Manuel Ramírez: "Canarian universities should be self-critical, I wish their problem was money"

Manuel Ramírez, General Director of Universities, during the interview. / cover

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The General Director of Universities of the Canarian Government affirms in this interview that the ULPGC and ULL must lower the dropout rate of studies or improve the recruitment of students and external resources

Theresa Artiles

Manuel Ramírez, General Director of Universities of the Canarian Government, faces the negotiation of the new financing model of the Canarian public universities convinced that the central problem "is not a lack of money".

-The Government has carried out a diagnosis of the situation of public universities in the Canary Islands that serves as a basis for negotiating the new financing model. Can you summarize it?

-We are finishing the model defined in the previous legislature, which ends in 2025, and the idea is to introduce the new financing model, with a contract-program, even before that date. The diagnosis says that our public universities are in a good situation in some indicators and quite regular in others. The idea is that the financing be oriented towards improving these indicators and maintaining the good level of those that are doing well.

-What are they quite regular?

-We have serious problems, for example, with dropout rates, which are well above the national average, and there are degrees that are in alarming situations, with rates that exceed 50%. We also have problems recruiting students, especially postgraduate students. There, the universities have to improve a lot and have quality postgraduate courses that allow the loyalty of graduate students or attract students from other communities.

“There are degrees with alarming dropout rates”

-ULPGC and ULL do not offer what the students demand?

-More than the students, I would say that society and the economic and social environment. Universities have to be aware that planning study plans with the objectives they themselves define is one thing, and what society may want is another.

-Are students from the Canary Islands leaving abroad because they can't find what they want here?

-There should be a survey. The data we have is about the students who apply for a scholarship, and it is interesting because more than 2,000 Canarian students do it to study at a public university that is neither the one in La Laguna nor the one in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. We have to analyze what qualifications they are and whether we have them or not, because if they go to study a degree that is studied in the Canary Islands, the question I would ask myself if I were in charge of a university is why? It can also be useful if you are choosing a degree that I do not offer, because it is telling me that it is in demand. We have given all this data to the universities.

- Do you trust that they make that self-criticism and improve on those deficits?

-That is the challenge they must face. Universities must consider, and I think they are working on it, that improvement is possible and what they have to do is a bit of self-criticism, get out of the comfort zone and stop giving degrees and subjects that may be easier for others, although they are more difficult and force us to make structural and circumstantial changes, but knowing that the objective is to satisfy the demand of society.

-You have described as amazing that La Laguna does not offer double degrees...

Well, I wouldn't call it amazing. Bearing in mind that this was one of the objectives set by the 2010-20 Canarian strategy, perhaps I would give it another qualification. The explanations they have given for why they have not done it seem amazing to me, because when a Canarian strategy defines a policy that defines an action, from a university that is autonomous at least it has to be co-responsible. The Government finances you and they have to respond to the needs that exist, to say that they have not done so because they did not think it appropriate is surprising.

-Another problem is the lack of vacancies in the master's degree for teachers.

-Both public universities offer an alarmingly low number of places compared to demand. And instead of increasing the offer, they don't even give the places they have authorized, 330. Last year, the ULPGC allowed themselves the luxury of offering 270 and La Laguna 310. Those places that they don't give mean leading families to ask for a loan to pay the private one It is a symptom of the disconnection between what society demands and what universities do.

«The universities do not even offer all the positions of the teaching master's degree that they have authorized; it is a symptom of their disconnection with what society demands”

-The multiannual financing with the program contract will serve to improve that connection?

-The Canary Islands have long needed to return to the path of the contract-program, where we were pioneers. After the crisis of 2009 we were left behind and the last legislature could already be faced and it was not done. An agreement was drawn up for 2025, without clearly linking funding to the improvement of indicators, and that has led us to the current situation, where universities want to continue increasing funding ad infinitum in exchange for practically nothing, and that it is unsustainable because public resources are limited. The only way to achieve the university policy desired by those who finance public universities in the Canary Islands, which is the Government, is to link the financing to the fulfillment of a strategy, respecting, of course, university autonomy. We are talking about lowering the dropout rate, improving the recruitment of undergraduate and graduate students, and attracting external resources.

When do you expect to close the deal?

-In September we intend to advance with the two universities the indicators and the financing elements that are in the national average and those that can be improved and require more specific data. We want to advance the change of model to the beginning of the next legislature. We are now defining the financing needs for 2023.

“The universities say that they are underfunded and I think that is not true; it is necessary to analyze if they manage the public resources they have well»

-The rectors of the ULPGC and La Laguna claim at least 301 million euros so that there are no cuts. Will they have it?

-I believe that the universities should be on the same level as the Ministry of Education, make reasonable proposals. You can't put something on the table that is impossible to reach. I could also ask that the next academic year, the people who apply for a scholarship and leave because here they don't have what they are looking for, be only a hundred, but I am aware that it is unattainable. We only ask that you be reasonable. The counselor met with the two rectors two weeks ago and you have to be sensible, not say one thing in a meeting and then call a press conference and convey something different.

- That is to say, they will not have those 57 million more per year...

-Sixty million more for public universities would mean assuming that they need it, and we are now complying with what was signed between the universities and the previous government in 2017 with the horizon in 2025. The universities say they are underfunded. I believe that this is not true, what needs to be analyzed is whether they are managing the public resources they have well. We ask the rectors to have the capacity for self-criticism and get down from the argument that the problem is money, because it is not, I wish the problems of public universities were solved with money, and not just the Canary Islands.

-The new university law recognizes this underfunding...

- I believe that the Ministry of Universities has blurred the problem with the law by speaking of underfunding. It is a basic error that is very good for the rectors, but the problem is the governance system, the public service, transparency, accountability... Funding may be a problem, but it is not the problem.

- In the Canary Islands there are four private universities. There are many?

-Our system is made up of two public and three other private ones operating, the fourth approved one is missing, to cover the same number of students as ten years ago when there were only two public ones. Neither many nor few, the important thing is that they comply with the law and two years ago no private university in the Canary Islands had the papers, its statutes approved by the Government, its operating rules, its study plans published in the official gazettes. There was a lot of legal insecurity for the students and their families, and we have resolved that. And then for the first time in this legislature when a private university has arrived that is run by a commercial company and does not meet the requirements of the law, they are told 'no'.

-He's talking about Tech. That 'no' has taken him to court.

-In August 2021 the dismissal order was signed and it has been appealed for administrative litigation, so it will follow that judicial path. And the criminal complaint against the order has been filed. In parallel there are complaints from all sides, against me, the rectors. But my obligation is to comply with the law and if the price I have to pay is to be sued for civil and criminal matters, I accept it.

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