Numbers > Number 18 > Information in times of crisis: the image of Spanish universities during the pandemic
Research
Licencia de Creative Commons
ISSN: 1885-365X
VIÑADO, Fernando Profesor Investigador Contact https://orcid.org/-0003-2178-1750
GIMÉNEZ ARMENTIA, Pilar Profesora e Investigadora Contact https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5655-7703

Information in times of crisis: the image of Spanish universities during the pandemic

8 de noviembre de 2021
20 de noviembre de 2021

Abstract

COVID-19 has been the topic that has occupied the most space in the media around the world. We could say that there has been unprecedented media saturation. The mass media have had the challenge of reporting rigorously and searching for the truth in a situation of confusion and crisis never seen in re- cent times. This article aims to show an analysis of the information offered by the media about the Spanish University reality, during the state of alarm. We were interested in determining the informational treatment that the Spanish digital press made on the Universities in Spain and what was the image reflected on the strengths and weaknesses of Higher Education during the pandemic. To achieve this objective, an attempt was made to find out the degree of importance that the media gave it in their agendas and whether there was a dominant discourse on the part of the Spanish newspapers. It was also analysed whether the information provided by the most widely circulated newspapers corresponded to the reality of the University situation and its essential issues. This study helped us to conclude the relevance that Higher Education has in a crisis such as the one we have experienced and how the media transmitted that reality to us.

1. Introduction

The work carried out is supported and based on the existing literature in research journals that addresses these issues, such as Beetham (2013), Bucknell (2016), Comunian (2015), De la Torre (2017), Etzkowitz (2018) and Turcan (2016) who share the fundamental role that innovation plays in Higher Education and how universities must be open to cultural and social changes, but without forgetting their purpose and ultimate goal. We are also been interested in the works of Barroso Osuna (2000), Fernández and Molero (2003), García Peñalvo (2011), García Galindo (1993), Herranz de la Casa (2009) and Nieto Báez (2014), which reflect the image that the media show of the university. And finally, we have focused on research published in recent years on the role and functions of the digital press in Spain, such as the work of Caminos (2008), Sánchez (2018) and De Cabo (2009).

This article has carried out a detailed analysis of the digital press in Spain and the main topics that have occupied the pages of the newspapers, such as: teaching, re- search, government action and the role of the university during the state of alarm. After evaluating the information and bearing in mind the objectives pursued, the following questions were posed: Was Higher Education a relevant issue for the Spanish press? What were the main topics of interest in the digital press regarding universities? What aspects were highlighted? How did the newspapers assess the role of the university during the state of alarm? What approach was given to the information? Did the press reflect the real issues of concern for the university? In order to answer these questions, a thorough analysis of all the selected reports was carried out. This led to a series of conclusions which will be presented at the end of the paper.

We believe that this type of work, carried out in the academic sphere, is necessary and can shed light and clarity on a society that has been shaken by a health, economic and social crisis, which has made us aware of our fragility. Today more than ever, it is crucial that academics assume the capacity we have as an institution to put ourselves at the service of the community, in a world that demands answers that help to alleviate human suffering.

 

The situation we have just experienced with COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of interdisciplinary work in order to find solutions to the great shadows of human development. Advances in the field of technology present us with an opportunity to rethink the university teaching process, modifying the roles established until now. Thanks to these advances, we have been able, in the University, to tackle the confinement and the state of alarm to which Spanish society and most countries have been subjected, from an apparent normality. After this crisis, teaching has not only not been reduced, but we have opened to a world, unknown to many, of opportunities and possibilities, with tools that favour and enhance the learning of our students.

At the same time, the pandemic has also shown the great inequalities that exist in educational development and in the different academic institutions, as many of them have not been able to take on online teaching as they would have liked, and many students have not had access to teaching because they lacked the necessary technology.

