STUDENTS at universities and sixth-forms across the country staged a series of protests today (Thursday) over plans to alter the length of time it takes to study for an undergraduate and a master's degree.
Their demonstrations led to metro traffic in Barcelona being disrupted along two entire lines, between the stations of Bellaterra and Sant Quirtze del Vallès.
In Madrid, a huge gathering was staged outside the ministry of education building, now run by acting schools head Íñigo Méndez de Vigo, following the resignation of the apparently unpopular minister José Ignacio Wert.
Other gatherings and marches took place in Teruel, Zaragoza, Torrelavega and Santander (Cantabria), Almería, and various parts of Tenerife and Gran Canaria.
Later ones have been planned for Valencia, Málaga, Murcia, Salamanca, Valladolid, León, Granada and on the island of El Hierro in the Canaries, plus further protests in Barcelona.
Their main gripe is Spain's plan to bring university study more in line with the rest of Europe – at present, it takes four years to study for an undergraduate degree and just one year for a master's.
Authorities want to adopt a UK-style model – three years for a bachelor's degree and two years for an MA or MSc.
At present, the system means Spanish students study the equivalent of the first half of a master's degree during the final year of their undergraduate career, meaning a higher degree – which is much more frequently studied in Spain than in the UK – takes less time.
The government's argument is that non-Spaniards who studied a three-year degree have trouble getting their full qualification accepted in Spain, hampering them for job-seeking, whilst conversely, Spanish master's degrees do not carry enough credits for post-grads to apply for PhD courses elsewhere in Europe.
Students, however, are concerned about the quality of an undergraduate degree reducing and tutors being made redundant – although there is no evidence to support this.
Mostly, though, they are worried about the costs involved – a year's worth of study at master's level can be two to three times the price of a year at undergraduate level.
As yet, the government has not made any proposals that might ease the situation.
Students are also protesting over the practice of compulsory unpaid work experience which forms part of modern-day degree study, saying they spend a whole year without any income for living expenses whilst many firms keep jobs filled by rotating students on placements, avoiding wage bills.
Finally, they railed against changes in education laws brought in by ex-minister Wert – among which includes a minimum grade of 65% in sixth-form final exams to be eligible for a cost-of-living grant at university, and a minimum of 55% to qualify for tuition fees being covered, even though the pass mark is 50%.