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T14 portuguese universities isa, 2010

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T14 portuguese universities isa, 2010 T14 portuguese universities isa, 2010 Document Transcript

  • In «Universities in Crisis» (Michael Burawoy coord.)Web page ISA _ International Sociological Associationhttp://isacna.wordpress.com/category/portugal/ Portuguese Universities: From Dictatorship to Bolognaization February 22, 2010 at 11:08 am By Elísio Estanque, Coimbra UniversityDuring the period of Salazar’s dictatorship (1926-1974), Portugal’s higher educationsystem was strictly elitist. After the political shift to democracy in 1974, deep changesoccurred in the Portuguese society with significant impacts on education.Throughout the 80’s the pressures of demand — faced with a quota system foradmissions to different disciplines (numerus clausus) which left tens of thousands ofcandidates outside the university gates every year — obliged the government to find apolitical answer. On the one hand, it was necessary to soothe students’ discontent at anapplications system that was then leaving around half the candidates without a universityplace. On the other hand, the centre-right government (led by Cavaco Silva, formerlyPrime Minister and currently President) took advantage of the situation to satisfy theprivate lobby in the higher education market. This process, operating alongside therecomposition taking place in the job market and policies for financing higher educationaccording to the number of students per school, favored an increased deregulation and alogic of “massification” which contributed towards a progressive decline in the qualityand efficiency of higher education and of universities themselves.Within this context, the case of the University of Coimbra (UC) is of particular interest.With its 720 years of history, the University of Coimbra was, until 1911, the onlyuniversity in the country. Student identity, associated with this long tradition, was largelyforged through countless academic rituals – promoted both officially and by students andcharacterised by a festive and irreverent atmosphere — the praxe (set of studenttraditions and initiation rites), the Repúblicas [i] movement (communal studenthouseholds animated by a culture of rebellion and intellectual creativity) and also by thevarious protest actions and campaigns that had become a common feature of universitylife since the 19th century.In the 1960s, in particular, the UC became the focus for a series of intense studentprotests taking place under a political regime with fascist characteristics, which repressednot only students but also democratic public opinion that were demanding democracyand calling for the end of the colonial war. On the one hand, universities in Portugal
  • were extremely elitist, but, on the other hand, they were politically active and therebyhelping to extend democratic consciousness all across society.In Coimbra, student culture and lifestyles were the inspiration behind basic cultural andassociational activities. The pro-democracy movement within the university, whichopposed the regime and the colonial war, reached its peak in 1969 when studentsboycotted an official ceremony of the then Minister of Education and President of theRepublic. The Student Union (the AAC – Associação Académica de Coimbra) and theRepúblicas were the main organizers of the movement at the time, successfullymobilizing large numbers of students. The city was practically occupied by politicalpolice and the army. Heavy political repression followed in the wake of these campaignsand many students were imprisoned, whilst others were expelled from the university orforced into military service and sent to fight in the colonial wars in Africa (Angola,Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau).Following that process and the revolutionary period following the 25th April 1974Revolution, under the strong influence of popular movements in every sector (allied withthe Armed Forces Movement, which had overthrown the former regime), the newdemocratic constitution (1976) set socialism as its main goal and established education asthe decisive factor for development. Education should be accessible to all, free of chargeand guaranteed by the state. The result was an extraordinary expansion of highereducation in the following decades. The number of students enrolled in Portugueseuniversities has jumped from just about 40,000, in the early 70s, to a current total of450,000.That doesn’t mean, of course, that there has been an equalization of opportunities acrossclass differences to enter public universities. The public education system “tended to befree”, but was not large enough to absorb all those thousands of candidates. At the sametime, the private sector significantly increased over the 80’s trying to respond tounfulfilled demand. Indeed, private institutions were able to take advantage of the limitednumerus clausus enforced by public universities, and enforced very high fees (about€300 per month at the time, rising to €400 a few years later), while in the public sectorannual fees were merely symbolic (equivalent to €6 – €8), and assuring a much betterquality (at least in most areas). Although there were good courses at very low prices inpublic schools, these were attended almost exclusively by students from higher socio-economic strata. On the other hand, private institutes and universities became thealternative for those who could not enter the public sector and could afford to pay veryexpensive fees (normally middle-class students). All this “unfair” situation gave rise to aprocess – starting in the 80’s – of progressively increasing costs in public universities(though not as expensive as they are in private institutions). Fees now cost around €1000per year for undergraduates and for the Master’s degree they can reach €1500 or €2500per school year, depending on the areas (and institutions).This standardization and commodification of higher education haven’t led to anysignificant mass student movements — at least not like those that had occurred in the late60’s. Although there were protests against fee increases through the 90’s, not only in
  • Coimbra but also at the national level,, they were economist in their goals and withoutclear political meaning. Consumerism and individualistic subjectivities among studentyouth undermined any potential collective struggles identities that sprung from lowermiddle class origins, guided by materialistic orientations and concerns. The mainobsession for the large majority of students was their ‘job opportunities’ after graduation. It is no coincidence, therefore, that the introduction of Bologna model was heavilypackaged in the discourse of the articulation of university education and the labor market.Shorter undergraduate programs (in general reduced from 4 to 3 years in most subjects,except law, architecture and medicine), generalization of post-graduate programs,standardization of disciplines in a semester system (aiming to facilitate mobility andpromote flexibility for students and professors between European universities), closerarticulation between academic institutions and labour market have been some of thechanges bringing all European universities to as common denominator.Especially in peripheral countries like Portugal, this appealing program had its downside:promoting mediocrity as more young people passed through universities (independentlyof the qualifications and skills they might or might not get) in an attempt to meet targetsof the European Union ; and, more important, to save millions in state expenditure byintroducing higher fees. In this way, the political strategy of strengthening the educationmarket has pushed the public sector into a self-funding system. After the introduction ofthe Bologna process[ii] (2007-08), increased revenues have not been used to get betterpedagogic and educational infrastructures (updated libraries, for example), but, in manyfaculties and departments they have been the only way to support professorial and staffcosts as state budgets for public universities have been cut.Considering aspects like the growing unemployment in the country – now around 10.2%,and about double the rates among youth (19%) – the dramatic progressive precariousnessat work and the lack of employment opportunities for university graduates (with thecorresponding growth in “mc jobs” and call-center super-exploitation where universitystudents are a large part of the labor force), one may expect that movements and riots likethose that occurred two years ago in Greece, last year in Barcelona or five years ago inFrance will emerge sooner or later in other European countries. And Portugal will,certainly, not be an exception.[i]One could say that Repúblicas are equivalent to “Fraternities” in the USA. But inCoimbra, these community houses are small and run by the students living there(normally a group of 8 to 10 people) working under a self-management system, runaccording to their own rules, with their own rituals and codes, based on centuries ofacademic traditions.[ii] We should stress that, before its formal implementation, which in Coimbra beganonly in 2007-2008, the process had been under discussion since the “Bolognadeclaration” of June 1999, when 29 Ministers of education agreed on a few principles toharmonize higher education system in Europe. Subsequent governmental meetings were
  • held in Prague (2001), Berlin (2003), Bergen (2005), London (2007) and Leuven (2009).So, the current tendencies go back at least a decade.