Every day, 50 000 students attend the UAB, which is half an hour’s train journey from Barcelona. As such, it is Catalonia’s largest campus university and one of the biggest in Spain. As far as figures are concerned, it also stands out for another reason. It is one of the universities where the most students opt to do an Erasmus year abroad: 11%, which is twice the European norm. Its Dean, Lluís Ferrer, speaks out to defend the application of the guidelines of the Bologna process in Europe, which promises to increase the number of student exchanges even further.
Did you believe in the benefits of the Bologna process immediately?
From the outset, we saw that it would provide hope for the future and a great opportunity to improve the university. However, as with every major challenge, it must be recognised that there are risks involved. It is for this reason that in this first stage of implementation of the [Bologna] process, in our university we wanted to provoke an internal debate on campus, so that everyone knows the general guidelines of the declaration and so that a mechanism could be established that would allow this transformation to continue up to 2010. Furthermore, we have also been running a pilot scheme involving 14 degree programmes [conforming to the Bologna regulations] in our university. We are starting to transform the degrees: this year, we have already begun with postgraduate studies. Next year will be more important because we will have courses that have already been transformed.
Education ministers from across Europe will be attending an important summit on the Bologna process in Bergen, Norway. What will this meeting mean?
In Bergen, the quality control of education will be studied in-depth. European universities are already public and democratic institutions, but what must follow is that there is quality control. To clarify, this means that we must have reforms and invest sufficient resources. If there are no substantial reforms, then this will fail. And it would not be the first example of such a failure.
So increased resources are vital for reforms to be carried out?
Yes, it is one of the main concerns. If the universities do not have the necessary resources, we will not be able to do anything. It will not work. The politicians have to be aware that implementing the Bologna process cannot mean that education becomes more expensive [for students]. As such, investments are essential. If the students have to pay more, this could mean a step backwards for progress and more discrimination. European universities have to have an element of social cohesion and solidarity.
What are the main advantages of the reform?
The main advantage is that we can put an end to the academic jungle that exists in Europe today. Studying physics in Barcelona and Toulouse, although they are very close geographically, is highly complicated. We have to simplify what is meant by a European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) and implement procedures for authenticating and comparing various degree schemes.
And how about the way classes are given? Will changes need to be introduced?
Yes, clearly. The method of teaching that we are used to is the formal lecturing method – teaching facts and figures. In university, you have to gain knowledge but also skills: working as part of a team, developing strategies.... In a way, we want to redefine the relationship between students and lecturers, and above all to effect an overall transformation, although it must be remembered that not all degrees will change in the same way. Some will have to change more and some less.
Your university has a good connection with Europe. 11% of your students do Erasmus years!
Yes, in most universities it is usually between 4 and 7%. Because of our experience with the Erasmus scheme, we know what we’re talking about: nowadays it is a problem to find degree courses that are equivalent in different countries. Furthermore, more grants are needed. And the examples that we have at our university are not very good, as the Catalonian and Spanish governments give the minimum amounts. We need more funding.