HIGHER EDUCATION

Red tape sees Spanish engineers undervalued abroad

Degree mix-up due to Bologna framework hinders qualified nationals’ prospects

Something that seemed so simple — bringing older engineering degrees in line with the Bologna framework (which created comparable higher education qualifications across Europe) — is hindering the work of Spanish companies bidding for international engineering projects.

This is because their technical teams are being undervalued. Whereas pre-Bologna engineering degrees in Spain took six years to complete, from now on students will go through four years for their bachelor's degree and a one-to-two year second cycle for a master's degree. Although the older graduates have enough credits and training to be eligible for the new master's degree, officially they are only considered bachelors. Yet a master's degree is a requirement in order to sign projects.

"We are aware of the problem facing Spanish engineers," explain sources at the Education Ministry. "Solving this is complex, which is why we want to find an answer that benefits everybody."

There are 201,000 registered engineers in Spain, and many others who are not affiliated with any association. Telecoms, industrial, civil and mining engineers are encountering the biggest problems from this educational glitch.

The problem has been dragging on since 2011. Yet "it would be enough for the Official Gazette to publish three lines equating engineering degrees with the EQF-7 level, the master's degree level," notes Luis-Manuel Tomás, president of the Association of Industrial Engineers of Spain. "There is no cost for the government, and it doesn't harm anybody."

I was offered a teaching post at the Technology Institute of Monterrey but I had to prove I had a master's"

The first complaints came in 2012, when engineers began asking the ministry for a solution. "What started out as a footnote has ended up becoming an increasingly recurring problem," explains Ángel Zarabozo, director general of Tecniberia, the association of engineering companies. "There are hundreds of cases and even more so after the summer. More and more places across Latin America are putting up barriers because of the degree issue. International competition is cut-throat, because there aren't a lot of works projects around; the sector is not just slow in Spain."

According to Zarabozo's estimates, between 90 and 95 percent of energy projects and 80 percent of civil engineering projects are outside Spain.

In one documented case, the Bogotá Metro authority refused to recognize the higher education degrees of a group of Spanish civil engineers from a firm called Saitec. The Colombian Education Ministry described their six-year degrees as "pre-bachelor diplomas."

While the biggest problems are in Latin America, Spanish companies have also encountered trouble in the United States, Canada and the Middle East.

The European Federation Engineering Consultancy Association expressed support for Spanish engineers in a letter published this week that holds the current situation "conditions the mobility and competitiveness of architecture and engineering companies on the international market."

"I was offered a teaching position at the Technology Institute of Monterrey, but I had to prove that I had a master's degree in industrial engineering," explains an engineer who declined to have his name published. His 12 years of experience as an associate professor at the School of Industrial Engineering was of no use. "After studying for six years, they view me as if I had studied for three," he adds.

"We are people with solid training" says Zarabozo. "It's bad for Spain's image to win major engineering tenders but not be able to put Spanish engineers at the helm."

Some people have decided to try to effect change through the social networks. Diego Álvarez, who is about to graduate with one of the pre-Bologna degrees, has launched a campaign on Change.org demanding that the government resolve the situation. Nearly 15,000 people have already signed his petition, underscoring the extent of concern over this bureaucratic limbo.

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