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spain Education System - Understand How it Works​

Spain is widely recognized for its quality education. Let us find out why.

The higher education system in Spain dates to the Middle Ages. One of Spain’s oldest and most reputable universities, The University of Salamanca, was founded in 1218 and attracted over 2,000 international students every year. But there is more to it than just old buildings.

Since 1999, Spain, together with other European nations, has been involved in implementing the Bologna Process. This higher education strategy aims to make mobility in studying for students easier while maintaining the same level of quality across the higher education institutions in Europe.

Spain has both publicly and privately owned universities that are organized into schools (facultades). These schools are separated into different departments, each of which offers you the chance to enrol in a specific area of study (e.g. Business, Humanities, Sciences).

Currently, Spain has 45 public universities and 31 private universities, some of which are Catholic. The education system in Spain is regulated by the Ministerio de Educación (Ministry of Education), and Spanish universities offer both official and non-official degrees.

The official degrees are aligned with the Bologna ECTS system, which means that they are recognized across the EU and follow the standard three-cycle format drawn out by the Bologna Process.

The undergraduate (grado) and postgraduate courses cover a variety of fields so you can pick the things you would like to study. Double degrees or the option to combine two study tracks are also available. Moreover, you can always decide to be more flexible while studying. In Spain, you can combine your studies with work, enrolling as a part-time student.

In case you cannot get enough of the Iberian Air and consider making Spain your permanent home, a non-official degree can help you make it happen. It is an option available at all Spanish universities. The students are given non-official masters (Magister) and graduate (maestrias) degrees. These are specific to each university, but they do not provide you with access to PhD courses and are usually not valid outside of Spain.


In Spain, bachelor’s studies last four years. After graduation, you will be awarded the professional title of grado. Obtaining your BA degree is the first step in your academic career, and it aims to prepare you to either pursue a master’s program or look for employment. The ECTS (European Credit Transfer System) Spain uses is the standard for all universities in the European Higher Education Area (EHEA), which means after you pass a subject, in addition to the grade you get a certain amount of ECTS points. To get your BA degree in Spain, you must earn 240 ECTS credits during your studies.

Master’s programs last 1 to 2 years in Spain. After graduation, you will gain the professional title of Master. A master’s degree usually lets you focus on theoretical knowledge as well as the application and development of skills that will help you become a specialist in your field of study. Master’s degrees in Spain tend to require a lot of research and individual work. After getting your master’s degree, you are free to push forward and enter a doctoral program (third-cycle studies). To pursue your doctorate studies, you will often be required to provide proof of both your first and second cycle studies.
Otherwise known as doctoral-level programs or PhDs, this degree lasts typically 3 to 5 years, and it is accessible after graduating from a master’s degree program. To get this degree, you must submit and successfully defend a doctoral dissertation before a thesis committee and pass a doctoral examination. In Spain, only official courses offer access to a PhD program.

Qualifications framework

The European Commission formally adopted the European Qualifications Framework (EQF) for lifelong learning in 2008 as an overarching qualifications framework which links different countries’ qualifications frameworks together. Acting as a translation device to make qualifications easier to understand across different countries and systems in Europe, its main aim is to help people moving from one country to another for work or to continue their education or training.

The EQF is made up of 8 levels. Each country’s national qualifications framework (NQF) levels are linked to EQF levels, and this allows the EQF to “translate” how qualifications within the different education systems in the member states relate to each other. It applies to all types of qualifications from those achieved at school, to academic, professional, or vocational qualifications awarded at the highest levels. This means that employers and education/training providers have additional information to assist them to understand qualifications from other countries.


Tuition fees for universities in Spain are some of the lowest in Europe and are set by the Spanish government. However, how much you end up paying to study abroad in Spain will depend on certain factors such as the university you choose to study at, and the type and subject of your study program. Students from the EU can automatically study in other EU member states without paying higher tuition fees.

Usually, the case is the same for EEA and Swiss students, although sometimes laws regarding public student loans and residence permits may differ. One thing to pay attention to is that tuition fees in Spain are calculated in a pay-per-credit format. This means that you might end up paying more if you withdraw and enroll for the second or third time in the same program. Annual tuition fees in Spanish public universities are generally between €2,000-3,500.

Books and supply costs should also be considered in your budget plans. How much money you will have to spend on them varies. On average, you will spend around €900 per year. Luckily, there are alternatives if you are looking to save money without compromising on your education. A lot of sites like Segunda Mano, one of Spain’s most famous websites for selling and buying of second-hand items, can be the right place to find textbooks at a discount price. This is a great way to get the things you need without breaking the budget.


