Socio-Economic Composition of Students in Higher Education in Portugal

Based on a research study (Preferências dos estudantes, co-authored by Diana Amado Tavares, from CIPS - Centro de Investigação de Políticas do Ensino Superior (Centre For Research In Higher Education Policies), among others), the Portuguese newspaper Diário de Notícias reported on 2 April 2007, that according to the study, pre-higher education students from families with a higher educational and cultural background have a 10 times higher probability of becoming higher education students than the others. And among all higher education students, the family economic and cultural background are decisive on the type of course a student can attain in the higher education system.

According to the study, using as an example medicine, it shows that 73,2% of the 2003/2004 medicine freshman admitted to Portuguese universities have graduated parents. On the other side, 73% of nursing and health technician students (polytechnic courses), have parents without higher education.

The study shows a relation between parental very low educational levels and the students' options in higher education, where 39% of basic education teacher students, and 20% of management students, have parents with 4 years of study or less, the 4th grade (4ª classe). On the other side, law, natural sciences and related fields (particularly medicine), and fine arts, are preferred courses of students from families with higher educational and cultural backgrounds.

The study reports that about 42,000 unemployed people registered in the employment centers and seeking for a job have a higher education academic degree, with the fields of teaching and education accounting for 32% of those unemployed people, and art and humanities accounting for 12%.

The study also concludes that the higher is the financial and educational background of a family, more evident is the student preference of applying to university institutions, and the lower is the number of students desiring to apply to polytechnic institutions.

The study was also expected to be published in the European Journal of Higher Education.

Another study made by the University of Lisbon for its own students in the period 2003-2008, concluded that popular selective courses with restricted numerus clausus and demanding high grades to the new applicants (examples include the university degrees of medicine, fine arts, and pharmacy), are mainly attained by students arrived from a wealthier background than that of those students enrolled at unpopular and less selective degree programmes and departments.

After the Bologna process implementation in the late 2000s, although most state-run higher education student costs are supported with public money, the increasing tuition fees a student has to pay to attend the a public college or university and the attraction of new types of mature students (enrolled as part-time or evening class students) like employees, businessmen, parents, and pensioners, many departments make a substantial profit from every additional student enrolled in courses, with benefits for the college or university's gross tuition revenue and without loss of educational quality (teacher per student, computer per student, classroom size per student, etc.).