Cervantes Institute

Cervantes Institute
   The Cervantes Institute is the overall title of a network of Institutes in various countries which provide classes in Spanish, organize cultural events, and administer the official Diploma in Spanish as a Foreign Language awarded by the Ministry of Education and Science. The Institute was established in March 1991, on the model of the Alliance Française, the British Council, and the Goethe Institut. It brought together under one umbrella the various educational and cultural activities outside Spain already supported by the Ministries of Culture, Foreign Affairs, Education and Science, Labour and Finance. For administrative purposes, the Institute functions under Foreign Affairs, which channels funds for teaching and secretarial staff, while the receiving country provides premises and equipment. The first Institute was opened in Liverpool in 1990, and by August 1991, the number worldwide had grown to forty, through the incorporation into the network of a number of existing cultural centres. The first overall Director, Nicolás Sánchez Albornoz, was appointed in September 1991. By 1993, however, the original project to establish seventy centres worldwide was beginning to appear over-ambitious. Despite an annual budget which had risen from 2,200m pesetas in 1991 to 3,800m in 1993, ten centres were forced to close, either for lack of local demand for Spanish classes, the cost of refurbishment of older premises, or, in the case of Liverpool, because the university needed to recover the use of its building. The savings made enabled the Institute to consolidate its operations, and expand into Eastern Europe, where centres were opened in Bucharest and Warsaw in 1994.
   In that year, the total number of centres was 32, spread over 21 countries. The annual budget had risen to 4,194m pesetas, but this, at approximately 50 percent of Italy's expenditure on corresponding institutes, 7 percent that of Britain, and 5 percent that of France, was still insufficient for the organization's needs.
   Completion of formal requirements for recognition by the host countries had, however, lagged behind even this modest expansion, and, as a result, many of the centres found themselves in an ambiguous legal situation. Unlike embassy staff, those employed in the Institutes had no diplomatic immunity, and were therefore technically subject to the requirements of the host country with regard to residence and work permits, and taxation. While the centres themselves often enjoyed a de facto tax-free status, the fact that they were not registered with the tax authorities precluded them recovering, for example, VAT payments. Over and above this, there were problems of chronic under-resourcing and management, and, in 1995, a number of controversial resignations by local Institute directors.
   In 1996, Sánchez Albornoz was replaced as overall Director by a career diplomat, Santiago de Mora-Figueroa, Marquis of Tamarón, who, despite the problems of resourcing, continued to expand the Institute's operations, opening a centre in Chicago in October 1996, one in Utrecht, and one in Manchester in June 1997. In a bid to keep down costs, development began on a plan to distribute educational material on the Internet.
   EAMONN RODGERS

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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