SEVILLE, SPAIN —
University, primary and secondary school students are returning to classrooms in Spain against the backdrop of an economic crisis that is affecting education. The loss of subsidies coupled with the increased costs of education also are having an effect in other troubled European economies.
Antonio Caseado is lining up at the unemployment office. After two years working as an interim high school teacher, he is out of a job.
Caseado is one of 4,000 teachers in the Spanish province of Andalusia who have been laid off as a result of a 21-percent budget cut included in the government’s austerity package, unveiled last spring.
Unions estimate that tens of thousands of primary and secondary school teachers are finding themselves in Caseado’s position. Those who remain have seen their teaching hours increase and in some regions, the number of students in their classrooms has grown.
Spain’s largest labor union worries these are not temporary measures to bring the country’s finances out of the red.
"The government is trying to change our education system," said Labor leader Manuela Martínez, who heads the General Workers’ Union in Granada. "And they are using the crisis as an excuse to do what they are doing. If they continue, nobody in Spain will really recognize what we had.”
There is another problem. Cuts to subsidies for textbooks and for cafeteria meals, coupled with the increases in the value-added tax, have made back-to-school very expensive for families.
The consumers’ defense organization [OCU] estimates parents will have to spend an average of about $670 per child.
Spaniards seeking access to higher education also will feel the impact. Scholarship programs have been reduced and tuition at public universities has gone up by as much as 50 percent in some places.
Adding to the grim situation, about one-in-five unemployed Spaniards is a university graduate.
The Organization for Economic Development says Spain spends 21 percent more than the average OECD-member country spends on education, yet its students have some of the worst outcomes on international tests.
And a recent OECD report warns of the effects of further cuts on accessibility.
OECD Deputy Director for Education Andrea Schleicher said the crisis highlights the need for more highly-skilled workers.
“Over the past decade more than two-thirds of economic growth in the European Union was driven by labor-income growth. That is basically better skills,” said Schleicher.
He added that it has driven growth in the majority of EU countries, even in the midst of the recession.
But even if higher education may be key to dampening the effects of the crisis, other debt-ridden countries, like Spain, have chosen to slash spending in that area.
Greece has decreased its education budget by 23 percent since 2009.
Italy cut university scholarships by 90 percent and laid off more than 100,000 teachers, though deeper measures were averted by widespread protests in 2010.
Additionally, the European Students’ Union reports thousands of Portuguese university students have been forced to drop out because of reductions in support services.