SPAIN: In a new series, The THES studies the pattern of student choice in Europe
One of the hardest courses to get on this year in Spain was telecommunications engineering at the University of Zaragoza. Meanwhile places to study history or literature at universities across the country were left vacant.
"Technical and social sciences are going up, and humanities, such as philosophy or literature, are going down," Spain's Council of Universities said.
One recent change has been the growing range of degrees on offer, now more than 140. New specialised qualifications, such as music science at Madrid's Complutense University or environmental studies at Barcelona's Polytechnic University, have had an enthusiastic response from students.
One indication of the popularity of Spanish degrees is provided by the minimum entrance mark set each year for each course, expressed as a figure between five and ten. However, this figure is influenced by other factors, such as the number of places on offer and the reputation of an institution.
Engineering has become increasingly popular with students, according to Miguel Oliver, secretary general at Madrid's Polytechnic University. Computing, civil and industrial engineering are very much in demand, with
minimum entrance marks of between seven and eight, but courses in naval or mine engineering have trouble filling their
quotas even though job prospects for both qualifications remain good.
Although Spain has the highest youth unemployment rate in western Europe, Maria Teresa Fernandez-Pacheco, vice-rector for students at Complutense University, believes employability is not always a student's priority when choosing a degree. She believes many students choose according to their interests, family connections or simply fashion.
Life sciences, including medicine, nursing, dentistry and biology, are popular choices. Competition for places in medicine is fierce.
Law is also a popular choice. In 1998-99, there were 181,000 students throughout Spain studying law, the largest single group of students. Academics feel this subject, together with a second popular option, business studies, tends to attract the most career-minded students.