Study in Spain

Spain Higher Education System

Spain Higher Education System


Barcelona, Spain

The higher education system in Spain is renowned for its world-class excellence and development opportunities. Spain currently has 76 universities, out of which 45 are public universities funded by the state and 31 are private. Both public and private universities are structured into faculties, which are divided into different departments. Students have the opportunity to select from an extensive array of study opportunities.

Universities in Spain offer official and non-official degrees. The higher education system in Spain follows the Bologna system, meaning official degrees follow the three-cycle format and are recognized around Europe. University degree programs are aligned with the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS), and you will be able to obtain bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in a variety of fields.

Here’s everything you need to know about the higher education system in Spain:

Types of Higher Education Institutions in Spain

The majority of prestigious universities in Spain are located in major cities like Barcelona and Madrid. Although the university density is greater in the larger Spanish cities, some of the best and oldest universities are located in different parts of Spain. For example, the University of Salamanca is the oldest university in Spain, founded in 1218, and still attracting thousands of students every year.

Universities and Polytechnic Universities

Spanish universities offer study programs in three cycles of study, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate. These levels of study are linked to areas like arts and humanities, health sciences, social and legal sciences, as well as engineering and architecture. Universities in Spain are generally more theoretically-oriented compared to polytechnic universities, which mainly focus on the practical part of teaching and learning and usually offer programs in engineering and architecture. The university system in Spain also comprises institutions offering distance learning, online learning, and numerous institutions specialized in postgraduate study.

International Universities

Apart from Spanish higher education institutions, there is also a plethora of international universities in Spain. These are generally business schools, and the medium of instruction is usually English or bilingual. In addition to many international European universities in Spain, there are also American universities, which offer a diverse range of study options and are recognized internationally. Many Spanish and international students decide to pursue their education at one of Spain’s multiple international universities.

Higher Arts Schools

Depending on preferences, many students also choose to study for an art degree in one of Spain’s many higher arts schools. Such schools include the likes of conservatories, theatre schools, schools of design, or schools of music and dance. The curriculum at these schools is mostly practice-oriented, meaning students earn the essential and professional knowledge in their chosen field of the arts and proceed towards their careers. Many of these higher schools of arts collaborate with major universities, through which they enhance their research programs.

Vocational Schools

Obligatory secondary education in Spain ends when students turn 16. At this age, students have the opportunity to undertake a two-year period of study for the Bachillerato certificate, which makes them eligible for university or vocational education. Vocational training allows students to obtain training in a variety of working skills for the duration of four years. Students may either choose Grado Medio, which provides basic training for two years, or go through an additional two years and undertake Grado Superior, which offers a more thorough training. Vocational training is aimed at the skilled-job market and does not provide university degrees.

Types of Spanish Qualifications

Spain is part of the Bologna agreement, a series of agreements between numerous European countries to ensure that the higher education sector’s standards and qualifications are comparable. The framework, which is three-cycles of higher education qualifications, uses the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) to measure the students’ workload.

  • The first cycle: Bachelor’s degrees last up to four years, with a total of 240 ECTS credits (60 per academic year).
  • The second cycle: Master’s degrees last 1-2 years, with a total of 60-120 ECTS credits.
  • The third cycle: Doctoral degrees last 3-5 years (60 ECTS credits per academic year).

Difference Between Public and Private Universities in Spain

The higher education system in Spain comprises 45 public universities and 31 private universities. The main difference between public and private universities in Spain is tuition. The government regulates the cost of studying at public universities in Spain; meanwhile, private universities typically set their own fees, which are higher than the former, considering there is no funding by the government.

Public universities in Spain usually give students more independence; however, private universities’ advantage is that the teaching is generally more personalized due to fewer students. Another significant difference is that public universities offer a wider array of study fields than private institutions that provide mainly degree programs in humanities, social sciences, legal sciences, and economics.

Spanish Higher Education Grading System

Universities in Spain use two grading scales, the main one being the 0 to 10 grading scale. The ten corresponds to maximum fulfillment of academic requirements. After a student passes a specific subject according to the 0-10 grading scale, their grade is converted to a 0-4 scale in their transcript of records.

The grading scale used by the higher education system in Spain is as follows:

10-Point Grade Scale Definition Grade Academic Transcript
10 Matrícula de Honor (Special Distinction) 4
9-10 Sobresaliente (Outstanding) 3
7-8.9 Notable (Remarkable) 2
5-6.9 Aprobado (Pass) 1
0-4.9 Suspenso (Fail) /

Medium of Instruction at Spanish Higher Education Institutions

Spanish is the medium of instruction at Spanish universities, but few exceptions are when the university uses Catalan or Basque (the region’s co-official language). Students may also study their degree program in English in certain institutions, usually, but not limited to, private business schools. Higher education institutions typically provide extra lessons for students who struggle with the language. Certain universities also offer bilingual courses (both Spanish and English).

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