Secondary education in Spain is compulsory for all children between ages 6 and 15. Schooling can be divided into two stages: Primaria — primary school (6-11 years old) and Educación Secundaria Obligatoria — high school (12-15 years old). Two years of high school, or Bachillerato, are not required for students: this is preparation for the university. In public schools, instruction is in Spanish or one of the dialects. Children learn the first foreign language from the age of 8, the second from 13 (optional). Foreign students usually prefer private boarding schools. They are often taught in English. Also, many private institutions collaborate with American and British universities. This allows students to choose which final exam to prepare for: Spanish Selectividad, British A-Level, or American SAT. Compared to other European countries, secondary education in a private school will not cost too much: primary — from 3000 to 7,186 USD/year, secondary and senior — from 8000 to 20,533 USD/year.
Education in Spain is rapidly gaining ground in Europe and the world. Studying here attracts more and more foreigners every year: in some educational institutions, the proportion of students from abroad reaches 20%. More than 25 universities in Spain are included in the QS world ranking of the best universities, which indicates the high quality of the educational standards. The Spanish degree is recognized worldwide and the relatively low cost of tuition and accommodation makes education here more accessible for students than in other European countries.
International diploma. Diplomas of Spanish universities are recognized around the world. The legalization procedure for the countries participating in the Hague Convention is clear and simple. You can learn more about the legalization of diplomas here.
Learning languages. The Spanish language is the 3rd most spoken language in the world. It is also one of the six official languages of the UN, which speaks of its important place in international communication. Fluency in Spanish can be a great advantage when looking for a job. Many universities in the country also have English-language programs and courses, after which graduates will have a high level of proficiency in at least two foreign languages.
Attitude to formalities. The priority is the comfort and personal development of the student, and not his academic success. This rule is followed by most educational institutions in Spain, starting at primary school. Formalities like deadlines, criteria, and ratings do not play a key role. During classes, students are not shy to express their opinions, and teachers are always open to friendly communication.
Prices. Spain compares favorably with many countries due to its low prices for rental housing, food, and transportation. Students often rent an apartment together, so you will pay approximately 257 USD per room. The bill in the restaurant will be 10-31 USD. Students are entitled to discounts at museums, cafes, and shops, as well as reduced fares.
Climate and nature. The weather in Spain is very comfortable almost all year round, the temperature even in winter rarely drops below +15 °C. Students take advantage of this and often prefer parks to stuffy libraries. The landscape of the country is very diverse: in your free time, you can relax on the beach or go hiking.
Lack of prestige. In general, the quality of Spanish education is constantly growing. But right now studying in Spain is more popular among foreign students in the form of an exchange semester or as a way of immigration. It is rarely seen as an investment in a prestigious education. Exceptions are most often universities with English-language programs or ones that offer double degrees.
The autonomy of education. In 1978, autonomous communities appeared in Spain. These changes led to the decentralization of the Spanish higher education system. Each region has its own rules and specifics of training. The educational institutions that are under the control of such autonomous communities give far fewer prospects for their students at the state level.
Slow globalization. Spain does not invest much in the promotion of its education abroad, which is why it attracts far fewer foreign students than it could. Also, the country has a long process of obtaining work permits for foreigners (about 5 weeks). Because of this, it is difficult for students to find work, and in universities, there are not many foreign teachers.
Brain drain. Many Spanish students see few prospects in their homeland. This is primarily due to the low standard of living and wages, even compared to neighboring France. The massive emigration of young talents makes Spain not the most attractive option for foreign students.
Guidance in the admission process
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The number of educational programs conducted in English in Spain is constantly growing. Some of the bachelor's specialties are being taught only in English: marketing, tourism, economics, communications, journalism. Examples of the universities conducting studies in English are Global Business School in Barcelona and Marbella University in Malaga.
Among the master's programs, there are way more English than Spanish ones. The country is trying to focus on the global market and attract foreign students. This is especially true for private business schools and MBA programs.
Also in Spanish universities there are quite many bilingual programs, where some of the courses are taught in Spanish, and some in English. The minimum knowledge of English for most universities is IELTS 6.0 or TOEFL 80.
The options for admission to universities in Spain
Preparatory programs in Spain
Applicants that are 17 years and older can undergo a Pre-Bachelor FoundationProgram in many major universities in Spain. This helps to equalize the level of knowledge of foreign students who completed less than 12 years of school to local standards since Spanish students have to study for 12 years. Students can take a preparatory course in specialized subjects or tighten up the Spanish. ECTS (up to 60) received during training will be taken into account upon admission to the university. Classes are held in both English and Spanish, depending on the chosen study program.
Vocational (special) education, or La Formación Profesional, is an analog of a college or trade school. This path in Spain can be chosen instead of the senior classes, which are aimed at preparing for university entrance. After graduating from a Spanish technical school, it is impossible to immediately enter the university. To do this, you will have to go through a high school program or university preparatory courses. Therefore, among foreigners, this type of education is not very popular. Professional education lasts from 18 months to 2 years and includes an obligatory stage of employment at the enterprise (Centro de Trabajo) lasting 300 hours. Upon completion of training, students receive a diploma of secondary education and can begin to work. It is also possible to continue education to specialized levels and receive the title of Ténnico (technician).
