When the global economy crashed in 2008, it caused a world-wide financial crisis. In Spain, this led to the “Great Recession”, commonly referred to as “La Crisis”, which has now dragged on for almost seven years. Much like the economic crash in the United States, a main cause of the recession was the bursting of the housing bubble and the lack of transparency within financial institutions. By 2012, Spain had seen no economic improvement, and was unable to bailout it’s financial sector. Granted a 100 billion euro rescue package by the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), an institute which provides access to financial assistance programs for member states of the European Union (EU), Spaniards hoped for an end to “La Crisis”. Yet three years later, despite their financial bailout and the slow but eventual recovery of the global economy, Spain remains stuck with high unemployment rates, strict budget cuts, and civil unrest, in part because of government corruption, mismanagement of funds, and austerity cuts that Spanish citizens feel only benefit the wealthy and powerful.
The unique thing about Spain’s recession is that it predominantly affects students. For those under the age of 25, unemployment is at 50%. When looking at the overall Spanish population, unemployment drops to 22%, almost as high as unemployment in the United States (U.S.) during the Great Depression, and significantly higher than in the U.S. during the worst of the “Great Recession” in 2009, where unemployment rates peaked at 10%. The current generation of Spanish students is the most educated in the country’s history, yet many are having difficulty getting hired. For those trying to pay their way through school, simultaneously working and attending class has become an almost impossible task. The allure of jobs in more stable EU countries is strong, and a survey done a few years ago showed that 68% of Spanish students were willing to leave the country to search for a job. But the mass exodus of students searching for employment has older generations concerned about losing important parts of Spanish culture, and creating a “Lost Generation” like the one in Japan, where young people are unemployed for so long that they are locked out of good jobs when the economy picks up. It also has re-located students feeling homesick for Spain’s unique, welcoming sense of community, and the high value the country places on time spent with family and friends. Germany, a popular destination for students seeking employment, has a rigid work structure and very different culture norms, which can leave young Spaniards feeling ostracized and stressed.
Many students have begun to wonder when “La Crisis” will improve, and rightly so. Each year, the government cuts further and further into the budget for higher education, reducing staff salaries and increasing class sizes. Since “La Crisis”, students have frequently used protests to draw attention to the dire state of education in Spain. February 26th, 2015 saw some of the biggest student protests in recent history, with thousands of students taking to the streets in Madrid, Santander, and Barcelona to protest austerity cuts and a new education plan that will reduce undergraduate studies from four to three years, and increase masters programs from one to two years. Students feel that the plan makes it more expensive to pursue graduate degrees, and simultaneously devalues undergraduate degrees, exclusively benefitting the small percentage of wealthy citizens who can afford to get both. There have also been clashes between rival student protestors, who disagree on whether or not protests should aim to be nonviolent.
Spanish culture is central to the identity of many Spanish students, and it is this fierce sense of pride and devotion to their country that offers the only bright spot in the ongoing recession. While many countries in the EU have written off Spain as being unable to fix their economic and education system without significant outside help, the Spanish students aren’t willing to give up quite so easily. While the frequent protests are a sign of student’s unhappiness with the current system, they also are a sign of a passionate generation that all share the same eventual goal – turn Spain into a country that has an educational system that is affordable and accessible, and a stable workforce with jobs for younger generations of Spaniards, one protest at a time.
Margaret Gallagher, Content Editor