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Higher Education System in Spain

Higher Education in Spain is carried out by public and private Universities.  The Ministry of Education and Culture administers educational courses of study at both public and private universities. Both public and private universities possess the right to award their own degrees following programs called institutional programs (titulos propios) not formally acknowledged by the ministry of education. The ministry of education establishes the academic standards, regulates the conferral of all degrees and academic titles, and additionally awards diplomas in the relatively small non-university sector of higher education.

Higher Education in Spain: Timeline

Higher education in Spain has its beginning in the middle ages. The University of Salamanca is the first university, established in 1218 in Spain.  Spanish Universities have undergone some significant alterations that have contributed to a self-governing and decentralised system. In addition, Spain University system has embraced the guidelines of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). University studies in Spain are maintained by Royal Decree 1393/2007 of 29 October, modified by Royal Decree 861/2010, of 2 July. And since the adaptation of the EHEA, the university studies in Spain consists 3 cycles- bachelor, master, and doctoral level. 
The educational policy is regulated by the Ministry of Education along with the higher education departments in the universities. The University Council (Consejo de Universidades) indicates the prerequisites to build new universities, centres and institutes, and also helps in managing advanced graduate studies.

Main Laws Governing Higher Education in Spain

Law: Organic Law of Education Quality of 2002 (In Spanish: Ley Organica de Calidad de la Educacion, or LOCE)

Law: Organic Law on Qualifications and Vocational Training , or LOCFP of 2002 (In Spanish: Ley Organica de las Cualificaciones y de la Formacion Profesional)

Law: The General Organization of the Education System Act, or LOGSE of 1990 (Ley Organica de Ordenacion General del Sistema Educativo) 
Responsible for: All institutions

Law: Universities Act of 2001 (Ley Organica de Universidades, or LOU) 
Responsible for: Universities

Law: Right to Education Act of 1985 (Ley Organica del Derecho a la Educacion, no. 8, or LODE) Year: 1985

Decree: Real Decreto 86/1987 of 16 January (BOE of 23 January) and Ministerial Order of 9 February 1987 
Responsible for: Regulations for the recognition of foreign higher education qualifications

Higher Education Facts and Figures

Spain has 82 Universities (2013-14). Out of the 82 Universities 50 are publicly owned and 32 are private. The number of private universities is increasing rapidly in recent years, particularly since 2001 have created 14 private Universities.  Spain also has 322 research institutes and 78 scientific-technological parks. Spain being a member country of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA), all official qualifications issued by Spanish Universities is acknowledged for academic and professional purposes in 53 countries all around the globe, out of which 45 are European. The 2013-14 Courses/programs commences with 1,030 Universities (schools and colleges) imparting education throughout Spain. (Source: Ministry of Education)

University Higher Education Degree Structure: Snapshot

University Higher Education comprises of 3 levels or cycles (Degree's)-
  • Bachelor
  • Master
  • Doctoral
Bachelor’s Degree program: Also known as Grado. This is the first cycle of Spain University system that emphasizes on general education.

Master’s Degree Program: Concentrates on the specialised or multidisciplinary advanced studies. This cycle is academic as well as profession oriented.

Doctorate Degree Programs: This is the last cycle of Spain university system that focuses on teaching the advanced research techniques to students.

University Higher Education Institutions: At a Glance


University schools (escuelas universitarias): University Schools provided short-term courses of study that last for 3 years.

University colleges (colegios universitarios) : Provides 3 year courses/programs

Faculties (facultades): Provides long-term courses/programs in all academic areas of study except technical field.

Higher technical schools of engineering and architecture (escuela superior de ingenieria y arquitectura): Provides long-term technical courses.

Admission Requirements

University admission in Spain is based on the nota de corte, which is received at the end of the 2-year Bachillerato. High score of nota de corte is indispensable in order to gain admittance to in public universities in Spain, while cost ascertains the program in private universities. To know more about the admission procedure in Spain, click here.

Non-University Higher Education

There is small non-university higher education sector in Spain. 
  • Institutos de Fisca provides advanced courses of study in physical education
  • Schools Civil Marina (Escuelas de la Marina Civil) provides merchant marine courses of study under the support of the Ministry of Transport and Communications.
  • The Ministry of Transport and Communications administers courses leading to the qualification of Technical Business and Tourist Activities (Tecnico en Empresas y Actividades Turisticas).
  • The Ministry of Education and Culture is in charge of providing advanced art studies- dramatic art, dance, singing and conservatories.

Academic Year

The academic year at Spanish higher education institutions is split into 2 semesters- 

The first semester starts between mid-September and early October and continues till late December. The exams for this semester are held in the month of January.  
The second semester commences in late January or early February and runs till late May. The exams for this semester period are held in the month of June. 

This academic term may vary depending upon the universities.  

Grading System

A 10-point grading scales is used by the Universities in Spain.

ECTS Grading Scale

 Qualification ECTSSpanish Score  Description (In Spanish)Description (In English)  Spanish Academic University Record
 A+ 10.00 Matricula de Honor Matriculation with Honor 4
 B 9.00-9.99 Sobresaliente Outstanding 3
 C 7.00-8.99 Notable Very Good 2
 D-E 5.00-6.99 Aprobado Pass 1
 FX-F 0-4.99 Suspenso Fail 0

Tuition Fees

The tuition fee depends on the nature of the title-official or private and the nature of the university-public or private.

Private Universities: The tuition fee for undergraduate, master or doctorate degree programs varies between 5,000 and 15,000 Euros per academic year, according to study mode and selected university.

Public Universities: In the academic year 2013-2014, the tuition fees of the undergraduate programs in Spanish public universities is about 750 and 2,400 Euros per course. The tuition fee of master's degrees and a doctorate degree in public universities range between € 17 and € 65 credit (a European credit is equal to 25 to 30 hours of student work).

Popular Universities in Spain

  • Universitat de Barcelona
  • Universidad Autonoma de Madrid
  • University of Navarra
  • Universitat Pompeu Fabra
  • Universitat de Valencia
  • Universidad Complutense de Madrid
  • Universidad Pontifica Comillas de Madrid
  • Universidad de Castillia-La-Mancha
  • Universidad de Malaga
  • Universidad de Murcia
  • Universidad de Santiago de Compostela
  • Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona

Popular Courses in Spain

Following are the most popular courses in Spain:
  • Applied Climatology
  • Administration
  • Information Technology
  • Management
  • Finance and Accounting
  • Engineering
  • Aviation
  • Applied Science and Hospitality
  • Accounting
  • Biotechnology
  • Law or Legal Studies
  • Communication/ Media studies
  • Art & Design
  • Cookery
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