Progress on widening access to Spain's universities may be faltering after improving in the 1990s, according to the first study to look at access to higher education.
Metropolitan Survey 2000 examined social trends in the province of Barcelona every five years since 1985. It showed that between 1985 and 2000 the number of people from poorer backgrounds attending university doubled.
Author Marina Subirats, councillor for education at Barcelona City Hall and professor of sociology at Barcelona's Autonomous University said: "After Franco, there was a strong trend for democratisation, when everyone thought equality was very important and many of the discriminatory barriers were torn down."
But in 2000, students from upper-class backgrounds were five times as likely to go to university as those from lower-class backgrounds. The study also showed that cultural factors, such as the level of parents' education, were more influential in deciding whether an individual went to university than family income.
"In Spain most universities are relatively cheap, so it is not a case of simple economics," Professor Subirats said. But she was concerned that the trend to widen access might now be reversing: "There are signs that the progress on reducing inequality of opportunity has ground to a halt."
Participation of women, however, was increasing. In 2000, the number of women aged 26-35 with a university degree outnumbered men for the first time.