Trans-Iberian

Trans-Iberian

Covering everything from the major news of the week and burning social issues, to expat living and la vida local, EL PAÍS’ team of English-language bloggers offers its opinions, observations and analysis on Spain and beyond.

Bologna Universities: All work and no play?

Por: | 19 de julio de 2012

The end of an ERASMUS year signals countless despedidas, frantic searching for low cost airfare (as you’ve been in denial about leaving and left it to the last minute), and more than anything reflection. Not only how you’ve developed as a person, but also on the institute where you’ve just spent the past year as an alumno.

I came to Spain with some firm stereotypes in mind. Largely derived from its mañana reputation and the brilliant French language film ‘L’auberge espagnole’, it is fair to say siesta, tapas, fiesta y un poquito de estudio would be a wholly accurate summary of what I expected to encounter – all different to work oriented England.

Cana
Typical Spanish: What I was expecting (Photo: BeLiP, Flickr)

Well, the differences between English and Spanish universities ARE immense – and that’s excluding the fact it’s all in a different language. Spanish Universities implement the Bologna Higher Education System, a framework developed by the EU to level out the varying types and difficulties of degrees in Europe. Bologna is designed to give students more contact hours with teachers, which inevitably means more modules, and as a consequence more work. In this respect it is a positive move, certainly some of the most frequent complaints to come out of my mouth – or that of my compañeros de clase back in Blighty - are annoyances such as “This just hasn’t been explained properly”, “they went over that topic too quickly” and “we don’t get anywhere near enough contact hours for our tuition fees”. These negatives are expelled with the heavily work orientated Bologna; in fact, you actually do far more than is necessary. 

Here the immediate difference with (certainly my, and I presume other) English universities becomes apparent: a minimum of four hours a week (normally two in large theory classes and two in smaller practical, seminar type classes) per module – as opposed to two. Five modules each semester – as opposed to three, adding up to 60 credits over the space of an academic year, with an average of 20 mandatory hours a week in the classroom with a small number (usually three) of faltas (absences) granted at the discretion of the professor. Medical absence without a signed doctors note is not tolerated and a registration (yes, seriously) is taken during some point of the class. I use the word class rather than lecture throughout I feel it is more appropriate given the system is more school-like than that of one that should be in an institute for adult higher education. Under Bologna you are not permitted to pass the module if you have more than the permitted amount of absences from each module, and this writer for one spent many an early morning groggily chugging down big bottles of water and espresso coffees to avoid the, quite frankly embarrassing fate of being told you’ve missed class too many times, don’t bother coming back.

Practical classes generally consist of supervised work on something that you have prepared the week before the class, which you hand over to the professor for marking, and the cycle is repeated week after week. A mark is given for each class, and if you don’t pass the practical part of the module, you can’t pass the module full stop. Not even if you get 100% in the exam – it’s that simple. The practical modules can be a drag on students as often they are asked to read several chapters, if not an entire book for the next class. I personally had a module where we were asked to read two 400 plus page books for next weeks lesson, something I’d find pretty daunting in English. Needless to say, I scheduled an appointment at my local centro de salud for the exact time and day of said class before dropping out of the module soon after.

The lecturers seem to forget that students have four other modules for which they also may have to do a lot of work, putting an incredible amount of strain on students who, let’s not forget, have the right to a life outside of the faculty doors. “It’s an utter joke, this” said one of my classmates, “I want to go to the language college (an activity growing ever more popular as job prospects diminish) and learn English, but I can’t as I’m always doing ‘homework’ or reading”. Another added “I’m lucky that I live with my parents. I know a lot of people who need to work to help whilst living away from home but can’t because (of the university)”. Indeed, a lot of students feel patronised by the system of education and feel they are being treated like children, still in secondary school, joking they may get a detention for not doing their so called ‘homework’.

Stress
What I got: Is too much being asked of Spanish students under the Bologna Plan? (Photo: cara.lepore, Flickr)

It becomes obvious that under the academic umbrella of Bologna, in Spain students are not afforded the luxury of free time (something we take for granted) that is enjoyed in British universities, with part-time jobs, social lives and general pursuance of other extra-curricular activities extremely difficult to combine with degrees, especially in my faculty where the workload is demanding, with many classes starting at 8am, and going on until as late as 9pm.

I therefore return with a completely new al revés outlook on both the Spanish and English higher education systems. Maybe our home universities aren’t all work, work, work after all, and are in fact more fiesta, siesta y un poquito de estudio than we realise. It’s just a shame I’ll be leaving the tapas behind.

 

Hay 3 Comentarios

I am a Spanish national who has done courses in both universities and in my opinion the spanish system with all the rigour in attendance and class lectures does not count for a degree in which you are prepared to work in a real job, quite the opposite, you follow a teacher with a specific method and that is what you learn, where as in britain you learn from the basics up to more difficult knowledge but developing your own methods which is something the industry is going to appreciate in the long run.

There is a major north.south difference in the interpretation of Bologna. UK universities say the end result is outcome based: what can the student do at the end of the study period.. Spanish (and French) universities go for input-based: numbers of hours, attendance etc.

I was a Spanish Erasmus student in the UK en 1996 and the contrast was the same before Bologna too. Bologna only added the elementary-school-like mandatory attendance.

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Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of Andalucia.com and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at korenhelbig.com.

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area perelloplus.com. @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Spain-Holiday.com. Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check: www.lookingfordrama.com.

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