The cut-off marks to study engineering have skyrocketed. Not necessarily due to the increase in the level of the students

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A couple of years ago, in the first summer of the pandemic, it made headlines the notable increase in the general cut-off mark to access university courses. It happened among other reasons because it was the most massive call (more than 225,000 applicants) that maintained almost the same pass rate as previous courses, 93%, and due to the anomalous end of the 2019/2020 course, with a last quarter marked by confinement and Baccalaureate grades that in many cases were somewhat inflated by the circumstances, thus producing an inflation of the cut-off marks.

However, confinement aside, there is another notable trend: the cut-off marks to access most engineering degrees have skyrocketed in recent years. If in the first decade of the century most only required a five (when the maximum mark was a ten), in these times the level of access has been increasing, reaching an increase of up to 90% in some cases.

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To make the comparison we have taken the data from one of the main technical universities in Spain, the Polytechnic University of Madrid, and the cut-off marks of all its engineering in 2012, 2017 and 2022. That is, the current ones, those of a five years and those of a decade ago, to see how they have evolved.

In the first place, the variation with respect to 2012. Engineering related to computing stands out: Computers, Software and Information Technology have shot up their cut-off grades by 88%, 90% and another 90% respectively, going from grades below 6 to be between 9 and 11.

With a lower percentage growth, but reaching the ceiling of the fourteen points that can be obtained as a maximum in EBAU, there are engineering areas such as Biomedical (from 11.74 to 13.06), Industrial Design and Product Development (from 10.66 to 12.81) or Industrial Technologies (from 11.4 to 12.27).

There are some, the least, that have seen how their note has remained intact, with a 5, in the case of agricultural, agri-environmental or forestry engineering. And others that have lowered the bar in their access, such as the natural environment, mining or materials, all of them being between 5 and 8.

Special mention for an engineering that began to be offered in recent years and does not appear in the 2012 photo, that of Data Systems, with scores of 11.62 and 12.13 respectively for its Moncloa and Sur campuses.

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If we limit the comparison to a closer date, from the last five years to now, the differences are not so exaggerated, but it is surprising that no cut-off mark has fallen. In the “best” of cases, they remain the same (a 5 in seven engineering), in the rest they go up.

And an important nuance: those that rose the least in percentage terms are those that were already closest to 14 out of 14. Case of Biomedical, Aerospace Engineering or Industrial Design and Product Development (remaining at 13.06, 12.36 and 12, 81 respectively). The ones that rise the most are in almost all cases those that came from cut-off notes closer to 5, and now they are between 9 and 12.

From one to seven engineering firms in the national top 20 in just five years

And another way to see the impact of these rises, not only in the UPM, but at the national level. We have taken the twenty titles (degrees or double degrees) with a higher cut-off mark at the national level. Each degree can be repeated, since it is considered a different cut-off mark for each university that offers it.

In 2017, medicine dominated this ranking, leading the double degree in Mathematics and Physics. A single engineering appeared in it, and also as part of a double degree, that of Computer Engineering and Mathematics (highly valued for its full and rapid labor insertion) offered by the UCM, with almost a 13 cut-off mark.

Five years later, the number of engineering in the ranking goes from one to seven. They mainly occupy its lower half, but it is a much greater presence and it must be taken into account that the cut-off notes of that top 20 have also grown notably.

In addition, the vast majority of the titles that are above are the double degree in Mathematics and Physics offered by several Spanish universities. The presence of Medicine is relegated to a couple of presences between Medicine and Biomedicine.

Given this scenario, one can ask why are not more places offered if demand has skyrocketed in this way. The answer is simple: it is a budget issue. Means. Enric Marín, Vice Dean of the Student Body of the Faculty of Informatics of the Polytechnic University of Barcelona, ​​already explained in Xataka that “with the teaching staff that we have now we are already loading the courses at 120 or 130%. We need more support to be able to hire more teaching staff and offer more places”.

The logical option to provide more resources to some titles without raising the educational budget is to reorganize them. That is to say, cut those that are destined to degrees of lower demand to deliver them to the different degrees and double degrees that are most requested. But is a highly unpopular process that meets a lot of resistance along the way and it may take several years for it to crystallize.

The other reading: the rush of double degrees and the deficit that comes from the pandemic

On the other hand, the rise of these notes has a B side. Or several. On the one hand, engineering now occupies positions that before not in rankings like the last one, but the inflation in the grades is general. As a long-term trend, since about 2006as in particular since the pandemic broke out.

“We consider that the pandemic has had an effect of inflating the grades according to which profiles because what could have been done regarding the evaluation has been done,” says Pablo Garaizar, Professor of Programming at the University of Deusto. “It has not been easy to evaluate fairly because it is not easy to recreate the special conditions that occur in an exam room telematically. Many people have preferred to evaluate through assignments and other tools. This has meant that many of the qualifications in Baccalaureate they have better averages, but they are not in accordance with their abilities. when you get to university you see these shortcomings that shouldn’t be on paper“.

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Shortcomings, as he tells us, such as a too low level in Mathematics that does not correspond to the grade obtained in this subject during the Baccalaureate or the EBAU. “There are hard subjects of a lifetime in engineering, such as Calculus, Algebra or Physics; but it was not usual to go from an outstanding in Baccalaureate to a failing degree, now it does happen”, says Pablo.

The astute reader Xataka You will have noticed that in the last table, the one with the highest current cut-off marks, nineteen of the twenty positions are held by double degrees, not single degrees. “Double engineering, engineering accompanied by Physics, Mathematics, etc., have more and more social prestige and there is a lot of demand, but they attract above all the brightest students, those who want to rock. They have the feeling that by signing up for a double degree are making the most of their potential. Those who are not so bright and don’t want to make such an effort, even if they have very high grades, a simple degree is enough”, concludes the Bilbao professor.

“Another factor to explain this increase”, explains Jesús Fraile Ardanuy, professor at the ETSI of Telecommunications at the Polytechnic University of Madrid, “is that many more double degrees are offered with very attractive names that are still small variations of the already existing, but with far fewer vacancies. That also raises the cut-off mark”. Although the inflation of grades is generalized, as we have seen, it is true that it is more accentuated in double grades, which tend to be closer to 13 and 14.

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Jesus also perceives the drop in the level with which the new students arrive. “This course I have had people who started in the year of COVID and I have seen how they arrive with deficiencies not only in high school physics, but even in secondary school. Even with a sum of fractions they have complications. It is not something that affects the entire world, but yes it is noticeable that in the same way that in general the grades have gone up, the level has gone down. They are students who arrive having learned to take exams such as selectivity exams, but as soon as they enter engineering, where they have to face new problems reasoning and using tools, it is clear that they are not used to it”.

And it adds material on a subject that could be written four other reports: the structural situation, which comes from afar and not only from the pandemic, which has been increasing the grades achieved at EBAU. “That the exam is not common throughout Spain is a problem, because there are communities that have much higher grades than others. For example, in Madrid there are many people from the Canary Islands studying Architecture [con notas de corte entre el 10 y el 12] because the selectivity tests there are more lax and they achieve a sufficient grade”. Although that is another discussion.

Outstanding image: University campus photo created by freepic.diller –

A couple of years ago, in the first summer of the pandemic, it made headlines the notable increase in the…

A couple of years ago, in the first summer of the pandemic, it made headlines the notable increase in the…

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