Contribution of the Subarea of University and Research of the United Left of the Valencian Country to the GUE/NGL workshop on the impact of EU Education Policy and Educational System Reforms on Youth and Society.
Structure of the document.
An introduction addressing some of the topics of the workshop and outlining the position of the Subarea of University and Research of the United Left of the Valencian Country.
A proposed resolution of the Subarea which dates from Demember 2005. Other documents of Subarea (mainly in Catalan) can be found at:
First of all, the question posed in the title of this workshop, Education: Public Good or Commodity?, is obviously rhetorical. If we are participating in the GUE/NGL initiative, we know that education must be considered as a public good. This is so for many reasons. Among others, we would like to emphasize three.
Firstly because we consider education as a universal right and not as something to be bought and sold.
Secondly, because the provision of education and the production of commodities have different time scales. Jerome Bruner observed that the basic aim of education is to prepare today’s students to solve that that we are unable to foresee. The strengths and weaknesses of today’s education will become more clearly apparent in 10, 15, 20… years’ time (and the future lasts a long time). The production of commodities in capitalism operates on a different time scale: short term profit (and the term is getting shorter and shorter after the end of the “cold” war). The future cannot be left at the mercy of “free” market capitalism.
Thirdly, because specifically higher education is also concerned with the production of knowledge and knowledge cannot be private: scientific knowledge depends on the public scrutiny of ideas.
Having said this, what can we say about EU higher education policy? There are words and declarations of intentions, there is a context and there are facts.
Although the Bologna process began as an academic initiative, to a large extent outside the neoliberal agenda of “European construction”, it is being implemented and must be examined in the neoliberal context of the Lisbon strategy. In such a context, there is a temptation simply to reject the process outright. In the Subarea of University and Research of United Left of the Valencian Country, we are analysing the Bologna process as a set of threats and possible opportunities. We consider that the construction of the European Higher Education Area is necessary but must meet a series of minimum social demands that are currently being played down by the EU. One of the main contradictions of the process is that there is a recognition of the need for a strong and efficient university system but a lack of political will to provide sufficient funding. Without sufficient funding, the process will deepen existing social inequalities.
Despite the adverse context, in the context of the Spanish university, some of the basic intentions can be considered positive and many of the words of the declarations and communiqués are reassuring. Thus the idea of defining university education in terms of learning instead of teaching can be considered, in principle, positive. At least in Spain teaching methodology at universities tends to be highly conservative and, among many university teachers, there is a deep-rooted hostility to active, student-centred methodologies. This can be considered an opportunity for change and innovation… provided, of course, that the funding of universities is similarly redefined so that there are more teachers to reduce the teacher student ratio, so that teaching staff are trained to implement active student centred methodologies and, above all, so that the full-time student, implicit in the Bologna process, receives an adequate salary grant.
If this condition is not met, and, in Spain at least, there is widespread scepticism among students about its being met, the Bologna process will exclude many students from higher education.
The Bergen Comminiqué explicitly includes the “social dimension” in the Bologna process and is eloquent on this point:
We … renew our commitment to making quality higher education equally accessible to all, and stress the need for appropriate conditions for students so that they can complete their studies without obstacles related to their social and economic background. The social dimension includes measures taken by governments to help students, especially from socially disadvantaged groups, in financial and economic aspects and to provide them with guidance and counselling services with a view to widening access.
But despite this declaration of intentions, in the pilot groups set up in some Spanish universities, many students who have to work to pay for their studies are having serious problems to continue studying. (Similarly, it is difficult to argue against the desirability of increased student mobility, but in Spain at least, insufficient funding excludes most students from studying abroad, and many of those that do study abroad are forced to work to finance their stay. A period of study in another European university with adequate funding should be considered a right for all students).
For a public
university in the framework of the European
Higher Education Area:
No convergence without finance
The capitalist neoliberal project for Europe only envisages its formal, nominal convergence in market terms excluding the perspective of a real convergence in terms of social cohesion. This has produced serious social and territorial inequalities in the framework of a European Union with a single currency but a profound social and economic heterogeneity. In this context the construction project of the EUPV (United Left of the Valencian Country) proposes a real convergence process with a number of demands such as a European tax system, a European minimum salary and a European Social Charter that really guarantees social rights. Our proposal also requires a real convergence process in Higher Education. But this process cannot be limited to a formal unification of the cycles of Higher Education and a single unit of measure of Higher Education, it also requires the provision of the means to implement this:
The whole process requires European public universities that do not seek “competitiveness” so much as quality and cooperation with the rest of the world, which are not subordinated to the narrow, short-sighted demands of the market but which seek to form creative, critically minded citizens with a high level of cultural and professional education, which is the only way to promote sustainable development.
All of this requires a considerable increase in the public funding of universities. We are convinced that without a convergence in funding there is no possibility of real convergence and so we demand a system of stable public funding in order to advance towards a a Critical Public University of Quality in the framework of an authentic European Higher Education Area.
 Esquerra Unida del País Valencà is a socio-political movement federated in Izquierda Unida.
 The concept of a “knowledge-based economy” can be seen as one of the main contradictions of the neoliberal agenda: capitalism is based on the private property of the means of production, but scientific knowledge must be public. There is a widespread acknowledgement that The UE lags behind the USA and Japan in funding I+D, especially in private sector funding. The lack of research in the private sector in Spain is particularly serious. An alternative model of public research is provided by the GNU/Linux open code movement. Along these lines, the state could set up Public Research Agencies whose research staf would provide services to different types of entities and companies. The result of the research should generally be entirely public and be distributed so that anybody could use it. As a compensation for the service, the companies involved could be required to ensure labour. It would be possible, in some cases, to allow a company that has made an important financial effort to fund a piece of research to have the right of exclusive use of the results for a short period of time, for example two years, after which the results would enter the public domain.
 Explanatory note: we propose that university studies should be free. In principle pre-graduate students would receive a salary grant to cover their personal expenses and expenses derived from studying. Postgraduate students would receive a public loan to cover these expenses, and would start to repay the loan once they begin to earn more than the average wage, the rate of repayment would be progressive.