The pressure exerted by this situation on students and teachers has been enormous, leading to an effort to adapt subjects to a new system that often did not have a positive impact. As Tejedor points out, this whole situation has highlighted the need for a restructuring of the educational offer and the renewal of contents that favour both quality and equity in the educational system (Tejedor et al., 2020). The current con- text presents an opportunity for the university community to seriously deepen its role in society: firstly, as an institution destined to educate and train its students integrally, enabling them to be global thinkers, future professionals willing to put their wis- dom, knowledge and science not only at the service of themselves, but of the whole community; secondly, the academy is constituted and shaped as the “ critical conscience” of society destined to provide a service of assistance and help to the most needy and disadvantaged sectors at all levels; and finally, the University must forge and offer the scientific, humanistic and technical resources needed in today’s world.

The University, through teaching, research and innovation, must play a leading role in the transformation of society, contributing to the solution of problems and promoting true sustainable human development, being a creator and disseminator of culture and assuming an essential role in generating solutions that help to improve and alleviate human vulnerability. The media, in turn, are called upon to inform, train and give voice and visibility to the different social agents that contribute, from an ethical, critical and service-oriented position, to the improvement of society.

As we have stated, the aim of this article is to delve into, reveal and analyse the media’s perception of Spanish universities during the state of alarm and how they have shaped public opinion. Specifically, we propose the following objectives:

 

  1. Analysis of the informative treatment of Higher Education, during the state of alarm, in the Spanish digital press.
  2. To explore and point out the main topics of interest for the main news papers when dealing with the issue of Higher Education during COVID-19.
  3. To analyse the media’s treatment of two key is sues in the university sphere: teaching and research.
  4. To point out and highlight the space given by the media to the opinions of academics and rectors on the role of Spanish universities in the pandemic.

2. Methodology

An exhaustive compilation was made of the information that appeared in the Spanish digital press from March to July 2020, in the three newspapers with the largest circulation: El País, El Mundo, ABC. In order to observe the content of these media, a quantitative analysis of all the news published on Higher Education was carried out. In total we have analysed 865 articles.

1. Selection of information sources

For the selection of the press, we were guided by the AIMC (Asociación para la Investigación de Medios de Comunicación) classification for the first four months of 2020 and we chose the newspapers with the highest circulation in Spain according to the source cited.

Thus, from the data in the graph, the three national general newspapers with the highest readership are El País, El Mundo and ABC. In this study, La Voz de Galicia and La Vanguardia have not been included, due to their local nature, although La Vanguardia has 13 editions, four of which correspond to autonomous communities outside Catalonia (Valencia, the Basque Country, Andalusia and Madrid).

Initially, we considered analysing the press and contrasting it with the official media of the Presidency of the Government; however, as the research progressed, it was discarded because, although the official media, especially the state channel “24 hours” dealt with the subject, the sample was not sufficiently significant. The official website dedicated a section to Education and Vocational Training, but the number of news items was very low: 8 in June, 9 in May, 4 in April, 9 in March, and very few of them referred to Higher Education (Government of Spain. Presidency of the Government, 2020).

We also analysed the website that the Ministry of Universities shares with the Ministry of Science and Innovation, focusing on the section on “Universities and Co- vid-19” (Ministry of Science and Innovation & Ministry of Universities, 2020). This section provides information on the different actions and procedures of this Ministry, i.e. homologations, legalisations, registration, credentials, etc. Therefore, we did not include it, as it did not provide significant results for the objectives of our research.

Finally, in Google News we filtered articles with the variables University/Higher Education and COVID. The results obtained were 346 news items in different media. However, we observed that only 30, less than 10%, corresponded to the main national newspapers (El País, El Mundo and ABC). In turn, of these 30, only 11 were in the education section, or at least labelled as such in the newspapers in question. Possibly the restrictions imposed by Spanish legislation on search engines, which is why Google News has been closed in Spain (Google. Centro de Editores, 2020), prevented a correct metric. On the other hand, it might be interesting for subsequent studies to carry out a more in-depth reading of the sources of information accessed by the general population when it comes to obtaining information. For all these reasons, the results were not taken into account for this study.

2. Sample size and date

In the sample, we used 100% of the information that appeared in the Education sections of the selected newspapers. In addition, we included all those news items outside these sections that responded to the search for “covid/pandemia/state of alarm + university/higher education”. In the case of El País, this search was only carried out until 30 May, as the following day it opened a new section El País Educación”, where all the news on the subject is grouped together: political agenda, reforms, new university degrees, forums and sections that include the opinions of teachers and experts, together with a weekly communication to its subscribers with the most important issues (El País editorial office, 2020).

