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Spanish reform of student grants system causes confusion

C = Cmin + {[Ctotal – S * Cmin] * [N/Nmax] * [1 – (R/Rmax)]/SS[Ni/Nmax] * [1 – (Ri/Rmax)]}. If you have troubles finding the outcome of this equation it does not really matter because Spanish students do not know it either. This, if no mistake has slipped in, is the calculation to be applied for the variable part of the new Spanish grants system, a reform decided last month but still causing a lot of criticism and above all uncertainty among those mostly affected by it.

In Spain, eligibility for a State funded grant is based on financial need and academic merit. Ignacio Wert, Spanish Minister for Education, Culture and Sports, announced a reform of the Spanish grants system earlier in June this year. After a bit of see-saw, a regulation on the new Spanish grants system was adopted and published in August. His proposal foresaw an increase of the necessary overall average grade of the Spanish school leaving examination or university average grade from 5 to 6.5 for grant eligibility. Harsh criticism and estimations by the Rector’s Conference of Spanish Universities (CRUE) that such a measure would exclude up to 100 000 Spanish students from receiving financial support for their studies in comparison to 2010-2011 figures watered down the original reform proposal. 

A rather complicated compromise was found and now, the academic merit conditions for receiving a grant have been split into two categories – tuition fees and other types of grants. In order to be eligible for receiving a so called tuition waiver, the threshold was lowered in comparison to the original proposal of 6.5 to 5.5. Yet, in comparison to last year’s threshold of 5 the necessary average grade was still raised. For all other types of grants students must have an overall average of 6.5 (with exceptions for some fields of study). For an average of 6.5 students can receive three types of one time paid yearly grants – an income grant of EUR 1 500, a residence grant of EUR 1 500 and a variable sum of minimum EUR 60 which can only be determined once the whole grant application process has ended.

However, as the variable sum for applicants with a minimum overall average grade of 6.5 remains unclear so far, many students are left behind in uncertainty of how much they will receive for the upcoming year. Moreover, a number of students will be completely excluded from the new grants system and a significant number will only receive tuition waivers but no other form of financial support. Critics of the Spanish grants system do not want to accept the new regulation. The Spanish Federation of Education – Workers' Commissions (FE – CC OO) has announced that they would appeal the regulation, invoking Article 14, 27 and 103.3 of the Spanish Constitution which stipulate the principle of equality and the right to education.

The reform is an unfortunate backtrack from the progress Spain achieved in the last years by improving access to higher education amongst its population. However, the implementation of austerity measures does not leave the Spanish government a lot of financial leeway.

Spanish Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports (in Spanish)

Spanish Federation of Education - Workers' Commissions (in Spanish)