Viader has been a tenured lecturer at the University of Barcelona since 1988
«If you had to make a global assessment of the last five years it would be positive»
«Psychology has been a very popular degree area for many years now»
«I think that postgraduate study is the level most easily adapted to changing situations»
Manel Viader (Mataró, 1959) holds a bachelor's degree and PhD in psychology. He has been a tenured lecturer at the University of Barcelona since 1988, and in 2005 was named Dean of the Faculty of Psychology. As a lecturer, he has worked mainly in methodological subjects (statistics, experimental psychology, research designs) and has also taught students of various postgraduate courses. In the field of research, his main interests are experimental design, cognitive psychology and the application of dynamic systems theory in psychology. He has held a variety of management positions, having been Vice-Dean of the Faculty of Psychology (1995-1998), Assistant to the Vice-Rectors of the Academic Area (1998-2001), and Vice-Rector for Academic Organization and Teaching (2001-2002). He has also been a member of the European Convergence Group of the Spanish National Agency for Quality Assessment and Accreditation (ANECA) and the work group behind the University of Barcelona Strategic Plan Horizon 2020. Last November he was chosen as the new President of the Conference of Deans of Psychology of Spanish Universities (CDPUE).
- You became Dean of the Faculty of Psychology five years ago. What aims did you have when you took on the role? Have you been able to achieve them?
At that time I based my candidature on a fairly broad electoral campaign that covered fairly central topics such as convergence to the European Higher Education Area (EEES), the need to facilitate and promote research in the Faculty, the improvement of management procedures and, in particular, all aspects related to the external projection of the Faculty, as I felt that this was an area in which a certain amount of effort was required. I was clear that I wanted the Faculty to take a qualitative step forward, that is, I wanted to put us more firmly on the map, both within the University of Barcelona, at the national level – where we were already widely respected – and even internationally. I think that this has been achieved to a very satisfactory level and that we are definitely much better situated nationally and internationally. As an example, we are listed in the 2009 Excellence Ranking published by the Center for Higher Education Development, which is directed by a group of European specialists dedicated to the comparative analysis of universities and higher education institutions. If you had to make a global assessment of the last five years it would be positive, and this is thanks to many of the people involved in the Faculty's work.
- In the last academic year Psychology attracted over 500 new students – a considerable number – and was one of the most highly subscribed degrees. Why do so many people want to study this discipline?
Psychology has been a very popular degree area for many years now. In fact, ten or fifteen years ago we saw much higher numbers than these: we reached intakes of 700 or 800 students every year. Psychology is a common choice of degree, and this is positive as it reflects an interest in a discipline that can be used to help others. However, this popularity also creates problems: there is very high demand for places and in past years not all students began the year with a sufficiently clear idea of what they had come to study or what they were going to encounter. I think that the information campaigns carried out in recent years by the University and by secondary schools have improved this, and now everyone has a very clear idea of what the course is about.
- And what is the typical profile of the Faculty's new students?
Although we receive students from very diverse academic backgrounds, if we look at the profiles of secondary school students perhaps the most suitable are those focused on health sciences, one the one hand, and social sciences, on the other.
- There are many career options for psychology graduates. Do your students know what they are?
I think that at the beginning the students have a rather vague idea of the different career options. This is why we try to offer guidance throughout the degree, particularly as they near graduation. In a few weeks we will be offering the traditional «Psicofutur» conference, an initiative aimed specifically at students coming to the end of their bachelor’s degree which we use to look particularly at career options.
- Name some of the possible career options.
There are four very clear career options, which are generally well known and clearly defined: clinical or health psychology; psychology of organizations, work and human resources; psychosocial intervention; and education psychology. Outside these four main areas, psychologists have also worked hard to move into areas in which we have traditionally been underrepresented, such as road safety, occupational risk prevention, sport, and others. In this sense I think that psychology is a growing profession.
- So the profession has adapted to these changes. Have courses in psychology also had to be adapted and updated?
Yes. On the one hand, the implementation of the new European Higher Education Area has given us many new tools through which to carry out this adaptation, and the wide range of postgraduate courses has also been important. At the moment we offer seven, which cover the main professional profiles of psychologists and other highly interesting subjects. I think that postgraduate study is the level most easily adapted to changing situations. In the case of the EHEA bachelor's degree, logically we have tried to make it a comprehensive course that provides a general level of competence and enables students to take their first steps towards professional specialization, in less depth than at postgraduate level but which we aim to be significant nonetheless.
- Is psychology a health science, a social science, an experimental science, an area of the humanities...? Where should we place it?
There are arguments for linking it to all of these fields. With humanities, above all, although not exclusively, there are historical links; with the others there are much more contemporary and direct links. Psychology is a plural, diverse discipline that fits comfortably in a number of areas. In fact, when the UB was separated into divisions, undergraduate degrees had to be registered in a principal knowledge area, so in a sense we discussed that question because we had to make a decision one way or another. The final decision was to inscribe the Faculty in the Division of Health Sciences, since this gives a degree of historical continuity and because we believe that it encompasses the most comprehensive description of the discipline if we consider the definition of health given by the World Health Organization, which uses the term "psychosocial welfare". If you look at it in this way, I think that the idea of health takes in most of the activity of psychology.
- Socially, do you think that going to a psychologist, in the 21st century, is seen in the same way as going to a doctor or ophthalmologist, or not yet?
Not yet, I think, although opinions have changed. That is, the reluctance people showed years ago, because going to a psychologist meant that you must have a complex or serious disorder, has gradually been overcome. However, it is still not viewed in the same light as other disciplines or other branches of healthcare. The clearest proof is that in a time of economic crisis people find it difficult to give up going to see their doctor, dermatologist, cardiologist or any other specialist, but much easier to give up going to see their psychologist, perhaps because they see it as an option that is not always their main priority. So I do not think that there is full equality yet.
- The Faculty of Psychology recently celebrated its 25th birthday. What is your assessment of it?
This has changed considerably; logically, we have improved. We have better facilities, greater resources, more technology, more teaching staff, and so in this respect there is no doubt that we are in a much better situation than 25 years ago. I think that if anything has been lost along the way – and it is absolutely normal for this to happen – it is the flexibility and capacity to improvise that we were obliged to have at the start, when things were considerably more difficult. And perhaps we have also lost some of the human element of relationships between people, which was more evident than it is in the present. Now, I think I think that the greater volume of work and processes of improvement – which are good things, obviously – also mean that we do not have enough time to talk calmly about many things.