The total number of items information collected on the subject of education in the state of alarm was 3467. Of these, in a first filtering through the analysis of the title and the headline, we selected 1059, as many of the articles, even though they were in the education section, dealt with the school stage prior to higher education. This numbers of items were viewed via the web and 865 articles were found to be relevant.

The sample date period was three months and 20 days, from 10 March to 01 July 2020. Although the state of alert began on 14 March 2020 and was lifted on 21 June (00:00 hrs), in the sample collection we included a few days in advance as the media itself reflected a certain concern about the high number of infections and other days after its end, as the situation in some autonomous communities was still like the last period of the state of alert.

3. Discussion/Results

For the presentation of the results, we will follow the same order proposed in the objectives:

1. Themes present in the main newspapers when they deal with the subject of Higher Education.

2. Teaching.

3. Research.

4. Government-University relations.

5. University intervention in the media.

If we analyse the graph, it is clear that teaching, research and the opinion of academics and rectors have been the three priority topics for the media. It can also be noted that the government’s actions, although with a lower percentage, have also been of interest to the media. We have left the articles on the EvAU (University Entrance Examination) in a separate block due to its specificity.

With regard to the themes crossed with the variable “date”, we found no relevant conclusions, except for some peaks of coinciding themes: at the beginning of the pandemic, the focus was on the closure of universities and the start of online classes, and at the end of the state of alarm, the focus was on the university entrance exams, especially during the months of April and June. Another topic that, as time goes on, deserves greater media interest is that of re- search, especially when it relates to the possibility of making a major vaccine or drug discovery.

2.2. Teaching

Within teaching, we can see that the situation of non-presence has forced a new mode: remote teaching, and with it all the transformations that this has entailed in the structures of the institutions and especially the adaptation of this new model for teaching staff and students.

If we extract another table cross-referencing variables, we discover that 6 out of 10 articles included in teaching referred to the digital theme.

2.2.1. Digital learning – a paradigm shift?

The number of columnists and opinion articles with a reflective and critical tone is striking. Technology is analysed from its positive aspect as a necessary ally to deal with the lack of presence, but at the same time we discover that the press constant- ly denounces the lack of resources, the lack of training for teachers to adapt to this new situation, the gap between some students and others, and the coherence of the assessment method with the desired learning results. While society has taken giant steps in the incorporation of new ways of communicating, sharing documents and working collaboratively, teaching in universities has barely moved from chalk to projectors.

At the same time, there is a critical look towards “on-line” or remote teaching, re-affirming the irreplaceable richness of face-to-face teaching, revealing a new way of interpreting the teaching-learning process and, in essence, returning to the roots of the university where the student is the cornerstone. There is a call for greater dedication in community, that is, to increase not only training and technology but also synergies between teachers and subjects, to strengthen the accompaniment of students and the work between them, and to forge new communication and evaluation processes (Goñi, 2020). On the other hand, it is necessary to combine the needs of the University with the demands of the market and to incorporate the training of teachers and students in a learning environment that facilitates the use and interpretation of data (Munguia et al., 2020).

Among the articles analysed, we find the two points of view that are also present in the field of education: on the one hand, there is a change brought about by the situation experienced after the state of alarm, which makes us enter a digital era to address the challenges that the education of the future holds for us, and on the other, there is a certain fear that university teaching will lose its face-to-face nature and direct contact with the student and we will enter a purely virtual world. There is a demand for an integral education, that is, one that looks at the whole person. The spatial form is no less important. It is difficult to replace gestures, looks and non-verbal language with a screen. It is essential to re- cover the human touch, the shared life experiences, the common space of coexistence and to reach “a reasoned proportion between virtuality and human contact. But without forgetting that the backbone of training lies in the latter ” (Campos Calvo-Sotelo, 2020).

