Equality vs. excellence in higher education: the case of Spain

Posted: December 29, 2012 at 8:52 am, Last Updated: December 29, 2012 at 9:26 am

Spanish daily El Mundo publishes today an interview where I analyze some aspects of Spanish higher education as it compares to the American system. Given how critical higher education is for any country’s competitiveness, it is comforting to see this topic gain interest in the Spanish press (see my earlier interview this month discussed here).

Here are some of my main arguments:

  • Spanish universities have done a good job driving inclusion and dramatically increasing participation rates in one generation (in the case of my family, 2 out of 6 in my parents’ generation went to college, whereas in mine, 12 out 15 did).
  • But the emphasis on access and equality has taken a big price in terms of excellence: Spain has no university among the world’s top 200 according to Jiao Tong’s rankings. Given the strong correlation between universities in the top ranks and national competitiveness, this should be of great concern.
  • The main reason for Spain’s lackluster performance in world rankings is governance: too much regulation, too little real autonomy, poor accountability.
  • American higher education’s challenge is just the opposite. A system that allows for great autonomy and accountability has produced the best universities in the world but is creating issues in terms of inclusion and access.  The cuts in public funding over the last decade have exacerbated the problem, transferring the burden of education from taxpayers to students and families.

The full interview (in Spanish) is available here.

Write to Ángel Cabrera at president@gmu.edu

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