Several options are available for students looking for financial help with their Spanish-based studies. These include loans, scholarships (even offered by the Spanish government) and various grants.
  • International students pursuing a Master or Doctorate program are eligible to apply for the Erasmus Mundus Scholarship
  • Students from Africa are eligible to apply for the ALB Foundation MBA Scholarship to fund their MBA studies in Spain.
  • Erasmus offers a grant for exchange students (EU only) pursuing a bachelor’s degree (first and second cycle) and Master program who meet the general, academic and financial requirements.
  • The Ministry of Education can provide financial aid assistance. An application form must be completed and submitted to the ministry of Education or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The application often asks personal questions, including the amount of money you and your parents make.
  • Universities in Spain sometimes offer various study grants for international students coming to their university to study. Application deadlines vary so talk to your university’s admission staff as soon as possible to avoid missing out on applying.

Teaching and learning style

Universities follow the principle of autonomy to decide on methodology. To be more precise, university departments are the basic bodies in charge of both teaching and research of their respective areas of knowledge. They are responsible for the planning and coordination of the curriculum and research activity at universities. In practice, teachers are free to make use of the teaching methods and pedagogical resources they consider more appropriate.

In general, teachers employ different teaching methods at university, being lectures the most common practice. However, it is becoming more and more common to resort to other types of activities, such as seminars, cooperative work, learning based on problem-solving activities, project-based learning, etc. Practical classes (for example, laboratory or computer practices) are very frequent in experimental scientific studies.

The use of information and communication technologies (ICT) in the classroom is quite frequent. Most universities have technology support services for teachers, to help them devise multimedia materials and to encourage their use of ICTs. Presentations by means of computers or overhead projectors are also common practice, as well as the use of videos, computer-assisted learning, etc. Besides, teacher/student communication through the Internet or virtual classrooms, online platforms, virtual spaces for specific subjects, websites, and so on.


In Spain, higher education institutions are classified according to whether they organize university or non-university provision. The latter is further subdivided into centers which offer advanced vocational training cycles and specialized education institutions. Public universities and private universities are founded pursuant to a specific act passed by the Legislative Assembly of the region where the institution will be located, or an act approved by the Spanish Parliament, at the proposal of the Central Government and in accordance with the relevant Autonomous Community Council. A report from the General Conference for University Policy is also mandatory.

Public universities are integrated by University Schools, Faculties, Departments, University Institutes for Research, Doctoral Colleges and by other necessary schools or structures for the development of their functions. The Government establishes the requirements for the establishment and the maintenance of these institutions, once a report by the General Conference for University Policy and the Council of Universities has been issued.

University Schools and Faculties are the institutions responsible for the organization of their studies and in charge of academic, administrative and implementation processes of the regulations that lead to the conferment of the different university degrees. Their creation, modification and abolishment, as for the implementation and abolishment of studies leading to the obtainment of an official university degree and validated nationwide must be accorded with the Autonomous Community to which the university belongs either through the Autonomous Community’s initiative gaining the agreement of the Government Council of the university or through the university’s initiative through a proposal of the Government Council, in both cases with a previous favorable report on behalf of the Social Council.

Departments are teaching and research units in charge of coordinating studies of one or more fields of knowledge in one or more university centers according to the teaching schedule of the university. They support teaching and research activities and initiatives of the teaching staff as for exerting all other functions appearing in their statutes. The establishment, modification and abolition of departments correspond to the university, according to its statutes.

Universities may also have university research institutes. Their activity focuses mainly on technical and scientific research and artistic creation. These centers are also entitled to offer graduate programs (Master’s degrees or PhDs). University research institutes may belong to more than one university. Public or private organizations can also establish them by means of collaboration agreements or specific arrangements. Furthermore, universities can create joint research institutes, in cooperation with other public research bodies, with the National Health Service and with public or private non-profit research centers.

Furthermore, universities and public authorities promote the creation of integrated higher education areas, which develop new channels of collaboration between the production sector, universities, vocational training institutions and other dependent bodies, to encourage business and scientific innovation. Therefore, an integrated higher vocational area consists of a university campus which incorporates vocational training centers offering higher vocational training, specialized in professional families which are related to the areas of specialization of university colleges operating in the same campus.