Finally, it is worth highlighting the importance of the role of the press as a critical alarm clock and a spur to those who have the responsibility of governing and ordering priorities. The opening line of the article in El País by journalist Pablo Simón is very significant: “If a country has a plan to organise its beaches and terra- ces before its education system, something is not going very well” (Simón, 2020).

2.2.2. Digital divide

Indeed, the epidemic has uncovered the digital divide and highlighted the wall that is set up for those students who cannot access the internet, either because they do not have the necessary equipment or because they do not have adequate broadband (Daniele, 2020).

In the following graph, based on data supplied by the INE (National Statistics Institute) in its Survey on Equipment and Use of Information and Communication Technologies in Households 2019, we can see the difference between households in the first economic quartile and the last.

One in four households with incomes between 900 and 1,600 € do not have a computer, and one in 10 in the next quartile with incomes between 1,600 and 2,500 €.

The issue is exacerbated by the fact that online classes have been common practice in university education. The CRUE report estimates that 3% of the student body (some 36,000) have technical problems to follow classes (Silió, 2020b). In a study mentioned by El País, “the seven public universities have detected at least 615 students without adequate technological resources to follow classes” (Vallespín, 2020). Along these lines, the rector of the University of A Coruña, Julio Abalde, stated that “3,000 of my students are lacking connectivity”, which represents 20% of the students.

Despite the seriousness of these statements, there is hardly any reference to this reality in the articles found during the period of alarm (12% within the thematic area “teaching” and almost 2% in the total number of articles found).

Some news items on this topic had a high readership impact on the day of their publication, but without continuity over time. A clear example was the telematic strike called by the student union Anega on 16 April in response to discrimination against young people who cannot access classes remotely (Vizoso, 2020).

2.2.3. Evaluation

Assessment has been an ongoing concern in education. In the context of non-attendance and the obligation to take exams remotely, it has called into question the rationale for and scope of assessment itself. However, the substance of the issue has had little resonance in the articles reviewed. A large percentage of these concentrated on questions of form, in particular on the different methods of ensuring that there was no fraud or plagiarism.

However, 12% of the articles, generally opinion pieces, have brought into the public arena the purpose and function of the evaluation process, which has to go beyond a single moment of an examination and calls for a set of milestones throughout the year as continuo us evaluation.

Finally, several of these reports counter the voices calling for a general pass mark, stating that such an issue would generate pernicious effects, especially on students, in the words of Antonio López, rector of the University of Santiago de Compostela (Gómez, 2020). A study carried out by the University of Granada on the opinion of 3,047 teachers shows their rejection of a general pass mark, considering that it would not be fair and would not reinforce the value of effort and merit (Menárguez, 2020a).

Along these lines, CRUE produced an extensive and comprehensive “Re- port on Non-Personal Assessment Procedures. Study of the Impact of their Implementation in Spanish Universities and Recommendations” (CRUE, 2020c).

It would have been desirable to have published more in-depth articles on the need to incorporate assessment as an analysis and feedback of the learning pro- cess, uncovering areas of improvement on which to continue working (Hattie & Timperley, 2020). It is not about transmitting information that students can process and repeat flawlessly, but about establishing the path where the student is the active protagonist of their learning and it becomes truly meaningful (Resnick, 2002).

2.2.4. The teaching staff

We thought it would be interesting to give a brief note on teachers and their presence in the media. 68% of the articles with references to teachers rai- se specific recruitment issues (extensions of temporary contracts for the duration of the state of emergency, lack of training or resources, etc.). 24% of the articles deal with irrelevant issues or news of the moment or only local news.

There is, however, a small percentage (8%), generally of opinion, who denounce the invisibility of the teaching staff and call for a greater appreciation of their teaching vocation expressed in the many efforts made to continue teaching, their self-taught capacity and their ability to adapt quickly in the midst of a hostile and very fearful context, the increase in working hours and individualised tutorials with students, etc.

2.3. Research

Almost 9 out of 10 articles referred to aspects related to the virus or the disease: advances and discoveries in the knowledge of SARS-CoV-2, aetiology, symptoms in those infected (respiratory, gastrointestinal, etc.), process, diver- se affectation in the population, risk groups, drugs, first steps in the vaccine, etc.

