Universities in crisis

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Blog of the International Sociological Association (ISA)
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The Post-2008 Crisis and the Crisis of Higher Education in Cyprus

Ven, 12/09/2014 - 07:33

Victor Roudometof, President of the University of Cyprus’ Faculty Labor Union

Historically, Cyprus lacked its own public universities; the first public university was the University of Cyprus, founded in the early 1990s. By 2007, two other universities were added: the Technological University of Cyprus, which focuses on more applied fields of study and the Open University of Cyprus, which offers distance education. In general, between 1993 and 2012 the public universities enjoyed a period of growth; and were able to attract qualified academics from all over the world. In contrast to public universities, the island’s private universities offer considerably lower salaries for staff and heavier teaching loads.

The post-2008 crisis has had an extensive impact upon the landscape of higher education in Cyprus, especially after the passing of the 2011 legislation, the March 2013 EU-imposed “bail in” and the subsequent austerity program. In particular, the 2011 legislation implemented extensive salary cuts and created a two-tied system, whereby those in the lower ranks (lectures and assistant professors) were deprived of money and social security benefits. By 2013, the Cyprus’ parliament forced further salary cuts on senior faculty members, by eliminating the position bonus offered to them as part of their appointment to their respective positions. More than one hundred academics have filed a lawsuit against this decision to Cyprus’ High Court. The case is still pending. Between 2011 and 2013, the various cumulative cuts shrunk salaries between 20 and 45%, depending upon academic rank, salary range and years of service. Up to that point, academic salaries were on a pair with US average academic salaries, and that was a major factor that contributed to the public universities’ ability to operate competitively in the world’s academic market. In the summer of 2014, new legislative initiatives were introduced that would declare the lower ranking faculty members (lectures and assistant professors) to be “non-permanent staff”: that would prevent them from getting university pensions and retirement bonuses.

As a result of the post-2013 parliamentary legislation that froze all new hires in Cyprus’ public sector no new faculty members were hired. Moreover, the 2013 parliamentary decision froze all promotion proceedings. Scores of academics were either deprived of their right to ask for promotion or had their promotion proceedings postponed. For junior academics without tenure (i.e. lectures and assistant professors) the result is nothing sort of having their own lives suspended. The ability to voice their opinions openly has been limited; as job insecurity leads to excessive caution.

The post-2013 EU-imposed austerity program, promptly implemented by Cyprus’ conservative administration, has been at the root of the most of these negative effects. It is uncertain whether the effects of these policies will be reversed, if ever. The public universities’ budget has been ruthlessly slashed, leading to grave and extensive difficulties for researchers who rely on their individual research and travel accounts for attending conferences or paying for related publication and research expenses. The cumulative effect of legislation and salary cuts prompted tens of faculty members to ask for unpaid leave of absence in order to obtain permanent or temporary employment elsewhere. As a result of the hiring freeze and the faculty’s exodus, the total number of academics working in Cyprus’ public universities has declined, and junior academics increasingly have to look elsewhere for employment opportunities.

Categorías: Universidade

Portuguese Science: Chronicle of Death Foretold

Sáb, 26/07/2014 - 07:10

Helena Carreiras, Senior researcher, Center for Research and Studies in Sociology, ISCTE, Lisbon, Portugal

The Portuguese government decided to overhaul the national science structure by submitting all research centers to a massive evaluation procedure that was commissioned by FCT, the national science funding agency, to the European Science Foundation (ESF). Yet, the procedure went astray and public scandal has ensued. Unfair evaluations due to gross factual mistakes, inconsistent scores, inappropriate panel constitution, unethical statements in experts’ reports and lack of awareness about the Portuguese scientific system, as well as neglect to the track record of the R&D units, have been widely reported. Half of the research units have been excluded at the end of the first evaluation stage (154 out of 322). Contradicting official announcements, the public unveiling of the contract between FCT and ESF revealed that such exclusion was a prerequisite.

Some of the best research centers, according to FCT previous assessments, have failed the very first stage of evaluation. Consequently, they will be deprived of public sponsorship and many are doomed to extinction. Centers such as CIES-IUL (Centre for Research and Studies in Sociology) of ISCTE-University Institute of Lisbon, the Center of Linguistics of the University of Oporto, the Center of Physics of the University of Minho (CFUM) and the Instituto de Telecomunicações (IT), that had been consistently ranked among the best in their areas, are now downgraded, their scientists demoralized, as merit standards have been turned upside down.

During the first stage, there has been neither personal contact between the evaluators and the research centers nor are there independent instances of appeal. This means that research and institutions are being judged remotely by almighty judges without the chance of being heard before the sentence or appealing it afterwards.

In the case of CIES-IUL, a center that until now has always been classified as excellent and a leading research institution on migration and inequalities, the evaluation report claimed that these topics “are exhausted” in both Portugal and Europe. This statement is not as much erroneous as it is a scientific absurdity. Yet, this is just one of the too many blunders that pervade the evaluation process.

The Portuguese government is about to kill between one third and one half of its research system, which has taken years to build. This means the firing of hundreds of scientists with no place to go in Portugal. Science, fairness and national development are all victims on an equal footing. And yet, it is not completely clear whether this is the result of purposeful strategy or plain incompetence.

Categorías: Universidade