The official regulations which establish the structure of PhD programs also authorize the creation of Doctoral Colleges, the objective of which is to organize provision at this level into one or more interdisciplinary knowledge branches, which may also include official science-oriented Master programs, as well as many other types of training activities in research. These colleges may be founded by one or more universities, with the possible participation of other bodies, centers, institutions, or national and international entities which carry out R&D activities.

Public universities may also have public or private associated centers offering official study programs. The association is established by means of an agreement which requires it to be endorsed by the relevant regional Government, at the proposal of the University Government Council once the University Social Council has positively informed the proposal. Associated centers must be established within the territorial scope of the relevant regional Government or receive approval from the provincial Government where they are located.

Private universities and private university centers may be created by any individual or legal entity, regarding that they respect the constitutional principles as they are subject to State and Autonomous regulations. University private centers must be integrated into a private university as centers belonging to the university, or they must be ascribed to a public or private university.

Private universities elaborate and approve their regulations for their organization and functioning. These must respect and guarantee, through broad participation of the university community, the academic freedom manifested in the academic freedom, research, and study.

To guarantee the quality of universities and university centers, a series of requisites are established to which they must comply with whether they were already in existence or whether they were recently created. From these, the Autonomous Communities establish the specific requirements for the universities to establish themselves in their territory.

Both public and private universities, together with university centers, must be registered in the Register of Universities, Centers and Qualifications (RUCT).

Bachelor or undergraduate degrees

Undergraduate degrees in Spain are purposed with providing students with a broad but general overview of a particular study with a focus on its related field of work. In Spanish, this degree is called a ‘grado’. To graduate with this type of degree, there are several qualifications that students must earn. The undergraduate degree is also called a bachelor’s degree and is the minimal qualifications that most people require in a particular field.

First, 240 ECTS credits are required over a four-year course. In addition, a dissertation is mandatory towards the end of the last year, and its value can be significant, up to 30 credits. Some students choose to speed up their credit accumulation by enrolling in extracurricular activities. These can earn one an extra 6 credits over their college stay. One caveat, the maximum number of credits you can earn each year is 90. Another departure for some will be the rigidity regarding elective choices. When one chooses their course of study, there is a structured plan in which they must follow. In many cases, only 10% or less of their completed courses will be electives.

It would be prudent to consider this before making one’s final choice as to their major. There are also specific standards one should know about if you are a foreign student residing in Spain during your college term. The ‘European Credit Transfer System’ which is often referred to as ECTS is a standard which universities in the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) employ. The primary reason for its use is to maintain a standard grading system. Credits received is this system is based on work completed and includes the following: covered hours of class, self-study, written work, and practical examinations. One ECTS credit is equal to 25 hours of study. If you are a full-time student, you are expected to earn 60 credits each year.
A pertinent question foreign student might also ask is what requirements are necessary to earn a place in a Spanish University that is housed in this system. One needs to have a secondary education finishing degree or its equivalent. Depending on the university, there could also be an admission exam that is required, as well as grade cutoffs for those examinations. Another consideration is course-specific admission requirements; of course, those vary widely. There are also language qualifications that most Spanish universities require, the most prevalent being English. One can expect to be tested on this as well. Basic English proficiency tests like IELTS, TOEFL, etc., are considered sufficient for most educational institutes.


There are more than 70 universities located throughout Spain. Of those, 50 are public, and the rest are private universities. Most of the universities are situated in Madrid and elsewhere in Barcelona and Valencia, although universities can also be found in other Spain cities as well. Any of these universities can certainly help you return to school and earn a postgraduate degree of your choice, no matter how long it has been since you first earned your bachelor’s degree.

Students coming to Spain to earn a Postgraduate degree will find themselves among some of the best schools in the world. Spain has great schools that provide you with the opportunity to nurture your learning and enhance yourself with many different courses offered. There are doctorates in Arts and Humanities, Sciences, Health Science, Social Science and Law and in Engineering and Architecture and others.


The academic calendar in Spanish universities is usually split into two semesters. The format tends to be similar throughout the country: you begin lectures in October and end in June. Examinations are held at the end of the first semester, in February, and at the end of the second semester, in June.

Language Courses

It is important to note that most courses at Spanish universities are held in Spanish, and some can be taught in a regional language such as Catalan. To follow the course, most universities will require you to be able to understand, read and write Spanish at an advanced level. You could take this chance to learn or brush up on your Spanish skills. Most of the language courses are offered by universities, and as such, they can vary in length. While there are some courses held in English, there are still only a few of them. A few universities such as the Marabella Academy offer courses in English as well as pathway courses designed to prepare you for studying in Spain.

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