Mar Johnsson (Barcelona, 19 years old) took the Selectividad in June 2021, and is in the second year of Mathematics at the University of Barcelona (UB). She studies there because she did not enter the Polytechnic University of Catalonia (UPC). “The UPC grade was 13.2 and I got a 12.9. I had to do it perfect, and I was not up to it ”, she laments. Of the 10 careers with the highest cut-off grade in Spain, 7 have mathematics in their name, and the double degree in Physics and Mathematics is, year after year, the most difficult career to access in the entire country, with 13,825 over 14 at the Complutense University of Madrid, and more than 13.7 at those of Seville, Murcia, Zaragoza and Granada. Why this success of mathematics in the classroom when a decade ago there were places left unfilled?
“Mathematics is experiencing a period of splendor, because now, with the rise of new technologies, there is full awareness of its usefulness. Society has realized that they are very necessary because, in the end, behind everything there is mathematics”, reflects on the phenomenon Eva A. Gallardo, president of the Royal Spanish Mathematical Society (RSME). Johnsson is content to study what she studies. “Mathematics explains everything, it is the basis of absolutely everything. Although later I do not want to dedicate myself to them, and I will do a Master’s in Business Administration and Management because I want to work in the world of finance, in the Stock Market, I know that thanks to them I will have a job when I leave ”, she affirms.
Regarding the professional opportunities offered by these sciences, Gallardo states that they are “infinite”. “The employment rate has always been very high. Mathematicians are people with very versatile profiles, with analytical minds, accustomed to challenges, and are not scared by a problem. They don’t always know how to solve them, but they do know how to find the root, the crux of the question. And that is of great interest to companies ”, he considers. Data scientist, financial auditor or programmer are some of the jobs in which Mathematics graduates can work. According to a 2019 INE survey, the unemployment rate for students in this degree is only 3.7%, this career being one of the most employable.
Increases the gender gap
For these reasons, Gallardo explains, mathematics has been displacing engineering and medicine for years. “However, the increase in demand has not been accompanied by the increase in places, and that is why the cut-off marks are so high.” And this, he says, has its drawbacks. “Many young people who like math may not be as good at languages, history, or philosophy, and they don’t make the necessary cut-off grade. For that, you have to be excellent at everything, and that is not easy at all”. For this reason, he continues, mathematics students today are “kids with very executive profiles, who, in addition to studying, go to the conservatory and the language academy, with very high intellectual concerns.”
Gallardo laments the gender gap in this degree, which has widened as studies have become synonymous with professional success. It is a recent phenomenon: between 2000 and 2005 enrollment in Mathematics fell by 43%, and it has re-emerged with men in the lead. In this sense, the president of the RSME sends a message: “In mathematics we all fit, and diversity is great. The way in which I face mathematics is different from the way in which my husband faces them, and that is enriching. As the demand has risen, the rate of women who want to study them has been decreasing, apparently due to competitiveness. It is not a question of capacity, obviously, but of social parameters, of education. I want to tell the girls that if they want to do it, because they like it, go for it.”
Physics and Mathematics are followed by other double degrees: Translation and Interpreting (French) and International Relations at Pablo de Olavide (UPO), in Seville, which requires a 13.76 to access. The third on the podium is International Relations and Law at the same university, with a 13.73. The fourth with the most difficult access is Biotechnology and Pharmacy at the University of Salamanca, with 13,661. And the fifth, Computer Engineering and Mathematics at the Complutense, with a 13.65.
High demand for international
“In International Relations, there is little supply of places and a lot of demand, and that is why the cut-off grades skyrocket. Low supply and high demand, equal to inflation”, sums up José Antonio Sánchez Medina, vice-rector for strategy and academic planning at the UPO. “International Relations have become fashionable, because our children are increasingly living in a more global world, and they want to understand it. They want to understand other countries, other cultures, ”he explains, about the attractiveness of this discipline. Among the 20 races with the most difficult access in Spain, 7 have the adjective “international” in their title.
“As a career, it is not as established as Law or Business Administration and Management. Not all universities give it, and those that do offer few places”, says Sánchez Medina. At the UPO, they have 60 places for the degree in International Relations, 20 for the double with Law, and 10 for the double with Translation and Interpreting (French) and Geography. “I take it with great disgust. The cut-off mark is not synonymous with quality, but the combination of little supply and young people of 10 who have studied a lot, ”she emphasizes.
Álvaro Cabello (Herrera, Seville, 22 years old), who took the Selectividad in June 2018 in the Andalusian capital, is in the fifth year of the double degree in International Studies and Law at the Carlos III University of Madrid. “It was my first option, but I did not expect to enter. In other words, since the cut-off mark was very high (13.49), it was a possibility that he would not enter. But I was going for everything and it was my number one plan, ”he begins. “I chose it because I had always been very interested in history, the culture of other countries and languages, and because the degree was in English, but I also considered doing Law and Political Science at the University of Granada, which had a higher cut-off grade. down,” he explains.
About her routine during high school, Cabello says that she studied from four to eight every weekday afternoon and every Saturday. He also went to the conservatory, studied English and went out with his friends. “A very normal high school,” he says. “I had very good teachers and classmates and when the Selectividad came, I felt that I already knew everything. He would review, but the two weeks before he did not study more than eight hours a day ”. He got a 13.65. In his opinion, the cut-off grade is so high because of the low offer of places, and because it is a very demanding double degree that attracts very studious people who demand a lot of themselves. “When I entered, we were all honors students at the institute, we had the best marks in the Selectividad of our autonomous community…”, he points out.
Regarding the professional career opportunities, he comments: “Really, one half wants to take the exam, and the other half wants to get into the world of law, in consultancies or large law firms. It is true that law firms call us a lot, they are very interested in our profile. Then, there is a minority that is going to do master’s degrees in human rights, in international law”. Although he entered wanting to compete as a diplomat (“what we all wanted to be when we entered”), Cabello is going to compete for the Superior Corps of State Civil Administrators. “In a world like ours, which is increasingly complex, more intercultural, where monolithic gazes are more useless, polyvalent studies open your mind, and that is great”, confirms Sánchez Medina, the vice-rector of the UPO.
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