Faced with the need to undertake budget cuts, it is always less painful for the system to increase the contribution of citizens. “I’m asking for a little effort, a few euros a month,” Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said on Thursday, adding: “There is no money to pay for public services.”
The latest adjustment measure announced by Education Minister José Ignacio Wert to raise the price of university enrolment also takes refuge in this principle. Alleviating the public coffers without taking measures that harm the already deficient quality of Spanish universities is not the worst news there could be. However, the government is again showing haste, a lack of rigor and a certain absence of social sensitivity.
Spanish university fees are low if you compare them with those of other European countries, though salaries in Spain are also lower. Nevertheless, there is undoubtedly a margin for economizing, especially appropriate in the case of students repeating a year who so happily consume so many public resources. The most unfair thing about this measure is that it comes after several restrictive budgets in which grants have already been cut by 11 percent. This could leave many students of limited means outside of higher education.
Once more, a member of this government is presenting a significant adjustment in so essential a service as education without a corresponding study and annual report. An increase in university fees put British students on a war footing to the point of forcing Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron to slow down the process. Here, José Ignacio Wert runs the risk of stirring up the universities in exchange for benefits that have not been quantified; all the more so when several regions have already announced they will not apply the rises.
The government has touched what it declared untouchable: education and health. Wert has committed himself to reducing the deficit of the education system by three billion euros and to do that he is trying to reduce the number of teaching staff in elementary and high schools, all the while assuring Spaniards it will not be to the detriment of quality. And now, in raising the price of university enrolment, the minister is saying that the fact the government now finances 85 percent of the cost of a place is like providing students with a grant. Not particularly appropriate statements for such difficult times.