The grants programme of the “la Caixa” Banking Foundation, which funds postgraduate studies, has been seen to have a major impact on the careers of beneficiaries, such as better working conditions and greater social and scientific relevance in their work. However, what circumstances condition which people apply for grants and which people obtain them?
In both cases, the determining factor is the academic excellence of the university students involved. However, when the academic records involved are similar, components such as gender and socioeconomic status also come into play. Women, and candidates from more disadvantaged families, are less likely to apply for these grants and, when they do apply, have fewer probabilities of obtaining them.
To identify the most relevant factors involved in making the decision to apply for a grant from the Foundation, as well as elements that help determine to whom grants are awarded, data were analysed from 15 grant calls published between the years 2014 and 2018 and corresponding to three different programmes based on destination (Spain, Europe or America-Asia). Furthermore, for analysis of the relevant factors in grant applications, data from the programme, which had nearly 10,000 applicants, were combined with information on nearly 57,000 students from the Universitat de Barcelona (UB) who obtained a qualification between 2009 and 2017. These data provided knowledge regarding the level of education of students’ parents, and that information was used for an approximation of the socioeconomic status of students’ families.
1. Characteristics of applicants for “la Caixa” grants
Comparison with the general data on UB qualification-holders enables the most relevant characteristics of grant applicants to be established: if all graduates are considered, the general application rate is 0.76%. Among those students whose academic records are among the 25% with the highest qualifications (TOP-25), the application rate increases to 1.22% and, for the best 10% of their year (TOP-10), it increases to 1.70%.
It is thus observed that, among university graduates with the best academic records, the rate of applications doubles that of the whole group of students, a situation that reflects the Foundation’s main goal: rewarding academic excellence. However, it is also clearly appreciated that this TOP-10 group is influenced by gender and by socioeconomic status as previously noted. Men have an application rate of 2.6%, while women barely reach 1.2%. Furthermore, the rate of applications from students with two university-educated parents (2.6%) doubles that of students whose parents did not complete higher education.
Who is applying for Foundation grants?
2. Who are the grant awardees of “la Caixa”?
If academic excellence is the main factor that explains which students apply for “la Caixa” postgraduate grants, it also constitutes the main determinant for success in obtaining them. Among the total of applicants, the global rate of success in obtaining grants is situated at 9%, but the most brilliant students have a much greater efficacy. Among the TOP-25, applications that prosper reach 30%, while among the TOP-10 are now 45.2% of the students who manage to obtain grants.
As a complementary detail, the university of origin also plays an important role with regard to passing the selection process, consisting of a remote evaluation and a personal interview. It has been confirmed that, all other characteristics being equal, students from the universities best positioned in the international rankings have a success rate 2.4 percentage points higher than the rest.
3. What characteristics are underrepresented in the grants awarded?
Both gender and socioeconomic status influence the probability of becoming a grant beneficiary. For the overall set of applicants, women give success rates 3 percentage points (p.p.) lower than men. These differences are maintained, although attenuated by 1 p.p., when taking into account the average grade and the university of origin.
With regard to socioeconomic status, candidates with a higher status benefit from a success differential that is 2.4 p.p. higher in the case of men and 1.5 p.p. in that of women.
Among the best there are also differences
In relation to the indicator for the socioeconomic status of applicants, it is observed that 25.1% of them are of “low” status and 16.7% of them of “high” status. In contrast, when we observe the grants awarded, these percentages have changed to 22.7% versus 20.1%.
4. What lies behind the factors that have a negative influence on success?
In the percentages of grant awards, the gender gap and socioeconomic status are explained, in part, because women and students from less favoured environments tend to prefer programmes of greater geographical proximity. Thus, although women represent 41.7% of the applicants for the set of the 3 programmes, they account for only 32.8% in the America-Asia programme versus 44.3%, and 42.6% in the programmes of Europe and Spain respectively. A preference is also observed for programmes at closer locations among applicants with a low socioeconomic status: while they represent practically half of applications in the programmes of America-Asia and Europe, their weight increases up to nearly 60% in the case of the PhD programme in Spain.
Why is geographical destination important?
Gender and socioeconomic status affect preference regarding where to study for a postgraduate qualification, even among the top students. Women are less interested in more distant destinations, while applicants from disadvantaged families prefer not to leave Spain. This affects the total number of grants received, as these are the programmes most requested.
If we take into account the fact that the nearest programmes have higher demand in relation to the number of grants offered, it is easy to reach the conclusion that they present lower success rates. While the intercontinental programme has a probability of success of 14.1%, for the European programme this probability is reduced to 8.8% and in Spain-wide programmes it falls to 5.1%. Geographical preferences explain, therefore, some 30% of the gender and socioeconomic-level biases.
This article has been adapted based on the study:
Lídia Farré (Universitat de Barcelona), Francesc Ortega (City University of New York): Becas de “la Caixa”: ¿Quiénes las solicitan? ¿Quiénes las obtienen? Evaluación de los factores socioeconómicos, académicos y personales que influyen en la decisión de solicitar una beca y en la probabilidad de obtenerla.
Other bibliographical references:
GARCÍA-MONTALVO, J. (2014): Impacto de las becas “la Caixa” de posgrado en el extranjero.
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