In March 2021, the Ministry of Universities and the autonomies agreed that the price of qualifying master’s degrees -mandatory to be able to practice as a lawyer, secondary school teacher or in certain engineering- was going to be equal to that of degrees (careers) and the news was well received by students. However, the Observatory of the University System (OSU) ―made up of professors from the four public universities of Barcelona―, in its report What effect have the agreements on public tuition prices had? course 2021-22, now reveals that professionalizing master’s degrees represent only 8.1% of the total. The rest are non-qualifying postgraduate courses, which are taken to specialize or later access a doctorate, and their price has been frozen since 2020.
Although the snip in these non-qualifying titles is a Government claim, there are no medium-term plans neither from the Executive nor from the regional authorities due to their high cost. Madrid came to denounce in court the agreement to lower the prices of professional postgraduate courses, but after winning the elections its president Isabel Díaz Ayuso launched in June 2021 the promise to lower their prices.
“It does not seem justified -nor is it in accordance with the law- that the prices of master’s degrees depend on whether they enable [más baratos] or not for the exercise of a regulated profession in Spain, since this has nothing to do with the cost of the service”, complains the observatory in the report. The cost is related to the level of experimentality. The same technical means are not required for a master’s degree in oncology, orthodontics or plant genetics as for one in sociology or history.
The limbo of differentiated price master’s degrees
The then minister José Ignacio Wert (PP) allowed in 2012 that, due to “the uniqueness of certain degrees and their degree of experimentality”, some studies could have a differentiated price that would come out of the table set by the communities. However, no degree has a special cost, but 83 official master’s degrees are offered at a differentiated price. By modifying a section of article 81 of the Organic Law of Universities (LOU) in 2020 ―to make careers cheaper― this exceptional treatment has disappeared from the text, leaving these more expensive master’s degrees in limbo. From the ministry it is ensured that since they are non-professional masters, their price is frozen.
Vera Sacristán, director of the OSU, interprets that when the paragraph of the LOU disappears, the prices of the differentiated price masters should be equated to the rest. And remember that in the 2020-2021 academic year, after the modification of the LOU, Aragón ended with the special lower price of two master’s degrees in engineering at the University of Zaragoza and Cantabria of four in the same field.
“We verified one more year that master’s degrees at differentiated prices continue to exist. There are in five communities: Madrid with 50, Asturias with 13, the Basque Country with 12, the Valencian Community with 11 and Murcia with two [la comunidad asegura que es uno]”, lists the OSU report.
Three communities have not yet lowered the prices of the races
The first measure of Manuel Castells as Minister of Universities was to agree with the autonomous communities in May 2020 to reduce the prices of degrees (careers) to the 2011 level within three courses (until 2022-2023). The regions blamed him then that the cut was not accompanied by extra funds to compensate for the lower contribution of families. According to the observatory’s calculations, three communities “have not yet taken any steps to comply: Illes Balears, which should reduce the average price by 29 euros; Madrid, which should reduce it by 290 euros and the Basque Country, whose reduction should be 48 euros”.
Prices increased enormously in the 2012/2013 academic year with the so-called great price of José Ignacio Wert, who modified the LOU to force the autonomies to raise the fees paid by students to cover between 15% and 25% of the total cost of their place. With this overexertion of the families, it was about compensating the budget cut to the universities in the middle of the economic crisis. Catalonia, the Valencian Community, Extremadura and Navarra have not yet completed the reduction in degree – other regions decided to do it before the agreement with the ministry. Cantabria has reduced them, although it was not bound by the pact.
The differences between communities are exorbitant. The cheapest races in Madrid – the least experimental – cost two and a half times more than in Asturias. Or the most expensive in Catalonia, more than double that in Andalusia.
The gap is even more significant in non-qualifying master’s degrees. The most expensive in Murcia is 4.7 times more expensive than the cheapest in Galicia. Although there is no agreement to reduce their rates, some communities are working on it: Catalonia, with the highest rates, has lowered them by 40% (1,106 euros), La Rioja by 11.5% and Castilla y León by 18%. And the great difference in fees within a region is surprising, one postgraduate degree is up to nine times more expensive than another.
Nobody puts on the table the doctorate fees that are 6.7 times higher in Castilla y León and Catalonia -the most expensive communities- than in Andalusia. And the second and successive registrations are still a ruin. The third rates of a subject, according to the OSU, multiply up to five or six times the first.