The comparative situation of Spain in the different areas described in the previous section is clearly linked to the level of resources allocated to the education system and the type of design chosen for education policies. In the same way as education in any society can act as a means of reproducing or reducing background-related inequalities, public decision makers’ ambition in terms of budgetary commitment in this area determines the ultimate impact of education on society, as well as the degree to which households’ educational needs are met.
Within this comparative context, the Spanish experience is quite unique because it is one of the few European countries where public authorities fund private education in various ways. In most European countries, the education system is usually organised in such a way as to make it a very generalised public-sector one, where access to private institutions is more limited. In practice, after the United Kingdom and Belgium, Spain is the country with the highest number of students in publicly funded private-sector education. Given that several studies have shown the publicly funded private-sector educational establishments take in a high proportion of students from families with a high socioeconomic level, this type of spending on publicly funded private-sector education is regressive in nature, i.e., it favours the wealthiest more than the poorest.
in Spain by the Social Observatory of ”la Caixa”, presented below are indicators referring to the volume of resources invested and the intensity of protection offered, as are indicators for policies specifically aimed at meeting social needs.
1. Low spending on education within a comparative context
One of the features that best defines the characteristics of the constraints faced by education policies in Spain is the allocation of a lower relative volume of resources (4.2% of GDP) than the European country mean (more than 5%). Since 2009, such spending has gradually fallen and Spain – alongside other Mediterranean countries – is currently characterised as a country that makes a lower budget allocation to the education system. That said, Spain’s relative spending is higher than that of Greece or Italy.
The progressive drop in the birth rate and the narrowing of the base of the Spanish population pyramid, which are not offset by migratory flows, mean that the indicators relating to volume of spending do not reflect its protective intensity well. A more direct indicator is per-student public spending. The calculation of such spending for the different EU countries confirms the previous portrayal because it puts Spain at a lower level than EU mean (10% less than the European mean).
That lower relative intensity of spending as a whole does not manifest itself in the same way in the different educational levels. It is slightly above the EU mean in primary education and upper secondary education, and around the mean in lower secondary education. At the first two levels mentioned, Spain is situated right at the mean of the 27 countries for which there are data. Of note in a negative sense is the gap that still exists in per-university-student resource investment (14% below the EU mean). At this educational level, Spain spends less than all the countries that have a higher mean income, with the exception of Italy, and the effort is also lower than that of some lower income countries. The figure is nearly a quarter lower than the EU mean and, what is more, the trend has been a downward one since the beginning of the decade.
A commonly used indicator of the relative intensity of spending on education that complements the previous one is per-student spending expressed as a proportion of GDP per capita. This indicator offers a measure of the intensity of effort that a society makes on education in relation to its level of economic development, and it allows the effects of wealth and population differences to be reduced in comparisons between countries. The calculation of this indicator for EU countries using available information gives a worse result than the previous ones. Spain is situated in the last quartile, further below the European mean than in the previous indicators. A relevant piece of information is that there does not appear to be a clear statistical relationship between the countries’ income level and that relative effort, although it is generally below the mean in less wealthy countries.
2. Containment of spending on scholarships and grants
Two relevant indicators for measuring the achievement of the first challenge – having access to quality education – were the percentage of students who accessed the different educational levels and the incidence of the school leaving problem. In all the countries, a factor for improving both indicators is the extension of the scholarships and grants system. A policy of scholarships and grants that is sufficiently generous and properly focused on households with the biggest problems in accessing the education system reduces the cost of access to the different stages of the education system and increases the opportunity costs of leaving it. That is why scholarships and grants have normally been considered instruments that are crucial to equal opportunities.
As noted by various authors, scholarships and grants, and the costs corresponding to these items that are published annually by the Spanish Ministry of Education, refer to different items that require a certain conceptual differentiation (Tiana, 2015). At the stages when access to public-sector and publicly funded private-sector educational establishments is free (second stage of early childhood education, primary education and compulsory secondary education), there are no enrolment costs and scholarships and grants help to wholly or partially offset households’ education-related spending (materials, meals, etc.). At the following stages (baccalaureate and intermediate vocational education and training), enrolment is only free at public-sector educational establishments. A significant proportion of scholarships and grants is therefore allocated to university education or equivalent studies, where the fees students pay only cover a small part of the real cost of their studies.
The available data on the evolution of the number of students who are beneficiaries of general study scholarships and grants for the last two decades show a succession of three clearly distinct stages. In the period before the financial crisis, the number of beneficiaries remained relatively stable, albeit with a slight downward trend. From the middle of the last decade, the number of scholarships and grants began to grow considerably, at a very pronounced rate of increase.
That growth came to a drastic halt in the 2011/12 academic year. Moreover, in 2013, Spanish Royal Decree 609/2013 made the requirements for obtaining a scholarship or grant tougher. At the same time, there was a significant increase in university fees in most Autonomous Communities. The simultaneity of the two processes within a context of drastically increased household needs put a major brake on the contribution of public policies in Spain to university education access. Although the number of scholarships and grants grew, that increase was insufficient to cope with the growing demand resulting from households’ drop in income. There are two further factors that make it necessary to think about the suitability of the scholarships and grants system. Firstly, since the above-mentioned reform, the mean amounts awarded have gone down in real terms. Secondly, as various studies have shown, a large part of the spending does not go to those households most in need, thus limiting its potential contribution to equal opportunities. On top of that, the spending allocated to higher education is, in the majority of instances, awarded to households that fall within the highest income deciles (Calero, 2015).
3. Differences compared to Europe in early childhood education
The set of actions promoting access to education can be considered an investment in future economic growth and a commitment to improving equal opportunities. Besides the usual arguments of social equality and justice, investment in education from very young ages can also be considered a means of boosting the capitalisation of human resources, with positive effects on economic growth in the long term. From the perspective of individual opportunities, early childhood education promotes the development of cognitive and non-cognitive skills that may be important for lifelong individual development.
As emphasised by the OECD in various reports (Starting Strong), early childhood education programmes can improve the above-mentioned skills, help to lay the foundations for continued learning, make the results of learning more equitable, reduce poverty and improve intergenerational mobility. In most countries, governments have used different formulas to gradually increase the resources allocated to early childhood education. However, universal access to such programmes does not exist in every country, and the resources invested in them differ considerably.
Eurostat data once again enable it to be shown that Spain is situated below the EU country mean and far from those countries that invest the most public resources in this type of education, such as the Nordic countries. In those countries, there is a much stronger tradition of systems that integrate early childhood education and care. However, the data show that per-student spending in Spain is situated below that of all the other higher income countries apart from the United Kingdom, which means that clear and consistent strategies have to be devised for the efficient allocation of public resources to this priority area.
What is dual vocational education and training? How can truly inclusive
education be achieved? What should we understand by learning platform?
Together with the Education Sciences Institute (ICE-UPC), we are organising
this series of seminars to address the new education ecosystems.
Do remedial education programmes aimed at students from underprivileged
groups work? This study shows that they only manage to benefit immigrant
pupils if the proportion of them in the school group does not exceed 50%.