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Anxo Calvo Silvosa on Investment in state higher education, a key to recover prosperity in Spain

17th November 2012


Investment in state higher education, a key to recover prosperity in Spain

Dr. Anxo Calvo Silvosa is Associate Professor at the Accounting and Finance Economics Department of the University of A Coruña and at present Dean of the Faculty of Economics and Business. He has been the General Manager of Industry, Energy and Mining in the Regional Government of Galicia (Spain) since 2005 to 2009.  Since 2009 his research lines have been focusing on the relationship between Corporate Finance and energy regulation in firms which belong to the energy sector. He is a member of several Spanish academic associations in the fields of Finance and Management and he has published many academic papers in the most prestigious journals.

Translated from Galician to English by European Ideas Ambassador Felipe Gonzalez Santos.
In Spanish Universities, there is a deep concern about the state of higher education. This situation was generated as a consequence of the adoption of normative and budgetary decisions, carried out both by central and regional governments. The justification of this policies aims to be the supposed lack of efficiency of Universities as state services for higher education and research. Only oversimplified analysis and masked intentions of dismantled public services, taking advantage of a context of economic crisis, can support this conclusion, which is both biased and mistaken.
Real data supports the opposite statement. Public universities in Spain, despite of the lack of resources, develop with great efficiency its triple objective: Giving high quality education to its citizens, generating knowledge, and transferring it to society to increment its well being with culture, as well as having business competitiveness and wealth. From this point of view, Public University constitutes with no doubt an essential tool of social and economic cohesion.
In regards to teaching, the Conference of Chancellors of Spanish Universities (CRUE as its Spanish acronym) shows that 79% of students who start their university studies obtain their diploma, while the average in the OECD countries is 70%.  In addition to this, even if the economic efforts made in the adaptation to the European Space for Higher Education in Spain was clearly inferior to the ones in other countries that Spanish universities wanted to converge with. In the last years we have attained great improvement in academic performance. The changes implanted (reduced teaching groups, relations with social and business networks through curricular internships, incorporation of ICT, etc.) have improved the education offered by Universities with no significant cost for taxpayers. Thanks to the involvement of the whole university community, they managed to improve the academic level of our teaching staff, as well as for our students. Seeing these evidences, one can refute the supposed lack of efficiency of State Universities.
Concerning research, CRUE also manifests that Spanish scientific production has raised by 80% between 1997 and 2007, representing 3,4% of the global total. We should also remember that around 66% of research is developed in Universities. Consequently, State Universities place Spain as the 9th scientific power and the 8th in scientific publications. Despite Spanish investment in I+D+i it is only  1,39% of its GDP, while the average of the OECD is 2,3%. This evidences shows that Spanish education system is on the top 4 in the efficiency ranking. Consequently, the statement of the lack of researching efficiency of Spanish State Universities is not true.
With respect to knowledge transfers to society, most of patents in Spain come from universities, clearly contributing to business innovation and competitiveness. Without this activity, Spanish industry would suffer recession in progress compared to its competitors situated in countries with substantial greater investment efforts than Spain. Consequently, It is not appropriated to insist in the lack of efficiency of Spanish universities in their transfer function.
For these reasons, we could conclude that public money destined to Universities is managed with much greater levels of efficiency and transparency than other public and private institutions. In a period of crisis as the present one, reducing funding to University is not advancing to a solution of the problems but open the door to deepen society on a greater recession. Changing the productive model through knowledge and technology necessary implies strengthening in public universities. This facilitates the access to higher education in equal conditions for everybody and raises the investment efforts in research, transference and internationalization. Of course we should keep improving the efficiency of the public service Universities offer. This will necessarily mean introducing organizational changes in its management and processes that are currently being developed. For these tasks, it is fundamental to improve teaching, researching and management competences of staff members. Working in the opposite direction, would mean destroying an intellectual capital which is rarely replaceable.
For all these reasons, it seems obvious that measures developed in these last months by Spanish Education authorities are dreadfully unfortunate and inefficient and far from contributing to solving the problems that appeared with the economic crisis. These are more likely to aggravate them and punish the most economically vulnerable sectors of society. Thus, raising public tuition fees has no sense in such a difficult context as the current one. The only result this can bring is complicate, or even impeding, the access of underprivileged to higher education. In this way, a growing group of society sees how its possibilities of upward social mobility are limited. Otherwise, it is necessary that relevant administrations make investing efforts leading to enough and stable public funding. This will bring public universities to same level as other universities which we aim to converge. It is also crucial that Spanish public authorities contribute to give prestige to the role of professors, abandon short-term approaches and stop damaging the University with frivolous and inaccurate  statements. In this sense, it would be needed that public authorities would pull the proposed mechanism to revise professors dedication out as they constitute a real threat to quality teaching and researching. Not only now but also in the future.
Finally, it is very important that the totality of society values the compromise of Universities with offering a public service of higher education, research and transfer with the objective of making it more efficient in attaining its goals, and more effective and transparent in the management of resources. To achieve this objective, we should revise current procedures in every field (teaching, research, transfer, and organization) to be able to optimize public resources that Universities dispose.
In short, the ones with the duty to lead Spanish society during this crisis need high-mindedness. It is fundamental they understand that every euro invested in public education reverts in the totality of society by means of scientific progress, technological advance and economic development, as well as fair and equal opportunities. These are key factors for Spanish society to find its path to new prosperity, and built with a stronger support than past ones.



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