Bachelor’s studies in Spain
Obtaining a Bachelor’s degree typically takes 4 years. This corresponds to 240 ECTS. The exception is medicine and architecture programs that last for 5 years or longer. Each year, the student is required to gain 60 ECTS. Students annually write term papers, and in the last year, they graduate with a thesis, which is estimated at 30 ECTS. The dissertation is defended publicly before the commission. Additional credits can be obtained for electives and participation in university events. There are a lot of elective courses, but still they are less in numbers compared to compulsory subjects.
Master’s programs in Spain
Master’s programs in Spain usually last 1-2 years and equal 180 ECTS. At the end of the second year of study, students publicly defend a master's thesis, which is rated at 30 ECTS. There are three types of master's degree programs:
Professional Master’s is focused on obtaining competencies in a particular specialty, and includes the study of large amounts of theory;
Academic and research programs involve frequent work in the laboratory and the opportunity to continue an academic career in doctoral studies.
Doctorate in Spain
A PhD will take 3 years to acquire. Doctoral studies are divided into two stages: the first stage is theoretical, that is, attending lectures and seminars for which the student receives 60 ECTS, the second is research and involves the writing of a doctoral dissertation. In the end, the student must defend his study in front of the commission. There is no official time limit for writing a doctoral dissertation; on average, it takes students 3-4 years to do this. Doctoral programs are usually taught in special colleges (doctoral colleges). They may be part of universities or individual research institutes.
To write a doctoral dissertation, you must first find a suitable program and a potential academic supervisor on the website of the university of interest. After that, universities offer to fill out an online application on their website, where the future doctoral student reports on his scientific interests and academic success. The main formal condition is the presence of at least 300 ECTS for the previous stages of student education, 60 of which could be transferred from the master's program.
Doctoral students can work on research grants. In Spain there are quite a lot of them. They are provided by both the government and independent funds. There are several stages in an academic career:
For the initial position of a researcher (Profesor Ayudante Doctor), a candidate must complete a doctorate and receive a certificate from a national agency ANECA;
The position of the lecturer (Contratado Doctor) is available with a special document from ANECA, which gives the right to teach. It is easy to get it if your research experience is more than 3 years;
Further advancement to associate professor (Profesor Titular) and professor (Catedrático) is based on research, experience, and teaching and supervision of students.
The salary of an academic staff member is fixed and determined by the Spanish government. The researcher receives 2,022 USD per month, lecturer — 2,567 USD, associate professor and professor — from 2,772 USD to 3,696 USD.
The opportunity to work while studying in Spain
EU students can work while studying in Spain without serious limitations. However, you still have to check with the local authorities whether you need to provide any documents. Sometimes even EU students are required to sign a contract and apply for a work permit valid for the duration of the contract.
Those staying in the country on a student visa can work for 20 hours per week. These hours should not overlap with studies. Full-time work (40 hours a week) is possible only during summer and holidays. For official employment, you must first receive an invitation from the employer, and then a work permit: form AUT05a. You can apply to the migration office (Oficina de Extranjeria) of each city. Documents are reviewed within 5 weeks.
Finding a job for a student in Spain is quite difficult. Employers prefer full-time employees. Also, few want to spend so much time on the official registration of a foreigner in the state. Most students choose freelance, which allows them to work at a convenient time from home.
Opportunity to stay and immigration to Spain
Foreign students in Spain have a special NIE number (Numero de Identificacion de Extranjero). It is necessary for all formal procedures within the country. But it expires 30 days after graduation along with a TIE student ID. To be eligible to stay in the country and find work, the most convenient way is to apply for a job search visa (estancia por estudios superiores que cesa, para búsqueda de empleo). This can be done 60 days before and 90 days after the expiration of the TIE. Such a visa gives the right to stay in Spain for another 12 months. If during this time the graduate gets a job, later he will receive a resident card with the right to work, which he will be able to renew in the future. After 5 years of living in Spain, a resident has the right to apply for permanent residence and citizenship.
Expired type D visa;
Diploma of a Spanish university (bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral studies);
Confirmation of the availability of funds for accommodation at the rate of 552 USD/month;
In Spain. The country's unemployment rate remains high (14% in 2019). Spain is one of the three leaders in the number of unemployed among developed countries, where the average figure is 5%. For graduates, the situation in Spain is especially difficult: 30% of young specialists are left without work. It will be extremely difficult for a foreigner to find work if he does not have unique or strategically important skills.
In Europe. Graduates of Spanish universities with knowledge of English easily get a job in the European Union. In the QS ranking for graduate employment, 7 Spanish universities entered the top 200 worldwide.
Academic career. In Spain, it is difficult for a foreigner to get a position at a university. Employing a non-EU foreigner requires a lot of paperwork, and low salaries attract few candidates. In prestigious Spanish universities like Pompeu Fabra there are many lecturers from abroad (10-15%), but in general their percentage in the country rarely exceeds 3-5%.