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CAUT Bulletin Archives

March 2002

Dissenters Fight Spain's Reform Law

Mass protests, demonstrations & strikes in wake of new plans to reform the country's university system.

Students from across Europe are being called to demonstrate against Spain's infamous new law to reform the university system, the Ley Orgánica de Universidades (LOU). When European Union education and culture ministers meet in Salamanca, Spain March 17-19, International Pupil and Student Actions will hold a parallel European Assembly of Students Against the LOU.

The student action group claims the LOU will "essentially privatize the Spanish higher education system."

Mass protests organized by students against the LOU late last year were described by the New York Times as the largest since Spain's transition to democracy, with university staff, faculty members and even rectors joining in. More than 8,000 professors signed a manifesto against the bill and an estimated 200,000 students have taken part in strikes and demonstrations.

According to the World Socialist web site, polls showed that two out of three Spaniards opposed the law. Despite widespread protests the LOU was adopted with only superficial changes on Dec. 20, 2001.

Spain's federation of teachers, the Federación de Enseñanza de Comisiones Obreras (FECCOO), is also fighting the law. Working with student and youth organizations in the Plataforma por la Universidad Pública, the federation is advocating against the LOU at the European Union, and studying possible legal action to minimize its negative effects.

The most controversial aspects of the law centre on university autonomy, teaching and research staffing, finance and staff representation. In state universities, attended by more than 90 per cent of Spain's students, almost half of the teaching positions will no longer be tenured.

The federation says over the last decades Spain's universities have transformed themselves from an elite enclave into a progressive organization open to a wide variety of socio-economic groups. "Now, the LOU and its partner legislation, the Ley de Calidad (quality law), will turn back the clock," said FECCOO general secretary Fernando Lezcano.

"The proposals of the Ministry of Education to reform the education system are solutions drawn from the past, based on an elitist vision of education," Lezcano added. "So that a few can learn much, the majority will learn little, and be destined to move quickly into the cheap manual labour market."

International Pupil and Student Actions, which is calling for an even greater decentralization than that espoused by the previous law, sets the LOU in the context of a pan-European push for privatization. "A change in education policy is also what we want," says the student association, "but not the neo-liberal changes that are being pushed forward by the European Union and its member states."

Although the reforms have now become law, some universities in Spain's autonomous regions, such as Catalonia, are refusing to implement them.