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Spain: Post-election developments and challenges ahead

On 22 December 2011, nearly one month to the day after the resounding victory of Spain’s conservative Partido Popular (PP) in national elections, the country’s new executive team was publicly introduced. President Mariano Rajoy has named José Ignacio Wert Ortega to the number one position in the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport, while the new Secretary General for Universities (who reports to the minister) is María Amparo Camarero Olivas. Mr. Wert is a lawyer and sociologist by training, and in his professional career he has worked extensively in the fields of market research, opinion polling and communications. For her part, Dr. Camarero is an economist, with an active research profile and wide participation in professional associations in her field.

As has been well documented in the press, Spain faces enormous challenges to get its economy on track in the fact of soaring unemployment and a profound debt crisis. Perhaps not surprisingly, in his first official act within the university community on 19 January, the new minister affirmed that the sector is critical to the country’s efforts “to reach levels of competitiveness and innovation necessary to play a leading role in the world”.

But many uncertainties and challenges lie ahead. First, the new government has dissolved the Ministry for Science, Innovation and Technology, which had been created by the previous national leadership and operational during the period 2008 to 2011. Now, responsibilities in this area fall under the mantle of the Ministry for Economics and Competitiveness, causing some to question how serious the government is about the innovation agenda if they are not willing to accord it ministry-level status.

More broadly, the results of a mid-term assessment of the Estrategia Universidad 2015 (EU2015) initiative (see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, September 2009) were released in the last quarter of 2011, under the title Daring to reach high: strong universities for tomorrow’s Spain. An international panel of experts – chaired by former ACA President Rolf Tarrach – found (amongst other issues) that Spain’s universities remain insufficiently internationalised and that profound changes in governance are required in order to achieve Spanish higher education’s goals for modernisation and dynamic performance at a global level. A set of 25 specific recommendations, defined by level of difficulty, cost and potential impact, provides an important perspective on some of the critically important work that lies ahead for Spain in the mid-term.

Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport (Daring to Reach High full report, in English)