Education in Spain
Robert Sedgwick, Editor, WENR
Land Area: 194,913 square miles
Administrative Divisions: 17 autonomous communities: Andalusia, Aragón, Asturias, Balearic Islands, Canary Islands, Cantabria, Castilla-La Mancha, Castilla y León, Catalonia, Valencia, Extremadura, Galicia, La Rioja, Madrid, Murcia, Navarre and País Vasco (Basque Country).
Official Languages: Castilian Spanish, 74 percent; Catalan, 17 percent; Galician, 7 percent; Basque, 2 percent. Although Castilian Spanish is the country’s official language, Catalan, Galician, Basque and Valencian are designated constitutionally as “co-official” languages in the autonomous communities in which they are spoken.
Population: 40,037,995 (2001 estimate)
Literacy: 97 percent
Per capita GDP: $18,000 (2000 estimate)
Spain’s education system has undergone significant changes in the last 20 years. Under the socialist government of Felipe Gonzalez, who stayed in power for 14 years (1982-1996), three major educational reform laws were promulgated:
- In 1983 the Ley de Reforma Universitaria/LRU (Law of University Reform) enabled universities to offer their own degree programs (called títulos propios), in addition to the degree programs officially recognized by the Ministry of Education and Culture (títulos oficiales). This law also allowed private universities to be established for the first time in Spain, and gave universities greater autonomy in curriculum development and budgetary matters.
- The Ley Orgánica del Derecho a la Educación/LODE (Organic Law on the Right to Education) was enacted in 1985 giving Spain’s autonomous communities the right to administer their own schools. The LODE also established free, compulsory education, and required schools to respect the different languages and cultures of Spain.
- In 1990, the Ley Orgánica de Ordenación General del Sistema Educativa/LOGSE (Organic Law on the General Organization of the Educational System) reorganized the structure of primary and secondary education. Under this law compulsory education was extended from eight to 10 years, and curriculums were modified to include more technical subjects and foreign languages. See the insert for a detailed description of the LOGSE.
Duration: Ages 6 to 12
Curriculum: General academic
Leaving Certificate: Graduado Escolar (School Graduate)
Compulsory Secondary Education (Lower Secondary)
Duration: Ages 12 to 16
Curriculum: General academic
Leaving Certificate: Graduado de Educación Secundaria (Secondary Education Graduate)
Post-Compulsory Secondary Education (Upper Secondary)
I. Bachillerato (baccalaureate)
Duration: Ages 16 to 18
Curriculum: physical education, philosophy, history, arts, natural and health sciences, humanities, social sciences, technology, Spanish language, autonomous community language and foreign language.
Students at this level choose from among four academic streams: arts, humanities and social sciences, natural and health sciences or technology.
Leaving Certificate: Título de Bachiller (Title of Bachelor)
II. Occupational Training
Grado Medio (intermediate level)
Duration: Ages 16 to 18
Entrance Requirement: Graduado de Educación Secundaria (10 years of schooling)
Leaving Certificate: Técnico (technician). Holders of this qualification may enter the workforce, or enroll in higher technical programs after accumulating occupational experience in their specialization.
A New System of Education is Established at the Primary and Secondary Levels
The Ley Orgánica de Ordenación General del Sistema Educativa (LOGSE) established a new system of education at the primary and secondary levels. Although the law went into effect in 1991, it was introduced gradually and only fully implemented in 2000. The main points of the LOGSE are as follows:
- Basic education is compulsory and free of charge, and is extended to the age of 16, the legal age for entering the work force.
- The educational system includes special education as well as general education, i.e. different modes of education are adapted to suit students with special needs.
- All students must have basic vocational training, which is provided in secondary schools. Vocational training is organized at two levels: the first at the end of compulsory secondary education, and the higher level following the bachillerato.
- Improvement in the quality of teaching must be achieved via renewal of course content, improvement in human resources and material resources and better use of the educational system.
- Religious instruction must be available and voluntary at all schools.
