Talking with students in my Department, I realise that none has a clear idea of how teachers’ work is organized. I wrote a document in Catalan for the benefit of the Students’ Delegation, but I have ultimately decided to translate it into English and publish it here for anyone to see. This post is based, on course, on my experience of working at a particular Department and the information I offer here may vary from university to university. If you’re reading me from abroad, then please bear in mind that the Catalan/Spanish university has a specific situation, which is what I try to describe here. It is not my aim, I insist, to describe one particular Department but a situation to improve students’ knowledge of the institution surrounding them.
A university Department is a unit within a larger institution, called in Spain ‘Facultad’ (the closest English equivalent is ‘School’; here’s a warning about a false friend: ‘faculty’ refers to the staff that works in a university, or one of its units). A Spanish university is constituted by a group of Facultades, and also of ‘Escuelas’ (I believe that Escuelas are more narrowly specialized). Some universities, like Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, only house Departments dealing with science and technology, but most Spanish public universities, like UAB, tend to gather together all kinds of Departments. Universities also include other units, such as Research Institutes, which, in principle, offer no teaching.
The ‘Facultat of Filosofia i Lletres’ at UAB is quite unusual: it has 11 Departments, ranging from ‘Cultural and Social Anthropology’ to ‘Philosophy’, and passing through ‘Geography’. In contrast, the ‘Facultat de Dret’ (our Law School), only has 3 Departments. We offer 25 BAs and 23 MAs–it takes a lot of courage to be part of the Dean’s team, or the Dean, that is, the head of the school. The Facultat is responsible for organizing all the degrees (except the Doctoral programmes), and it delegates to the Departments the running of each specific BA or MA. They all have a Coordinator, acting as a link between Department and Facultad. Our yearly academic calendar and course schedule is, incidentally, the Facultat’s responsibility.
The Department faculty (=the teachers) is determined by ‘Rectorat’, the team running the whole university, depending on our budget and our teaching needs. The budget is never enough–guess why–and so we suffer a chronic staff shortage, now really worrying. By law the teaching positions in a Spanish Department must be at least 50% tenured positions (that is, teachers must be full-time civil servants). Currently, few Spanish Departments obey this rule, and too many teachers are hired as part-time associates (for one year, with renewable contracts). Just consider: the last tenured position obtained by my Department dates back to 2008, 9 years ago. Most tenured teachers are now 45-65 years of age.
Full-time university teachers are mostly civil servants of the Spanish State (the categories are: Titular de Universitat [Senior Lecturer], Titular de Escuela Universitaria (no longer offered) and Catedrático [Professor]). I’m Senior Lecturer since 2002, though I have been working in the Department since 1991. Alternatively, many full-time teachers have permanent work contracts with the regional Government; they’re not civil servants. The categories in Catalonia are Lector (Lecturer, hired for 4 to 5 years), Agregat (similar to Senior Lecturer) and Catedràtic (also Professor). In both cases, civil service or contract, all teachers pass a stressful public examination, open to other candidates. According to current legislation, you may only apply only if you have the corresponding accreditation, issued by the national agency ANECA or the Catalan AQU. You need to be at least a Doctor to apply. Accreditation requires that you prove your merits, and it is a complicated, demanding process.
Full-time professors (of either type) are supposed to divide their time (technically 37 hours a week) in three ways: teaching, research and admin work. Universities have professional administrators (or PAS) but we teachers are also expected to run the organization. We volunteer, then, along our career to take positions as Head of Department, Secretary of Department, BA Coordinator, MA Coordinator, Doctoral Programme Coordinator. These are official positions, compensated with some money (very little considering the hard work they entail) and/or a reduction in the teaching workload. Other positions (TFG Coordinator, Erasmus Coordinator, etc.) are meagrely compensated, often with a small teaching reduction. I have been Head of Department and Coordinator (both BA and MA), and I can tell you that this may be nerve-racking. Particularly being HoD, which often involves dealing with human resources and the budget, in ways we are not prepared for as teachers.
Teaching is currently determined by legislation devised by Minister Wert and implemented back in 2012. This ‘Real Decreto’ connects research with teaching. Research refers to the obligation that university teachers have of producing publications that contribute significantly to the progress of their chosen field of specialization. Their impact is assessed by CNEAI, a state agency, and by AQU. Not all university teachers are active researchers and not all active researchers choose to pass CNEAI assessment. Yet those who do, must explain the importance of 5 publications highlighted among the list of all their publications every 6 years. Each assessment exercise is known as ‘sexenio’ (teachers may also obtain ‘quinquenios’ for teaching excellence and ‘trienios’ for seniority).
This is how it works now. The usual workload for a full-time teacher are 24 ECTS, that is to say, 2 courses per semester. There are, however, variations, depending on the sexenios:
– 3 valid sexenios mean you only teach 16 ECTS (2 courses a year, plus tutoring dissertations: BA [TFG], MA [TFM], PhD). Curiously, Catedráticos must have 4 sexenios to be offered this reduction. The last valid sexenio must have been obtained in the last 6 years (it must be ‘alive’). The teaching is reduced for you to go on doing research… not as a reward, or free time.
