POLITICAL CRITERIA AND MASTERS DEGREES

I鈥檓 more and more baffled by what is happening in Spain and here at home, in Catalonia, regarding the European convergence in higher education. We have ended up with 4-year BAs and 1-year MAs, instead of the more desirable 3+2 scheme, and now, before most of the new BAs (Grados/Graus) have even produced their first graduates, we鈥檙e being asked to modify and, in the worst cases ordered to shut down, MAs which have been running for under 4 years. This is madness, particularly if we think that, simultaneously, the tuition fees have sharply gone up making it even more difficult for any of the Bologna-style MAs to survive (and much less attract foreign students). And also, that we face very tough competition from the new MA required to teach in secondary schools. And also… (the list goes on).

Anyway, I have already written about this and before I start sounding like a broken record, let me consider what is new. The novelty these days is that we鈥檙e been asked to reform the surviving MA degrees to fashion them as a second cycle degree, a continuation from a BA, rather than a specialised degree. In a way, this would mean going back to the old Licenciatura system which I myself followed and which consisted of a 5 year degree with two cycles (3+2), followed by 1 or 2 years of doctoral courses. In the new proposed scheme, the numbers would be 4 BA + 1 MA +1 PhD courses (yes = 6, as of old), as we鈥檒l probably have to reintroduce teaching at doctoral level to make sure MA graduates can minimally face the challenge of writing a PhD dissertation. Running in circles, I call this. And losing, in the meantime, much of the original intellectual energy of the old-fashioned Spanish degrees. I don鈥檛 believe I鈥檓 writing this but that鈥檚 what I feel right now.

What irks most is that all these decisions are being taken by politicians sitting somewhere at remote Generalitat offices here in Barcelona or even further away in Madrid. The tiny Literature section to which I belong in the English Department at UAB had managed more or less well before Bologna happened, as we used to teach our Licenciatura subjects and a one-year doctoral programme, which attracted between 6 and 10 people each year, most of them finishing their equivalent MA dissertations satisfactorily. Suddenly, the same figures no longer seem good enough for the MA, which is ridiculous as, logically, the market for post-grad degrees in English Literature has not increased. Why should it?

I do believe our MA is good enough, considering our circumstances (we鈥檙e a second language Department, an understaffed section and divided into many fields as each of us has to cover at least one for all of English Literature and Cultural Studies). If the product cannot find its niche it鈥檚 clearly NOT our fault but the fault of those who pushed us onto a market that we needn鈥檛/couldn’t enter in the first place. We used to be happier, now we鈥檙e a frustrated bunch, tired of the whole Bologna nightmare.

There are plans to fuse with the other Department MA, as we should have done from the beginning, to guarantee survival. Yet, this is, as the main opponent against the merger claims, absurd from an academic point of view as MA degrees should be designed to offer specialisation not for simply furthering the general education offered by the BA. I can only say to this that this absurdity doesn鈥檛 spring from any of us in the Department but from the remote politicians. These incompetent bureaucrats believe that training less than 10 post-grad students is too expensive but do not see that admitting up to 140 students in an undergrad class (official UAB figures) might be even more expensive in the long run for the nation they seem to care about, ehem, as this reduces dramatically our time for research.

These are indeed bad times for teaching, Literature or anything else.

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