Bachelor dregrees: how many and which?

An analysis of the bachelor degrees offered by public and private Spanish universities

Authors: Albert Corominas and Vera Sacristán
Collaborators: Ismael Benito
Edition and design: Lluís Forcadell-Díez and Vera Sacristán
Date: January 2019

Executive summary

This report analyses the bachelor degrees offered by Spanish universities and compares them with the long-cycle and short-cycle university degrees that existed prior to the reform that established the current cycle structure (bachelor, master, doctorate).

A description of the legal provisions related to bachelor studies is included in the report. According to them, these studies must provide “a general education […] oriented to the preparation for the exercise of activities of a professional nature”, giving priority to “basic and generalist training and not the specialization of the student”. The reform included the replacement of the Catálogo of degrees by the Registro de Universidades, Centros y Títulos (RUCT), which has had a very significant impact on the configuration of the current offer of university education.

The report also contains a compendium of opinions on undergraduate studies, expressed in interviews and publications, where concerns are expressed about the limitations on available resources, the duration of studies, the number, diversity and orientation of the bachelor degrees (particularly on the risk of premature specialization), the low number of students in some of them, and graduates’ employability.

The results of the analysis of the offer of undergraduate studies include:

  • The number of bachelor degrees grew very rapidly in the first years of implementation of the new system (they had to replace previous short-cycle and long-cycle studies) and has continued to grow since then: 2,403 degrees in the academic year 2011- 2012 went to 2,854 in 2017-2018, with an increase of close to 19 % (resulting in increases of 11 % and 51 %, respectively, in public and private universities).
  • Among the 2,854 bachelor degrees of 2017-2018, 74.6 % were offered by public universities and 25.4 % by private universities, although the latter represented 40 % of all universities offering undergraduate studies. In average, 35.7 bachelor degrees are offered per university (44.4 in public and 22.6 in private ones).
  • In 2017-2018, the external centres affiliated to public universities offered 222 degrees (10.4 % of those of such universities) and those affiliated to private universities offered 44 (6.1 %). Overall, the 266 degrees offered by affiliated centres represented 9.3 % of the total offer that year.
  • The distribution of bachelor degrees among branches of knowledge is very unequal: Art and Humanities, 15.5 %; Sciences, 8.5 %; Health Sciences, 13.6 %; Social and Legal Sciences, 35.1 %; Engineering and Architecture, 27.3 %. The corresponding proportions differ significantly between public and private universities.
  • On 10/18/2017, a total of 2,713 degrees with 560 different names appeared in the RUCT (Registro de Universidades, Centros y Títulos). The 20 most repeated names (3.6 % of the total names) correspond to 897 bachelor degrees (33.1 % of the total). On the other hand, there are 345 names (61.6 % of the total names) that appear only once. They are 12.7 % of the total bachelor degrees.
  • We have configured 134 groups, which we have called blocks. Each block includes the names that we have considered linked to the same topic (such as “Arqueología”, “Derecho” or “Protocolo”), with a level of aggregation that facilitates the comparison of similar names, the analysis of the correspondence between the RUCT and the Catálogo and that of the thematic spectra of the degrees offered by public and private universities. We observe that 45 blocks out of the 134 comprise bachelor degrees corresponding exclusively to public universities, with an offer of 350 degrees. Among these blocks, stand out what we have called “Estudios Hispánicos” (with 38 degrees), “Estudios Ingleses” (37), “Química” (36), “Geografía” (31), “Matemáticas” (30), “Física” (21), “estudios Clásicos” (16), “Estadística” (12), “Ingeniería Geomática” (11), and “Ingeniería Marítima” (11). By branches, out of the 45 blocks offered exclusively by public universities, 22 are for Arts and Humanities (57.9 % of the blocks in this branch), 9 for Science (56.2 %), 1 for Health Sciences (7,1 %), 4 of Social and Legal Sciences (11.7 %) and 9 of Engineering and Architecture (28.1 %).
  • According to our criteria, the 560 different names correspond to 365 different meanings, that is, 3.15 times the number of names that used to appear in the Catálogo of titles before the reform.
  • The diversification of significantly different names in the passage from the Catálogo to the RUCT is very heterogeneous in relation to the branches of knowledge: Arts and Humanities (multiplicative factor 6.00), Sciences (3.89), Health Sciences (1.75), Social and Legal Sciences (3.40) and Engineering and Architecture (2.08).
  • The offer of private universities concentrates in the branches of Health Sciences (35.7 % of the degrees in this branch are offered in the private area) and Social and Legal Sciences (33.4 %). On the other hand, private universities show less preference for Engineering and Architecture, Art and Humanities, and Sciences, with proportions 19.1 %, 18.5 % and 7.9 %, respectively.