- Special educational systems are set up for the arts and language learning.
The most recent reform law, the Ley Orgánica de Universidades/LOU (Universities Organic Law), enacted in 2001, promises to significantly reorganize Spain’s system of higher education along the lines of the Bologna Declaration (see below).
The introduction of the LOU last year was largely a response to the European Union’s call for standardizing the education system of all member states to facilitate the exchange of students, lectures, researchers, information and employment.
However, the law has generated considerable controversy throughout Spain. In December 2001, an estimated 100,000 people, including university rectors, took to the streets in protest. Despite such widespread opposition, both the Congress and the Senate approved the LOU on Dec. 20. Critics argue the bill, which would significantly overhaul the country’s system of higher education and make the hiring of professors more competitive, is being precipitously rammed through Parliament without proper consultation. One of their concerns is the proposed changes would favor private universities at the expense of public institutions. In addition, they claim the LOU does not make provisions for funding the system of higher education, which enrolls three times as many students now than it did in 1976.
Other concerns focus on proposed changes in the way governing councils and rectors are elected, and the way professors are evaluated.
Under the LOU universities are now free to set their own admissions requirements in lieu of the national college entrance exams. Student groups claim this threatens equal access to higher education, diminishes transparency in the selection process and could lead to a substantial cut in government grants.
Despite considerable opposition from political parties, industrial unions, student associations and the national rectors’ organization, the government has refused to retract the law or even to modify it. Minister of Education Pilar del Castillo Vera said the overhaul of the university system is necessary to improve the quality of education throughout Spain.
In other developments, Spanish universities are currently taking additional steps to conform to the Bologna Declaration, which requires a three-to-four year duration for first level degrees, and an additional one-to-two years for second level (master’s) degrees.
At present, Spain has three kinds of first degree: 1) a first-cycle, three-year diploma; 2) a second-cycle licentiate, or professional title, requiring four to six years, including the first cycle; 3) a separate second-cycle degree that does not include the first-cycle diploma and takes one to three years.
When the reforms are in place, the three degrees will be merged into a single qualification and will take three-to-four years to complete, excluding medical degrees. The first post-graduate degree will require an additional one-to-two years of study.
Doctoral degrees require a licentiate degree for admission and take a minimum of two years to complete.
Doctoral programs are currently state-regulated, while master’s degree programs are administered solely by the universities.
Many universities are making progress toward implementing the Bologna reforms. For example, Valencia Technical University and Deusto University are currently conducting pilot programs to test the Diploma Supplement, a document that contains detailed information about a holder’s academic credentials, including individual subjects taken, semester credits and grades. The purpose of the Diploma Supplement is to enhance cross-border student exchanges and employment opportunities.
Post-Secondary Occupational Training
Grado Superior (higher level)
Duration: One-to-two years
Entrance Requirement: Bachillerato (12 years of schooling), or técnico plus work experience.
Leaving Certificate: Técnico Superior (higher technician). Holders of this qualification may enroll at universities in fields related to the trade for which they have been trained, or they may enter the work force.
The Ministry of Education and Culture supervises educational programs at both public and private universities through the designation of officially sanctioned programs (títulos oficiales). It also grants official recognition to private institutions of higher education. Both public and private universities have the right to award their own degrees following programs called títulos propios (institutional programs) not officially recognized by the ministry of education. The most common títulos propios programs are the Especialista (specialist) and the Maestris (master’s) degrees.
In addition, the ministry maintains academic standards, regulates the conferral of all degrees and academic titles, and also awards diplomas in the relatively small non-university sector of higher education.
Seven of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities (Andalusia, the Basque Country, the Canary Islands, Catalonia, Galicia, Navarre and Valencia) have almost full control over the administration of the education systems within their respective territories.
University Higher Education
There are 59 universities in Spain, including several Catholic and private institutions of higher education. For a recent listing of these schools go HERE.
