Since the implementation of the Bologna Plan was completed in Spain, the number of students at private universities has not stopped growing – from 174,300 in a degree in 2015 to 278,300 in 2022 (62% more) – while in that period it decreased 6% in the public (from 1,101,300 to 1,075,000). In part, the overwhelming data is explained by the emergence of private ones, which have grown to 90 (22 of them open since 1998, when the last public one was inaugurated). But the explanation for its success cannot be reduced only to the growth of these educational centers – there are two more on the way in Andalusia – but in the treatment that its students receive. A thorny issue that the rectors of the public try to tiptoe over and which is recorded in the study Experience of the student body in the Spanish university system, commissioned by the laboratory of ideas on the university Higher Education Spaces (ESdeES), recently founded: 40% of those enrolled in the private one are very satisfied with their teachers, compared to 11% of those in the public one.
A third of those enrolled in the private university do not study at the university they initially wanted, compared to 15% of those enrolled in the public university, which is underfinanced. That is to say, in many cases they enter on a rebound because they do not get a place at a university with a greater reputation and with an enormous difference in cost. For example, a Medicine course costs up to 1,300 euros in the public network (it differs depending on the autonomous community) and up to 20,000 in the private network. The students who did not enter the campus they wanted are mainly concentrated in social sciences careers (Law, Economics, Business Administration) and health sciences. In this last area of knowledge, the demand for places in the public is infinitely greater than the supply, and this year the number of places in the first year of Medicine has been increased.
In many of the private schools, high school graduates enter with a worse record than the public one – that is the reason why they are there – but the academic performance is higher. They approve 85% of the credits in which they enroll, compared to 75% in the public, according to data from the Ministry of Universities.
61.6% of private students, compared to 40.2% of public students, believe that in the future they will work in a position related to their studies. Beyond the social network that the private school student may have – the more family resources, the greater access to interesting contacts to find a job -, we must not ignore that the private school offers many more degrees that are easy to insert into the job market (health sciences , social sciences and engineering) than the public one, which offers degrees in the humanities or experimental sciences that are more difficult to apply, but that cement knowledge and, therefore, the State will always teach them, such as Philosophy, Hispanic Philology or Geology. .
Despite greater satisfaction, only 55% of private students would take the same degree and at the same university again, compared to 64% in the public one. Predictably, many enrollees are burdened by the enormous effort it takes for many families to have their children study privately.
“We look at public universities with suspicion, but at the same time with disdain and superiority to private universities, since they are centers that do not do research,” recognizes the professor of Political Sciences and Administration at the Pompeu Fabra University (public) Carles Ramiò in his book The University, at the crossroads. “This is true, but perhaps they take much more care of teaching and with an instrumental orientation of a professional nature, which is increasingly attractive to upper-middle-income families.” The survey data supports Ramiò’s words: they receive more professional guidance (42% in private, compared to 20% in public), access to tutoring (36% never attend them in private, compared to 52 % who do not do so in public schools) and emotional attention (they rate it with a 5.8 out of 10 compared to a 4.6 given by public school students).
“There is a mismatch between teaching methodologies and what universities offer. 40% of private students are very happy with their teachers, while in public it is 11%. They are hard data. As in the case of internships, increasingly necessary for employability,” argues Alfonso González Hermoso de Mendoza, president of ESdeES. “The differences are scandalous and it is one of the fissures through which the public University is breaking down.”
In an analysis of the survey, Germán Gutiérrez Oeo, from the Coordinator of Student Representatives of Public Universities (CREUP), reproaches the faculties for the fact that many classes continue to be master classes, which has become “outdated and does not motivate”, instead to “bet on other forms of learning, such as seminars, workshops, internships, visits to provide professional guidance.” To achieve this, in the opinion of CREUP, we should focus on “academic and career guidance services, promoting the management of activities that bring students closer to the labor market.”
“In public universities, indicators related to research have reached their peak and we are moving towards valuing teaching topics. The MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), in a report, says that 80% of the time should be dedicated to teaching,” continues the president of ESdeES. “Public universities have to reorganize, the student has to be the heart. There are faculties without vice deans of students or they call them heads of study,” he laments.
Currently, the academic career of a professor at a public university is absolutely linked to scientific production, the most valuable merits to climb the ladder. And that causes teachers to barely teach if they can avoid it. The acting Minister of Universities, Joan Subirats, is concerned and made it clear in an interview in this newspaper: “One way to defend students is to defend teaching. There are people who say: ‘If you take away research at the University, it is an academy.’ Well, neither an academy nor a laboratory.”
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