Thus, the reform has meant a great increase in the number of names of the degrees. Although to a lesser extent, the number of studies has also increased, that is, the number of bachelor degrees in 2017-2018 is greater than the number of short-cycle and long-cycle studies that were taught before the reform:

  • The number of studies has multiplied by 1.13 in total: by 1.02 in public universities and by 1.65 in private universities.
  • The large increase in private universities (285 studies) results from 112 degrees in universities that did not exist or did not offer any official degrees before the reform, and an increase of 173 (39.4 %) in those that did.
  • In 5 autonomous communities, the relative increase in the supply of studies, in all public and private universities, is significantly higher than the average: La Rioja (multiplicative factor 1.48), Madrid (1.47), Catalonia (1.30), Navarra (1.28), and Cantabria (1.26). In contrast, in 7 autonomous communities the increase was negative, with the greatest decrease (multiplicative factor 0.87) in Galicia.
  • With regard to public universities, only 2 autonomous communities are well above the average value of growth in the supply of studies (multiplicative factor 1.02): Madrid and Catalonia (1.31). The Basque Country (1.03) also presents a value higher than the average, but very close to it. At the other extreme, the factor corresponding to Navarra is 0.75.
  • Among public universities, the highest multiplicative factors of the offer correspond to U. Rey Juan Carlos (3.24, the maximum among both public and private universities), U. Pompeu Fabra U. (2.15), U. Politècnica de Catalunya (1.46), and U. Autònoma de Barcelona (1.37). At the opposite end we find U. de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (0.72).
  • As for private universities, excluding universities that did no exist or did not offer official degrees then, the highest multiplicative factor (3.20) corresponds to Aragón, whose only private university is U. San Jorge.

The high number of multiple bachelor degrees offered by universities is striking (734 in 2017-2018).

From a qualitative point of view, it can be said that the current offer of bachelor degrees at Spanish universities is:

  • Insufficiently intelligible (for students, families, institutions and companies) in terms of the educational goals of bachelor studies in general and, as a consequence of the names that identify them, in terms of the specific goals of some bachelor degrees.
  • Heterogeneous with regard to:
    • Amplitude of the thematic scope.
    • Scope of the knowledge imparted.
    • Presumable temporary validity of the object of study that characterizes the bachelor degree.

Taking into account opinions, studies and our own analysis, the report ends with questions, conclusions and recommendations:

  • It seems doubtful that all bachelor degrees offered by Spanish universities can achieve the goals of general education, training for professional practice, and long-term employability of graduates.
  • The system is not completely comprehensible with regard to the training goals nor do its characteristics facilitate the comparison of some bachelor degrees with others.
  • The number of different names of the registered bachelor degrees seems excessive and should be reduced by means of planning and cooperation of the universities with each other and with the administrations.
  • The multi-bachelor offer policy should be revised critically, since its high number may be indicative of deficiencies in the configuration of the offer.
  • The introduction of bachelor degrees taught in foreign languages ​​requires a better definition of the goals to be achieved and ensuring that the appropriate teaching staff is available.
  • The incessant increase in the number of bachelor degrees offered, if necessary, cannot be carried out, without detriment to quality, if the necessary resources are not available.
  • The existence of the so-called “own” bachelor degrees does not seem justified and introduces yet another element of confusion,  making the system more difficult to understand.
  • The proposal of introducing short-cycle studies in university education requires a debate on the relationship between university education and professional training in which the convenience of assigning certain undergraduate university degrees to the field of higher professional education should be considered.

The long and extensive experience in the implementation of undergraduate studies allows us to assess their strengths and weaknesses in order to propose improvement measures. From our considerations, it seems that to carry them out there would be no need for general legislative changes. Public administrations and universities could assume the responsibilities that correspond to them, and initiate a joint work that would lead to the pertinent reforms.

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