Article written at Times Higher Education. February 28th, 2016.
Image source: Alamy.
Researchers hail separatism as a way for region to escape Spanish bureaucracy
In September 2013, Antonio Cabrales, then professor of economics at Carlos III University of Madrid, left the country, citing Spain’s stagnant university system. Two and a half years into his post as professor of economics at University College London (UCL), he told me that he stands by his decision, claiming that Spain’s “fiscal situation does not look like it is going to get any better any time soon”.
Many academics share Professor Cabrales’ frustration with Spain’s higher education climate and it has become a key argument for Catalan independence among university staff in the region.
While the Catalan separatist movement can be traced back to the mid-19th century, it has become much more prominent in recent years.
In July 2010, more than 1 million people took to the streets of Barcelona to call for greater autonomy in the Catalan region, after a constitutional court in Madrid ruled that there is no legal basis for recognising Catalonia as a nation within Spain. Since 2011, further demonstrations rallying for Catalonia to become an independent state within the European Union have taken place each year in the city on the National Day of Catalonia (11 September).
In November 2014, a non-binding referendum on independence for the region took place, instigated by Artus Mas, the regional president. More than 80 per cent of respondents opted for independence.
Just four months ago, the Catalan parliament adopted the Declaration of the Initiation of the Process of Independence of Catalonia, which starts the process to create an independent Catalan state in the form of a republic.
But what impact would Catalan independence have on higher education in the region?
Professor Cabrales said that the answer depends on how a decision is reached – whether there is mutual agreement between Spain and Catalonia or a messy divorce.
The latter could lead to “all sort of problems”, he said, such as Catalonia leaving the EU and losing trade with Spain, which could result in a deteriorated economy and university system.
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