Higher education in Spain

Short overview

A decentralized model regarding authority over education is currently in place for Spanish Higher Education. It distributes authority over education between the State, the Autonomous Communities and the Universities.

Jurisdiction over higher education is designated almost totally to the universities, with isolated exceptions in certain military, artistic and music degree programmes that are given in non-university institutions.

The State however regulates the conditions for obtaining, issuing and recognising academic and professional degrees.

Types of institutions

Spanish universities may be either public or private, and they can be set up under either State or Autonomous law. There are at the moment 75 universities of which 50 are established on a public basis and 25 on a private basis.
Of the 75 public universities, 48 fall under the authority of the Autonomous Communities while 2 fall under the Ministry of Education and Science. Of the 25 private universities, 7 belong to the Catholic Church.

Institutions that offer programmes and degrees in accordance with a foreign educational system that is not officially recognised in Spain must be regulated by the Government, subject to a report by the Coordinating Council of Spanish Universities (article 86 of the Spanish Universities Act).  

Types of programmes

Spanish higher education is currently adapting to the three cycle degree system of the European Higher Education Area. Therefore, two structures currently coexist in university education:

The new structure (in line with the European Higher Education Area)
In this structure, programmes are situated in one of the following thee cycles:

  • Bachelor's programmes: basic degree programmes and/or general education-oriented; 
  • Master's programmes: specialized or multidisciplinary advanced training; academic or professional oriented; and 
  • Doctorate programmes: advanced training in research techniques).

The old structure (pre-European Higher Education Area)
There are still four types of programmes which will be adapted to the above-mentioned structure before 2010. These are: 

  • First cycle (short cycle) degree programmes: orientated towards professional qualifications and award either a Diploma or a General Degree, and, in Engineering and Architecture, an equivalent qualification (official duration of three years). 
  • First and second cycle degree programmes (long cycle): according to the type of studies, they have an official duration of either four or five years. 
  • Second cycle only degree programmes (generally two years), lead to the award of the equivalent of an Honours Degree, and, in Engineering and Architecture, an equivalent qualification, entry to which requires certain first cycle qualifications or a long cycle first degree.

Overview degree structure

  Additional information about the degree structure / qualification framework

Find a programme or institution

Short Overview of ES

Capital Madrid
Language(s) Spanish, Aranese, Basque, Catalan, Valencian and Galencian
European Union 1 January 1986
Schengen Area 26 March 1995
Population 45,2 million
Area 504.030 km²
Density 90 km²
Currency Euro (€)
Time Zone UTC+1
  Summer UTC+2
Calling code +34
Touristic information

Higher education in...

More information about higher education in the following countries:

European Degrees

Higher education programmes award degrees that should refer to a level in the overarching Qualifications Framework of the European Higher Education Area, which organises higher education in three sequential levels or cycles: the so-called Bachelor-Master-Doctorate system

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Recognise your degree


National authorities and/or institutions are responsible for the recognition of foreign qualifications (diplomas). This procedure is called the credential evaluation: recognition for professional purposes, for the purpose of further studies or for the right to use a national title or degree.

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Quality Assurance

European models of quality assurance can include assessment and accreditation procedures at either programme, subject or institutional level. Every model has to be in line with the European Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area.

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Qualifications Framework

The Qualifications Framework of the European Higher Education Area is an essential instrument in understanding European programmes and the degrees awarded. It puts forward the so-called Bachelor-Master-Doctorate system.

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Bologna Process

The Bologna Process has brought about and is still shaping the European Higher Education Area. This Area should ensure mobility of students and staff, employability of graduates, global competitiveness and international attractiveness of higher education.

 Read more