This is consistent with the metrics returned by Google news search en- gines, where 42% reported on topics related to the virus or disease.

Another noteworthy fact is that most of the articles contained assessments directly expressed by the universities behind the research. The list of universities mentioned by the media is extensive. Oxford – at the top – and also many from the Uni- ted States: Tennessee, Pittsburg, Maryland, Iowa, Georgia, Washington, New York (NYU) etc. The presence of Spanish universities has been almost nil and very few universities have appeared more than twice in the mainstream media.

There has also been a contribution from other university research areas such as engineering, mathematics and economics. Mathematics and statistics studies have been particularly relevant for the prediction of contagion and death curves, and duration times. Economic research has also played an important role, which has grown as the state of alarm has lengthened.

A shadow of the analysis of the topics addressed within research is the scar- ce presence of research outside COVID-19. Only 7% of the articles during these months have published other types of research. Some of the topics: oil, astronomy, some animals in danger of extinction, recycling and sustainability, air quality, etc.

2.4. Government-University relationship

Articles with references to the Spanish or regional governments accounted for 6% of the total number of articles selected as relevant. The topics covered can be grouped into three large blocks:

1. Administrative issues related to universities, especially public universities: contracts for teaching and research staff, postponement of competitive examinations, tuition fees, prices of university degrees and grants, disciplinary regulations, interventions by minister Manuel Castells, interventions by regional governments to alleviate the digital divide, regulate economic issues, etc.

2. Teaching-related issues: classroom closures, modes of assessment and conduct of examinations and return to university protocols.

3. Government-University relationship to strengthen crisis monitoring, citizen health and safety decisions, containment of disease progression and reinforcements in the public health system.

By far and away the most important issues in the media in relation to the government are administrative issues. This alone shows us where research and teaching rank in the index of priorities. On the other hand, it is typical of those who govern that their interference is in those issues that are proper to the government, such as ad- ministrative matters, but it is significant to note that issues of relevance to the academic sphere should have been dealt with more seriously and in greater depth.

The importance of the role of the media in informing, educating and helping to unravel complex issues, such as economic issues, is unquestionable. We cannot forget that the mass media help to generate debate and opinion on aspects of vital importance to the population, while at the same time highlighting major injustices and inequalities.

We will now analyse some elements of the first and last block: fees and grants, and the role of research supported by the universities. We leave the “teaching” block without commenting on it, as it has already been analysed earlier in this study.

2.4.1. Fees and scholarships

Two of the “administrative issues” that directly affect students, and therefore have a high media impact, have been fees and scholarships.

Thus, the most discussed issues have been the repeal by the government of the brackets on tuition fees at public universities at the beginning of May (ABC Redacción Madrid, 2020a) and, at the same time, the absence of an economic counterpart to support such a decision (Sanmartín, 2020; Silió & Vallespín, 2020). This is a clear example of the influence of newspapers in political life and their role not only as descriptors of reality but also as analysts who bring different opinions into play (in this last example, between the central and regional governments) and who call for real and possible actions. Their work is not only informative but also, in a way, performative.

With regard to scholarships, the press articles we have found have aroused controversy: what should be the requirements to obtain a scholarship, or whether it is enough to have a low income and barely a pass mark. The benefits of demanding less academically have been questioned, and whether this leads to motivation or rather the opposite, to demotivation of the most vulnerable (Menárguez, 2020b). On the other hand, it seems logical that education aid should go to those who really take advantage of it through their studies and results. Lowering the mark does not respond to a question of social justice but to a model that equalises on the cheap and leaves aside sacrifice and the generation of added value (ABC Redacción Madrid, 2020b).

2.4.2. Research and university support

In the press, the complaints of researchers in other areas who have seen their labora- tories closed and their research halted because they were not a suitable sector to work in have been barely reported and denounced. Scientists who needed to travel or move to carry out field work, those doing research on living organisms, etc. have had to interrupt their work. Many of the latter have found it difficult to maintain their laboratories or animal facilities in good condition, and many of the studies that depended on the conditions of the organism (due to its vital stage, flowering, progress of the tumour or the inoculated disease, etc.) have had to be cancelled, which has meant a significant delay as it is not always possible to pick up where they left off. Although there has been some news in the press, it has mainly been the agencies or specialised media that have denounced the error of not considering research “essential” (Marcos, 2020; Segura, 2020).

