In a world in constant evolution, it is logical to bet on a university system that reflects these changes and is flexible enough to be able to accompany them. The lack of flexibility is precisely one of the biggest problems that Spanish universities have, whose challenges also include a modernization of management structures, a retraining of staff or greater contact with companies. It remains to be seen what problems the long-awaited new Organic Law of the University System (LOSU) will really provide an answer to.

«One of the problems that the public university has is the obsolescence of its governance procedures that are based on the transposition of a political method to the field of university institutions and in this way perverse mechanisms are introduced.

It must be modified and adapted to the new context of university governance”, defends Francisco López, director of the Chair of Educational Policies at the Camilo José Cela University (UCJC). In this sense, Eva Ferreira, vice president of the Conference of Rectors of Spanish Universities (CRUE) and rector of the University of the Basque Country, believes that the “objective should be to speed up and reduce the time dedicated to management, and favor the transition towards a 24×7 use model, which is what the new times demand and one of the objectives set in our University 2030 strategy». For his part, Antonio Abril, president of the Conference of Social Councils (CCS), believes that in Spain university autonomy is confused with self-government and it is necessary “to go to the successful models of other European countries with a single governing body and a system for appointing the rector based on merit competition».

From Crue they remember that the universities are asking to have the due financial sufficiency through multi-year plans that “guarantee a baseline financing to which is added that derived from the results and objectives achieved.” This would represent an advance in their autonomy and would make it possible to “adopt those changes – with due accountability – that the universities themselves understand they need for their best service to society and that, in many cases, some of the best universities in our environment”, he highlights.

Faced with a time of change, Francisco López, who has held various positions in the Spanish educational system (among them, general director of Educational Centers of the Ministry of Education and president of the State School Council), believes that we must reflect on the model that is wanted thinking that «the university is an essential piece to prepare the future of a country. Education in general. In an investigation carried out in the chair that directs the data, they indicate that only 12% of 15-year-old students say that they will hold a STEM position when they are 30 years old, «and in the case of female students, only 4 %”. These numbers, in his opinion, warn us that we have a quantitative problem in the process of generating new knowledge and preparing for employment.

If we look back, these last two years have already been a challenge for the university system, forced by the pandemic. “It has undoubtedly implied a movement of acceleration of changes towards digital transformation that in the case of the university goes beyond what is a hybrid teaching”, indicates López. “It’s about introducing the potential of digital as a tool to support teaching,” he adds. All this does not mean that the experts in charge of transmitting knowledge must be dispensed with, but rather that “it supposes that cultural change that supports any profound transformation and an adaptation of the teaching staff to new technologies, responding to questions of a generational order”. In his opinion, “the ideal is to combine the most traditional source of training with the most groundbreaking.” In this sense, the vice-chancellor of Crue recalls that the approval by the Government of the Plan for Digitization of the University System, endowed with 142.5 million will allow the acceleration of the digital transformation of universities.

The Plan for the Retraining of the University System, for its part, which has benefited from the work of Crue, is endowed with 361.5 million that will allow improving the skills of the teaching staff. “As in all organizations in the 21st century, universities are especially attentive and concerned about the continuous training of all their staff,” says Eva Ferreira.

Another of the pending challenges is to achieve a higher rate of employability of young graduates. In 2015, the Ministry of Education promoted a study in which the university graduation database and the Social Security database were compared. “And very interesting things were said in it. Among them, that only half of university graduates develop a job according to their educational level two years after finishing their studies. The other half has nothing to do with it and is below their training”, highlights the UCJC teacher. In addition, “a quarter of university graduates perform manual jobs that do not require prior qualification.” These two data, among others, show that there is a great mismatch between the labor market and the nature of the graduates. “If you add to that the challenges of the future, it indicates that we have a very big problem,” he points out.

It is true that university education does not have employment as its sole purpose, «but it is one of them and you cannot live on your back. We create unhappiness in the graduates and there is a risk of failure”, explains López. In her opinion, «the proliferation of titles adopted by the obsolete system of institutions, centered on itself, and not on students, leads us to disorder». Eva Ferreira believes that “the low employability of young people is an issue that, to a greater or lesser extent, affects and involves the entire country. Universities alone cannot solve the problem of a sector made up of more than 90% by SMEs and micro-SMEs which, unfortunately, has a negative impact on the rate of demand for qualified employment in the Spanish labor market».

The president of the CCS speaks of “a crucial and historical moment for the university system. Between all of us we must be able to make a pact, a new university organic law that allows the Spanish public university to face the challenges of education in the 21st century». For Abril, one of the great challenges is to “improve society’s awareness of the importance of education and of the university in particular. There is little concern for the excellence of the public university », he points out. Proof of this is that the LOSU has not generated the expected public debate. To talk about the challenges of the university system, he refers to the “Roadmap to improve cooperation between universities, research and business in Spain”, prepared by the OECD, which advocates the promotion of the transfer of research results from the public sector to business.

Abril also indicates that Spain has the least internationalized public universities in Europe because they have little flexibility and it is very difficult to hire foreign professors, “which gives the private university an advantage.” From the CCS they want to contribute to the internationalization of universities to fully integrate them into a global system of knowledge transfer and recruitment and retention of talent. “The university must be more socially productive and more competitive internationally,” she stresses.

From the University-Business Foundation (FUE) they work creating networks between universities and SMEs and startups. “We believe that this is the critical part and we can give added value,” says Carmen Palomino, Director of Operations at FUE. “Companies bring us problems and we look to the research teams for possible solutions,” she adds. Palomina points to the need to reinforce the role of research and promote this collaboration with SMEs and startups, which “is not well developed, there is not a good fit between both parties”. Although large and medium-sized Spanish companies do work with the university, “an SME does not have the capacity to investigate and we have to continue weaving that network because without innovation changes do not come.”

He states that the transfer of knowledge from the University to the company is very weak. And he recalls that one of the objectives of the new law should be to create more collaboration networks and strategic alliances between different institutions. He feels that there is a change in mentality and that the universities are aware of the needs of the market, but he warns that the success of the measures to be implemented “is going to depend on the policies that each university has, which have autonomy.” Pending duties to ensure that society advances at the pace of the times.