Admission to faculties, advanced technical schools and university colleges is based on the Prueba de Aptitud para a la Universidad (national university entrance exam). The exam is held each June. Because of the huge demand for higher education in Spain and the limited number of places, students with low score may not be admitted to the school of their choice, or even gain university entrance at all.
Programs and Degrees
Stage I: Short-cycle degree programs that last three years are generally professional in nature. There are two types of short programs:
- Programs leading to the Diplomado (university diploma) are offered at escuelas universitarias (university schools), which are attached to a university. These programs are offered in a wide range of subjects, including fine arts, information technology, library science, nursing, allied health, social work and teaching at the basic education level.
- Programs leading to the Diplomado Ingeniero Técnico (engineering technician) or Diplomado Arquitecto Técnico (architectural technician) are offered at escuelas tecnicas universitarias de ingeniería y arquitectura (university schools of technical engineering and architecture).
Students who successfully complete their short-cycle programs generally do not undertake any further university study. However, if they choose to do so they may be required to complete a one-year Curso de Adaptación (adaptation course) to compensate for any curricular deficiencies in their education. They can then begin studies in Stage II programs in related disciplines leading to the licenciado.
Stages I & II: Long-cycle programs, offered at universities, last between four and six years and lead to a Licenciado (licentiate degree) or a professional degree (such as the Ingeniero or Arquitecto). These programs are divided into two cycles: The first cycle lasts two-to-three years and is comprised of general education plus studies in a major field; the second cycle requires two-to-three years of further specialization, ending with the conferral of a licenciado or professional degree.
Licenciado programs require a minimum of four or five years in such disciplines as arts, biological sciences, chemical sciences, economic and business sciences, law, pharmacy, political science and sociology, psychology and mathematical sciences. However, medicine and veterinary medicine each lasts six years.
Professional programs leading to ingeniero or arquitecto degrees in architecture, engineering and related fields require five-to-six years of study.
Master’s Degrees in Business
Several universities and business schools, such as the Escuela Superior de Administracion y Direccion de Empresas (ESADE), currently offer master’s programs in business administration. There are several bilingual and English-language programs, and some business degrees are being offered jointly with the traditional licenciado. Although some of these programs are not formally recognized by the Ministry of Education, many enjoy solid international reputations.
Stage III: Students who wish to go on for a Doctorado must hold a licenciado degree or arquitecto or ingeniero. Doctoral programs generally require two years of further study and consist of both coursework and a dissertation.
Non-University Higher Education
There is very little non-university higher education in Spain. Most vocational and technical programs are offered at universities. There are only a handful of non-university institutions of higher education:
- Institutos de Físca offer advanced studies programs in physical education
- Escuelas de la Marina Civil offers merchant marine studies under the auspices of the Ministry of Transport and Communications.
- The Ministry of Transport and Communications also supervises programs leading to the qualification of Técnico en Empresas y Actividades Turísticas, which are taught at specialized schools.
- The Ministry of Education and Culture is responsible for providing advanced art studies (dramatic art and dance, singing and conservatories).
Elementary-school teachers are trained at university teacher-training schools. Three years of study are required to earn a Título de Maestro (title of teacher). Before 2000, candidates earned a Diplomado en Profesorado de Educacion General Básica (professional qualification).
Secondary-school teachers are trained at faculdades universitarias. Licentiate-degree holders enroll in a one-year, part-time program consisting of theoretical instruction in pedagogy (150 hours), followed by supervised practice teaching (also 150 hours). Upon completion of this program, students receive the Certificado de Aptitud Pedagógico and are qualified to teach in their specialized area of studies.
There are also licentiate-degree programs in educational theory and educational psychology.
WES Grading Scale
|Most Common Grading Scale
|Matricula de Honor (Honors)
- British Council. International Guide to Qualifications in Education. Great Britain, 1996.
- Commission of the European Communities. A Guide to Higher Education Systems and Qualifications in the European Community. The Netherlands, 1991.
- National Office of Overseas Recognition. Country Education Profiles: Spain. Australia, 1992.