Frustrated Academics in Spain

New requirement to become individually accredited angers university instructors, who complain of paperwork and an erosion of academic values.

March 10, 2017

Higher education reforms that have forced lecturers at Spanish universities to gain teaching accreditation have resulted in significantly reduced job satisfaction, a new study says.

Analyzing a survey of more than 1,000 Spanish university lecturers, researchers at the University of the Basque Country, in Bilbao, found that the vast majority of respondents were unhappy about many of the recent state-led changes relating to teaching and accreditation.

The law now requires universities to submit study plans for an independent review by an authorized agency, such as the National Agency for Quality Assessment and Accreditation of Spain (Aneca). Prospective lecturers must gain an Aneca-backed teaching certificate and hold a Ph.D. to apply for “public service teaching positions,” says the paper by Jon Olaskoaga-Larrauri, Xabier González-Laskibar and Pablo Díaz de Basurto Uraga, titled “Spanish University Reforms and Job Satisfaction: Is There Only One Way Out?” and published in the journal Educational Policy last month.

A majority of the 1,134 teaching staff who answered a questionnaire sent by the authors believed that the recent changes had made teaching much more bureaucratic and had eroded academic values, the paper says.

Some 88 percent agreed that their teaching duties were “increasingly more subject to rules and procedures," of whom 72 percent said this had significantly lowered their job satisfaction.

A total of 75 percent also said that they now “devote more time to purely administrative tasks”; of that group, 89 percent said this had significantly lowered their job satisfaction.

Some 65 percent of respondents also believed that “academic principles and values are losing validity and are being replaced by the specific rules of the university I work for,” the paper says.

Of those who perceived this loss of academic autonomy, 85 percent said it had made their job satisfaction much lower. Some 49 percent of staff also felt that they “no longer have the same freedom to make decisions on my teaching duties.”

Academics with at least 10 years of teaching experience, who accounted for 75 percent of respondents, tended to view the impact of reforms less favorably than newer lecturers, the results also suggest.

However, lecturers are not wholly pessimistic about some of the audit-led changes occurring in Spanish universities, the paper says.

While 53 percent of respondents agreed that universities now have more methods to assess teaching quality, only 15 percent of these respondents were unhappy about this. In contrast, 37 percent of these respondents were more satisfied with a closer monitoring of teaching, with the remainder offering no opinion on this.

“Any assessment implies recognition, even if only implicitly, and those who consider they are doing a good job may well be grateful for that recognition,” the paper suggests.

It adds, “Most lecturers … seem willing to submit to the developments that imply quality assessment, provided it is not interpreted in a narrow sense, such as accountability or the fulfillment of standards that restrict their academic freedom and reduce their job satisfaction.”

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