University fees in Madrid to rise by a further 20 percent next academic year

Regional government blames austerity and Socialists as cost of learning spikes

Studying for a university degree will cost students in Madrid an average of 300 euros more next academic year — a 20-percent increase on current fees. Added to the previous hikes imposed by the regional Popular Party government, the cost of a university education has risen by 65.6 percent in two years. Up to 7,000 students in Madrid’s six public universities are at risk of not being able to continue their studies because they cannot meet the inflated fees, which will come into effect in September.

The new rises were confirmed Thursday by regional education chief Lucía Figar, who said the policy would be “black and white” in the coming days. The humanities will be least affected, with a rise of 16 percent, while engineering and biology-healthcare will go up by 21 and 26 percent respectively. In total, 189,000 students will face higher fees, with direct grants from the regional government — 40,000 — and students with dispensation for other reasons — 60,000 — unaffected, Figar said Thursday.

The education chief wasted little time in blaming the central PP government for the new hikes. “These are not decisions taken lightly or with cheer. We are in a moment of great difficulty during which Madrid is being asked to cut back more than other regions,” she said. Madrid’s public expenditure has been slashed by a billion euros as part of the government’s austerity drive. “It affects all the wallets of Madrid’s budget, not just education,” Figar said, adding that last week the regional authority had assumed 78 million euros in debt to suppliers on behalf of the Complutense and Politécnica universities, which together have around 125,000 students.

“We have repeated it until we are blue in the face; Madrid and its citizens are victims of a regional financing system approved by the Socialists to favor Andalusia and Catalonia. The one billion euros we have lost this year are essential to maintaining services. It means serious cutbacks,” said the regional government spokesman, Salvador Victoria. Figar last week told university deans that a funding reduction of 50 million euros was being considered on top of last year’s 38-percent fee rise.

Figar: “Madrid is being asked to cut back more than other regions”

Aware of a public backlash against the measure, as well as its political ramifications, the regional government has asked universities to impose the new fees in installments. It also denied that higher costs would disenfranchise students from low-income families, pointing to the fact that current levels of grants and scholarships had been maintained. Figar also noted that the number of grants awarded has increased by 1,400 this year.

The Socialist leader in Madrid, Tomás Gómez, has called for Figar to resign or be suspended over the increases, terming them “unsustainable and unacceptable,” while also noting that the alternative to university is hardly attractive with youth unemployment in Madrid at 52 percent.

The head of the Conference of Madrid University Deans, Fernando Galván, wants fees to be frozen in line with the policy of the regional government of Andalusia.

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