Disadvantaged students are hampered in accessing higher education and are more likely to drop out and become unemployed.

In Portugal, the socioeconomic context continues to be the factor that most determines access to higher education, its abandonment and entry into the labor market. This is one of the main conclusions of the study “National and International Students on Access to Higher Education”, carried out by Edulog, an initiative of the Belmiro de Azevedo Foundation.

“From the massification of higher education seen in recent decades, it was expected that opportunities would be expanded for disadvantaged groups of students. But what has been observed is that, although these students are now in greater numbers in higher education, they are still under-represented”, reads in the document, developed since January 2020 by a team of 11 researchers from the Center for Research on Higher Education Policies.

If of the total number of students who complete secondary only 40% transition to higher education, this entry is influenced by the starting point. A student who does not belong to the first generation of the family to attend a superior will immediately be “in a position of advantage”. And grades obtained in secondary and national exams have a direct correlation with the family and socioeconomic background of origin, says the study.

Likewise, the decision to remain in or leave higher education points in the same direction: not only “the inequalities that exist at the outset, and that may manifest themselves at the time of access, can also affect the educational trajectory in the higher education, which can determine different dropout rates”, as, decidedly, the less favored the socioeconomic context, the higher the dropout rate. On average, this occurs to a lesser degree in universities than in polytechnics, since it is in the latter that the most heterogeneous group of students, coming from very diverse contexts, is found.

But what motivates the abandonment of higher education? The reasons multiply. One of them may come from the students not having been placed in the first chosen course option. However, the fact that they are not satisfied with the mobility achieved or that it does not correspond to the existing economic possibilities also weighs heavily, thus being “removed from choosing courses and institutions far from their parents’ residences due to inability to bear the costs of mobility and the standard of living in some cities”. It should be remembered that, in Portugal, household contributions have a weight in its budget above the European Union average, “which is aggravated by the less good socioeconomic conditions of Portuguese families”.

The existence of more scholarship holders in the polytechnic system, “may indicate that students [deste sistema] they come from a relatively more disadvantaged socio-economic background”. In this sense, it appears that the proportion of students enrolled in public university higher education whose father/mother has higher education “is twice that found in public polytechnic education”. In turn, the dropout rate decreases in Integrated Masters and 1st cycle Degree courses, rising in Professional Higher Technical Courses and 2nd cycle Masters. Areas such as Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics have lower dropout rates (5.7%) when compared to the others (9.7%).

Diploma does not ensure social mobility

The problem is the way in which access and retention barriers seem to remain intact when entering the labor market. Once again, according to the study, “the more disadvantaged the socio-economic context of students in a given course, the greater will be the propensity for unemployment of its graduates”.

In fact, if previous studies have already shown the disadvantage of the less privileged at all stages of higher education, the results obtained here “suggest that this disadvantage is not compensated for in higher education”. That is, not only graduates from more privileged backgrounds are in a better position to find a job, but the fact that having completed a course does not guarantee social mobility. And among university students, there is a lower tendency towards unemployment than those who leave polytechnics — which undermines the theory that they would be better prepared for integration into the labor market.

“The labor market does not seem to absorb polytechnic and university graduates in the same way”, it is recognized, warning that “the persistence of inequalities in access, permanence and success in the labor market must continue to deserve the attention of the central government”.

The study also sought to analyze the evolution of the presence of international students in Portuguese higher education, considered vital for the survival of educational institutions, concluding that these doubled in a decade and are mainly concentrated in the Lisbon and Porto regions.

In the 2019/20 academic year, 48,649 foreign students were enrolled, of which 35,476 (72.92%) were from Brazil and CPLP countries. Among students from other origins, the majority come from Spain, followed by France, Italy and Germany. According to the study, the fact that there is a majority of international students who speak Portuguese may indicate failures in internationalization due to the lack of courses given in a lingua franca, such as English. In addition to a low uptake of EU students, there may also be too much bureaucracy in obtaining visas for non-EU students.

“One of the challenges most mentioned by different interlocutors and which is transversal to all types of educational institution is the lack of provision in English, being a barrier encountered by institutions seeking to diversify their markets beyond Brazil and the PALOP”, reads.

Source: Expresso by expresso.pt.

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