– if a teacher has 1 or 2 valid sexenios, then the workload is 24 ECTS (4 courses, plus tutoring).
– without any valid sexenios, then the workload is 32 ECTS (plus tutoring). Teachers in this situation may have never done any research, or may be active researchers whose last sexenio was not validated.
Associate teachers usually teach 18 ECTS a year (sometimes 12, or 6). They have no obligation to do admin work, or research, yet in my Department most are active researchers with a Doctoral degree. Associate teachers can only be hired if they prove that they have another job, for this is a position designed to invite professionals to teach university students about their profession. A decade ago there were still temporary full-time contracts, but they were extinguished. This means that researchers hoping to obtain tenure one day, accept contracts as associate teachers, combining in this way two or three jobs. They often have very long working days and only manage to do research because they work weekends. Researchers may remain trapped in that kind of situation for decades. By the way: in my Department all associate teachers are hired by means of a public examination. Contract renewal is not automatic, and associate teachers may have to pass an examination of this kind every year.
Departments also have ‘becarios’ (interns, fellows, depending on the word you wish to use). They receive a grant that enables them to work full-time on their doctoral dissertation. My Department offers 2 PIF (‘Personal Investigador en Formació’) grants, one for Language and one for Literature, renewed only every 4 years. The Ministry and the Generalitat have their own grant programmes; these are extremely competitive and usually awarded to candidates connected with research groups.
Not all university teachers do research, as I have noted, even though this is their obligation. For those of us interested in research, this is the most important part of our job, even above teaching. Unfortunately, some researchers see teaching as a nuisance but ideally a good researcher should also be a good teacher.
Research in my Department is extremely varied depending on the area and the individual, ranging from experimental phonetics to cultural criticism. We, nevertheless, share the same aim: the generation of innovative knowledge. This needs to be transmitted though publication in specialized journals and books. Right now, one of the most controversial issues is whether our research (I mean all over planet Earth) is adequately measured. There is a certain obsession with rankings and often researchers feel that what is valued is not what they publish but where they publish. Anyway: each researcher specializes in an area, which may not even be closely connected with their teaching. Students should check the Department website to learn what their teachers specialize in (or teachers’ websites, or ask us). I myself specialize in Gender Studies and Popular Fictions. I love teaching Victorian Literature but this is not an area on which I publish (or not regularly).
An academic career is an obstacle race, now more than ever. How do you become a tenured teacher? Well, be ready to invest 10 to 15 years of your life… if you’re lucky:
– first you take an MA degree, then write your PhD dissertation. This is self-financed, unless you get a grant (see above). 1 year for the MA, 3 to 5 for the PhD.
– accrue as many merits as you can, from your MA year onward: present papers in conferences, publish articles in journals, publish your thesis as a book, etc… All self-financed. Rooky academics are always surprised that we pay to attend conferences, and for all our research materials… Welcome to academic life!
– get an ANECA or AQU accreditation to opt for a 4-5 year contract. The problem is that right now there are very few contracts of this kind. If I remember correctly, UAB offered 6 for the whole university in 2015-16. None has been offered in my Department for years more than 10 years.
– this is why so many researchers with accreditations (even to be tenured teachers) accept part-time, temporary contracts as associate teachers. They are, I insist, more than 50% of our current Department faculty.
As I’m sure you realize most university teachers are under enormous stress; few of us have a peaceful working routine. Associates cannot know whether they’ll ever get tenure, and need to combine at least two jobs. Teachers who do no research now have a 32 ECTS workload instead of the until recently habitual 24 ECTS. If you do research, you are under constant pressure to validate your sexenios, publish in prestige journals and university presses, run or be part of research projects. In addition, we all must put up with an exasperating bureaucracy, and often spend precious research and teaching time filling in endless paperwork.
Do not be surprised, then, if you find us tired or irritable in class, though we do our best for students to get the best possible education. Because we are under constant pressure to perform, we do feel frustrated, I acknowledge this, when students show indifference (they have not read the required texts, failed to do homework, not met a deadline…). It is important that you understand that collectively we are making an effort and that we cover teaching needs far above the hours in our contracts.
By the way, our salaries can be checked here:
These are figures before taxation, so you need to deduce from them 20%-28%. It’s complicated to work out but, basically, an associate teacher makes about 600 euros a month (after taxes) and a Senior Lecturer between 2300 and 3300 depending on merits (teaching, research and admin). A full Professor earns about 600 more euros monthly, so I guess that the top salary is about 4000, perhaps a few more hundreds for teachers past 60 with 30 years’ experience. Full-time university teachers are not allowed to generate extra income elsewhere above 30% of their salary and only in special circumstances. Some teachers may be consultants, or make money by lecturing. I was myself for more than 15 years an associate teacher at the Universitat Oberta de Catalonia.
I hope this helps to satisfy your curiosity and to improve your understanding of the Department. I also hope that, once you see how precarious the situation of many teachers is, you feel inspired to make an effort and collaborate with us in your own education.
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