Cash-in-hand for ‘corpse courses’ at Spanish uni

Staff at Madrid's Complutense University have admitted receiving off-the-record cash payments of up to €150 ($203) per day for preparing hundreds of dead bodies stored in the basement for use as teaching aids in unofficial, out-of-hours anatomy lessons.

Cash-in-hand for 'corpse courses' at Spanish uni
The cadavers were mainly used for extracurricular ophthalmology (eye anotomy) and dentistry classes. Photo: Ben Francis/Flickr

A scandal broke in May when it was revealed that the University’s basement contained over 250 dead bodies which had been donated to science.

They had been kept at room temperature, resulting in a scene described by witnesses as “a chamber of horrors” and “the stuff of nightmares”.

Spain’s El Mundo newspaper, which reported the story, told of “blackened feet” in bins and rows of “mummified corpses”.

An investigation into the ghoulish goings-on prompted union staff to admit that four of its members, all technicians, had received “cash in hand” sums of “ranging from €100 to €150” per day in return for preparing the cadavers for use in extra classes, often held at weekends.

They admitted to up to 23 occasions when bodies had been used clandestinely, mainly for studying ophthalmology (eye anatomy) and dentistry.

Instead of working under the cover of night, the staff worked under the cover of “ongoing education”, charging for their services but failing to officially declare them.

Union sources said that the staff were “scared to death”.

“Sometimes they had to work overtime and were present during the classes, at less than €10 per hour, and sometimes they were asked to leave the bodies ready on a Friday before they left and then collect them on Monday when they arrived,” the source added.

José Carillo, the University’s Rector, said that the issue of payments fell “under the umbrella of classified information” but highlighted that “If someone has charged cash-in-hand then that is completely irregular.”

José Ramón Mérida, head of the anatomy department, refused to comment but Professor José Francisco Rodríguez Vázquez, who has been at the University for 33 years, said that his colleague was going through “the worst time of his life” as a result of the scandals.

Prof. Rodríguez Vásquez said that he had never delivered an unsanctioned extracurricular class and that he personally knew nothing about the matter and but noted that “This department has five floors and I work on the second, not in the basement.”

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Five things to know about the ‘best university in Spain’

A new prestigious global university rankings has included several Spanish institutes albeit well down the list. Here's what you need to know about the university that finsihed the highest in the rankings.

Five things to know about the 'best university in Spain'
Photo: Jesús Corrius/Flickr
The QS World University Rankings, one of the big three most-read top schools lists, has just been released, and it includes 27 Spanish universities amongst the world’s top thousand.
While no Spanish school ranked in the top 100, university administrators argue that they’re doing more with less – Spanish schools have about €6,000 in funding per student/per year, a fraction of the €100,000 or so spent on each student per year at the American universities at the top of the list. 
The top Spanish school was declared to be the Universitat de Barcelona, ranked 165th globally. Here are 5 things worth knowing about the university declared by QS to be the best in Spain:
A university with tradition
The Universitat de Barcelona was listed as one of the 25 best universities in the world with more than 400 years of history by QS. The school was founded back in 1450 by King Alfonso V (“the Magnanimous”) of Aragon, making it 569 years old.
While it’s not as old as Spain’s historic University of Salamanca, founded in 1134, it is ranked almost 500 spots higher in the QS World University Rankings.
Photo: Jordi Domènech/Wikimedia Commons
One of the biggest universities in Spain
With more than 46,000 full-time students and around 63,000 students all categories included, the Universitat de Barcelona has one of the largest student bodies in Spain. 
It is the fourth largest university in Spain in terms of full-time students, after the University of Seville, the Complutense in Madrid, and the University of Granada.
Strong points: academic reputation and graduate employability
One of the factors that contributed to the Universitat de Barcelona’s “best in Spain” was its good academic reputation, rated at 71 out of 100 by QS. Academic reputation is the most heavily-weighted component in the QS World University rankings, and is judged by it surveying the opinions of over 94,000 individuals in the field of higher education with regards to an institution’s teaching and research quality.
Another factor that helped the Universitat de Barcelona distinguish itself was the high employability of its graduates. There, they cracked the top 100, ranking 82nd globally, making them the most employable university graduates in Spain, a quality that demonstrates itself with 90% graduate employment rate.
Weakness: a lack of international faculty
If there’s one category the Universitat of Barcelona could improve in, it’s international faculty. QS values an international faculty as the mark of a strong international brand and a global outlook, and incorporates into its ranking system.
The Universitat de Barcelona was graded an abysmal 5.8 out of 100 on this metric, probably because only 134 of its 3,923 faculty members are from outside of Spain. That’s a 3.4% international faculty for a student body made up of 15% international students from at least 122 different countries. 
Looks like that scene in L’Auberge Espagnole where the professor refuses to teach in any language but Catalan might have contained a grain of truth in it…
An affordable education
Unlike the schools at the top of the international list, the Universitat de Barcelona provides a reasonably-priced education, charging domestic students around €1,750 to €3,500 per school year. International students are charged a little bit more, as undergraduates pay €7,000 – €9,000 per year and graduate students are charged €3,500 – €5,500 per year.
Compared to the €42,500 – €44,500 per year that top ranked Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) students can expect to pay, that doesn’t sound to bad.