The Spanish university system is made up of about 80 public and private universities which offer a wide choice of courses at undergraduate, master’s and doctoral levels. It has been adapted to the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) in 2006. More and more public and private universities include the possibility of taking part of their academic offer online. Written by Franziska Heimgartner Trilling, STC at swiss Embassy in Madrid
Spanish university system
The Public Foundation for the International Promotion of Spanish universities, universidad.es, was officially constituted in 2008. This initiative is sponsored by the Spanish Government and is an established and essential vehicle for promoting and disseminating information about all aspects of the Spanish university system. It manages and contributes to a range of collaboration programmes on behalf of the Spanish Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport.
Student numbers in Spain are higher than in many other countries (around 1.7 million students out of a population of 47 millions) due to the offer of degree courses at universities for many occupations which require vocational and professional education and training in Switzerland. In Spanish culture and mentality, university studies are deep-rooted as being much more prestigious and well-respected than professions which do not require university degrees. For this reason Spanish parents do everything to make it possible for their children to study at a university in order to have better employment and career chances. Spain shows a very high level of upward intergenerational mobility in education. Nowadays half of young people have attained a higher educational level than their parents in the last decades.
Earlier this year the Telefónica Chair at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona has published a first report devoted to Social Innovation in Education analysing the offer and impact of the MOOCs (massive open online courses) offered by Spanish universities. This report (only available in Spanish) indicates that Spain has, within a very short time, become a leading country in terms of MOOC activities. One of the reasons for this phenomenon is the worst economic downturn in decades with the result that Spain is having one of the highest proportions of young people who are not in employment, education or training (NEET) among OECD countries (one in four 15-29 year-olds was neither employed nor in education or training in 2011). At the same time the percentage of young adults that keep on studying after finishing compulsory education has been growing at a faster pace than the OECD average. This suggests that some young Spaniards see education as a temporary way out of unemployment and a potential advantage when they try to get back into employment at a later stage.
Spanish MOOCs platforms
The report provides early data of a rapidly evolving field state. According to this report, by the end of 2013 the global Spanish offer of MOOCs was over a hundred courses which was more than in European countries like the UK, Germany or France. They are mostly offered in Spanish language and the main topics were science and technology as well as social sciences and law. In 2013 35 % of Spanish universities offered MOOCs compared to 8 % of offerings in 2012 or, in other words, 28 out of 80 universities have included at least one MOOC in their academic programmes, and 20 of these 28 universities offering MOOCs have delivered them through the platform MiríadaX. MiríadaX, a pilot scheme started 1.5 years ago and promoted by Telefónica Learning Services (the Spanish company specialized in online learning solutions) and Universia (network of Spanish and Portuguese speaking universities), is the most popular platform for hosting the courses and is designed to facilitate exchanges and cooperation between Spanish and Latin American institutions. Universia was created in Spain in 2000 with the aim of grouping Ibero-American universities around a single online space. Since its creation, it has been sponsored by the Santander Group and has had the support of the Ibero-American university community. It is a network of 1290 universities in 22 Latin American countries and about 16.8 million professors and students.
Spanish newspapers like El País and ABC are reporting that the presidents of Banco Santander and Telefónica officially launched the definite portal MiríadaX on 27 July 2014 in Rio de Janeiro. During the pilot scheme around 700,000 persons had signed on in one or more of the 153 MOOCs offered. The investment so far has reached 4 million Euros and will increase according to the demand. It is planned in the long term that courses would also be offered in English. Emilio Botín, president of Banco Santander, underlined his conviction that MiríadaX could become the reference platform of MOOCs in Spanish and Portuguese worldwide. In any case, as 1 of 10 habitants in the world speaks Spanish or Portuguese, there is a very substantial number of potential new students.
MOOCs in spanish- an open gate to latin America?
Spanish relations with Latin America have always been very close. Ibero-America uses to be a priority for Spain’s foreign policy. Indeed, the human, historical, social, cultural, political, economic and linguistic ties have made Latin-America a mainstay in the foreign policy of Spain’s governments. Today, Spain seeks balanced relations with all the Ibero-American countries, on equal footing. Moreover, Spain is a key actor in relations between Europe and the region’s countries and it maintains close economic and technical cooperation programmes and cultural exchanges with Latin America, both bilaterally and within the EU.
Some institutions, like the National Distance Education University UNED (Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia) who has a significant share of the currently more than 150 MOOCs in Spain, have been creating their own platforms. UNED was founded in 1972 and has a very long experience in distance, virtual and digital education. With its’ more than 200’000 students it has one of the largest student numbers in Spain and is the leader in the implementation of cutting edge technologies applied to learning with the largest offer of virtual courses in Spain. Its own MOOC platform is called UNED COMA (COMA = Cursos Online Masivos y Abiertos).
High quality MOOCs are considered as a way to gain visibility in an education market which is increasingly abundant with choice. Permanent education being a major issue for the 21st century MOOCs represent a new opportunity for platform developers as well as for education business. Nevertheless, designing and running a MOOC is not an easy task and the growing number of MOOCs in Spain requires a quality model based on both course structure and certification process, as proposed by a UNED study. Most of the debate around the future of MOOCs focuses on learners’ attitudes such as attrition or lack of satisfaction that leads to disengagement or dropout. Dropout rates in Spain are said to be extremely high compared to other countries. The website EducaLAB, which is part of INTEF (Instituto Nacional de Tecnologías Educativas y de Formación del Profesorado), the branch of the Ministry of Education of Spain responsible for encouraging and integrating the use of the ICT in education programmes, points out that not all Spanish MOOCs fulfil the requirements of real MOOCs. Some online courses do not allow an unlimited audience nor offer the possibility of interaction between participants and facilitators. Self-motivation and discipline are the keys which lead to successful termination of a MOOC. Presence exams could be a method to evaluate the participants and to issue certificates and/or even ECTS credits.
As creating a MOOC platform requires considerable financial and technical resources, there is an increasing pressure on MOOC platforms in Spain either to transfer costs to course participants or to generate income from other sources.
At different times the conviction was expressed that MOOCs could be a means to revolutionize the present learning and teaching practices in Spain. MOOCs will retain and increase their importance, both to promote the reputation of the institutions and to widen their recruitment pool. As long as there are no stricter rules for MOOCs, they will not replace the classical model of higher education but will be a very important and much valued addendum as they contribute to democratise the access to education and information.