletín Oficial del Estado to find the syllabus (Plan de Estudios) implemented back in 1977, the first one after Franco’s death, that is, the first university reform of our then young democracy. The ‘Orden por la que se aprueba el Plan de estudios de la Facultad de Filosofía y Letras de la Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona’ can be found at (16 November 1977, BOE 274). I had forgotten that the Facultat offered then 1 single degree in ‘Filosofía y Letras’ with specialities, but it is interesting to note that the decree speaks of students tailoring their degrees to suit their needs with the help of a tutor… (which I never had).

Credits were counted by classroom time, i.e., 1 hour = 2 credits. The first cycle amounted to 90 credits (15 annual subjects), of which only 18 credits had to be from another speciality; 60 had to be taken within the speciality. The decree gives the Facultat the choice not to organize a common first year syllabus. This sounds quite open in relation to what we have now, though my suspicion is that the freedom granted by the decree was actually diminished by internal regulations. Second cycle: 60 credits, 42 belonging to the speciality chosen, 18 to any other speciality (the word ‘minor’ was not part of the vocabulary). Now, this does contrast with the current limitations, as students’ need to stick to a much more limited choice. Interestingly, the BOE speaks of ‘transversal specialities’ taught by different Departments–we could have had, for instance, a second cycle on Literature in different languages… never happened!!

Thus, until the ‘Licenciatura’ became a 4-year degree in 1992 (see, students of ‘Filología Inglesa’ at UAB took the following yearly courses: ‘English language’ (I, II and III), ‘English Literature’ (I and II), ‘Anglo-Saxon Civilization’, ‘History of Language’ (with the pompous name of ‘Filología Germánica), and ‘German language’ (I, II and III). Students also had to take ‘Lengua Española’ (I and II), and ‘Introduction to Literary Studies’ (taught by the Spanish Department). In the second cycle, if I remember correctly, you could choose to specialize in English language or Literature, provided you chose a minimum of 5 semestral electives from the other branch. I haven’t been able to find a list of subjects, though.

Seeing this information, I realize that little by little the ‘Licenciatura’ descendants have pushed German out of the syllabus, to make room for more English language courses beyond the instrumental; Literature has also expanded to include more American Literature. The number of courses outside the Department was back in 1977 the equivalent of 6 semesters, in comparison to the current 4, but still so, these 4 semesters are a bone of contention, for we feel they should be taught in English. Needless to say, this is going to be the main obstacle for our Department in the new reform. All in all, however, the impression that ‘Licenciados’ (pre-1992) had a better exit level than later students may have to do with their taking a five-year course of studies than with the actual training they received. Following this line of thought, the students receiving the worst training were the ones in the period 1992-2009, as they took a 4-year ‘Licenciatura’ with no option to take an MA (except abroad).

Beyond the crucial question of the fees (they were relatively lower for the ‘Licenciatura’ and the same for the five years), our specific problem–and I refer here to all English Studies in Spain–is our students’ low command of the language we teach in. This is something we all know: the 1977 ‘Licenciatura’ attracted mostly students who understood that their English had to be solid enough to face the demands of the degree; since 1992, however, and particularly since the implementation of LOGSE in 1994, we are attracting students who, mostly, want to learn English. I’m perhaps exaggerating and back in 1977 (or 1984 when I started the ‘Licenciatura’) there were also many students with an inadequate command of English. I recall, however, from my students’ days a high rate of competitiveness among students to test who had the best accent, the largest vocabulary. This has been gradually vanishing from our classrooms. It makes for a certainly more relaxed atmosphere but the absence of peer pressure and the decreasing standards have also increased the time we need for pure instrumental language training. Hence the need to turn absolutely all subjects into English language practice.

That this is seen with a great deal of hostility became evident to me recently. I explained the idea that the common courses should also be taught in English, even when they are taught by teachers outside the Department, to a colleague in the Comparative Literature section (they teach the first year core course) and he was absolutely furious. Two things were striking in his overreaction: a) the idea that, we, English philologists, are not qualified to teach Linguistics and Literary Theory and b) a total incomprehension regarding the role that English plays in our classrooms. I understand the territorialism though, obviously, I disagree with it. What baffles me is the other matter. I tried to explain that if my students’ English is too weak, there is no way I can teach them Dickens (for example) but I totally failed. Now, my students’ English has been too weak for Dickens since, at least, I insist, 1994 and may never again be strong enough. Whether we limit the BA degrees to 3 years might make no difference at all, as I’ll probably still be teaching Dickens in the second year but, surely, if we could use more time for English in the first year, that would make at least some difference. Why this is so hard to understand is beyond me…

I’ll stop here. My master’s students have democratically decided not to be on strike this afternoon so I’m off to the UAB, hoping the habitual picket lines and barricades will be no obstacle… But that’s a topic for another post.

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  1. Good luck with the picket lines. It’s one of those infuriating things we should never get used to, and which I hope will be remembered some day with shame and bafflement.

  2. I never left home after receiving a very scary message from the Rector asking us not to challenge the 150 person-picket roaming the Campus… We have this tradition of not calling the police handed down from Franco’s time, so I simply cancelled my class. As I have done in the past six or seven years after an ugly encounter in a corridor…

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