With slightly more presence in the mainstream press (4% of the to- tal number of articles in this area) has been the frozen situation of university laboratories with PCR testing capabilities (Montañés, 2020; Piña, 2020). The day after the call made by the Spanish Government for support from universities, CRUE made available more than 1837 COVID-19 detection experts and more than 300 laboratories, as well as a significant amount of protective equipment, consumables, etc. (CRUE, 2020b).

Especially at the beginning, several organisations reported “a certain tension between the information provided and interpreted by scientific experts and the political decisions subsequently taken by the authorities” (CRUE et al, 2020). In the press analysis carried out, there has been very little information on this initiative, even though many organisations have signed up to the “Manifesto for Science” that was made to denounce these facts.

2.5. University involvement in the media

In the journals, there is a high involvement of academic staff in opinion making. As can be seen in the graph, almost one out of every three articles reviewed had an intervention either by a professor or by a member of the management, main- ly rectors. This first approximation from the quantitative data at least indicates that in the drafting of the information, the opinions of those who had close knowledge of the subject being reported on were taken into account in a special way.

With regard to the issues addressed, the teachers have dealt with an infinite number of subjects, practically all of those analysed in this study. Their interventions were mainly to explain concepts from their areas of knowledge in which they were experts. The range of knowledge covered is very wide, although those re- lated to scientific studies related to the virus and, to a lesser extent, but also relevant, mathematical studies (predictions of curves, contagions and deaths) and experts in the legal and business sciences (law, economics, etc.) stand out.

It is therefore worth noting as a significant fact that the universities are represen- ted in all the media. Practically all of them have, at some point, contributed to press articles. On a curious note, we were surprised to find that the newspaper that most frequently quoted professors or rectors was ABC, with a ratio of almost 4:1.

The rectors have been very united in the reinforcement of communiqués already expressed through their entities or the institutions that represent them, especially the CRUE. The issues addressed have given play to the newspapers as they generally provided critical or at least important elements for reflection on the decisions taken by government bodies. On 14 March, CRUE issued a communiqué, due to the declaration of the state of alarm, in which it conveyed a message of calm to the whole of Spanish society and announced the creation of a working group to address the measures that were to be established at state level for the optimisation of the tools and procedures for distance teaching (CRUE, 2020a).

Almost a month later, on 13 April, CRUE, together with the scientific institutions COSCE (Confederation of Spanish Scientific Societies), FACME (Federation of Spanish Scientific and Medical Associations) and SOMMa (Alliance of Severo Ochoa Centres and María de Maeztu Units) once again pointed out the divergences gene- rated, especially at the beginning of the spread of the pandemic, between the information provided and interpreted by scientists and the political decisions taken by the authorities. This communiqué speaks of a lack of harmony that may have undermined the appropriateness of the measures adopted and explains the measures to be taken to ensure that these disagreements do not hinder the battle against the pandemic. Thus, among other measures, it is recommended, on the one hand, to activa- te a suitable information system, sized to the new expectations of flexibility and immediacy demanded by scientific information and, on the other, to deploy a network of scientific advice to the executive, legislative and judicial powers, transparent and independent, which should cover all levels of the Administration (CRUE et al., 2020).

3. Conclusions

Our objectives were to study in depth the informative treatment of Higher Education, during the state of alarm, in the Spanish digital press; to point out the topics of greatest interest for the main newspapers; to analyse their treatment in the media and to point out the space given by the media to the opinions of academics and rectors.The press has not remained indifferent to what the pandemic has meant for the university. The problem lies in establishing which issues have been reported and which have gone unnoticed.

Having carried out the analysis we set out as our first objective, it became evident that teaching, research and the opinion of academics and rectors were the three priority to- pics for the media, followed, although with a lower percentage, by relations between the government and the universities. These interests have remained constant throughout the period studied. The time factor has only affected some minor issues: at the beginning of the pandemic, attention focused on the eviction of the universities and the start of online teaching, and at the end of the state of alarm, the EvAU became more important.

 

Faced with the forced and generalised implementation of remote teaching, universities have not been able to ignore the so-called digital divide, the problem of evaluation and, above all, the change in the teaching paradigm. What can we conclude about the reflection of these issues in the press?

The low profile of the digital divide in the articles tracked reveals, to the surprise of many, that it is not a problem that affects only the lower reaches of the education system. It has been denounced by academic authorities and cannot be ignored if the prolongation of the pandemic or reliance on new teaching methods is to give precedence to remote teaching.

Similarly, the press has not remained oblivious to the difficulties associated with new forms of teaching, to the division in the university world between those who are reticent about innovation and those who are enthusiastic advocates of it. This division, in turn, has been reflected in the image of the evaluation processes that have had to be implemented. What has occupied the press, a manifestation of the concerns of the majority of society, has been what the exams were going to be like and not so much what the educational meaning of the assessment should be. The university has been considering all this. We believe that it has only just begun to do so and, for the same reason, the presence of these problems in the press has been very superficial.

As could not be otherwise, research has been very present in the news about the university. What is most striking is the almost exclusive presence of news related to COVID-19 research, the fact that the press – also in the majority of cases – reflected opinions directly expressed by the universities and that the news was replicated al- most identically by the different media. At the same time, there has rarely been any information focused on research outside COVID-19. This presence says a lot about our university system. Urgency has meant that, for months, practically everything has been Covid. The service provided by the universities in the fight against the pandemic has been recognised and mistakes have been denounced. The press has reflected the mistake of not considering research “essential”; of not considering it essential for years and of not considering it essential now if it did not directly deal with COVID-19.

The issues most highlighted by the media in relation to the government are administrative ones. This already shows where research and teaching rank in the index of priorities; issues of relevance to academia should have been dealt with more seriously and in greater depth.

In relation to fees and grants, the press analysis has clearly shown both the difficulty of the problem – for example, how to reconcile the government’s abolition of tuition fee brackets at public universities with the absence of an economic counterpart to support such a decision, or on what basis to establish the requirements for the granting of grants – and the political debate it contains.

The quantitative data indicate that the opinion of the universities has been taken into account in the drafting of the information, but their intervention has mainly been to ex- plain concepts from their areas of knowledge in which they are experts. Similarly, the active presence of rectors in the press, through the CRUE, has not introduced topics significantly different from those already mentioned, with the exception of the major insistence on the serious and damaging divergences between the information provided and interpreted by scientists and the political decisions taken by the authorities.

The media perform an essential function: they monitor and scrutinise those who have the responsibility to govern and, at the same time, they inform, edu- cate and help to unravel complex issues; they help to generate debate and opinion on socially vital matters. All this is self-evident, but their success depends on their responsiveness to institutions and their ability to make themselves visible.

In short, bearing in mind the objectives set out, the analysis forces us to reflect, to construct a theoretical prospective, on the future of the university as a service institution in a democratic society. The press denounces the social situation, but the depth of reflection must take place within the university. The university is an institution that today has a radical problem of identity due to the heterogeneity of the educational realities it welcomes and whose future viability depends on the recognition – explicit and, therefore, transformative – of this reality: we cannot continue to affirm that all students, careers, futures and responsibilities are the same; nor can we affirm it, nor behave as if this were so. Perhaps the new technologies will help to bring together diverse itineraries and expectations.

The reflection must be carried out, and conveyed to public opinion, without renouncing the three dimensions of the university: training, research and, consequently, service. The university must present itself as an educational institution for society as a whole, whose prestige is linked to qualifications, an ideal of service and political independence. The out- break of the pandemic has subjected the entire system to a threefold process. After the initial interruption, which paralysed the system, and the adaptation, which forced a rapid response, largely contrary to an institution whose pace of action is, by definition, slow, the time has come for normalisation: taking on the advantages of digitalisation, claiming the status of experts in a society where emotion predominates, and insisting, as the basis of be- ing a university and the viability of a democratic society, on the priority of duties over rights.

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