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higher education

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Within the higher education level, we have Universities, which may be private or public. Universities are organized in Schools (Facultades), and these in turn into Departments, each of them highly specialized in a specific part of the corresponding science. Currently, the Spanish university system comprises 49 public universities, 14 private universities and 4 universities of the Catholic Church.

Regarding its content, the Spanish university system displays an equilibrium between scientific disciplines included in the so called social sciences and humanities (History, Economics, Literature, Philosophy, etc.) and the so called pure sciences (Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, etc). Likewise, within the different Universities we may find scientific disciplines specifically applied to the society to which they are aimed. An adequate equilibrium between theory and practice is carefully achieved in these disciplines (Arquitecture, Medicine, Law, etc), studies that, in addition, have very high possibilities of immediate incorporation into the labour market.

It is becoming very common to see Universities that offer a higher university degree which interlaces academic contents from several scientific disciplines (economics and law, literature and history, etc). This option generates professionals with a very high level of training, who are very sought after by the national and international business sector.

Polytechnic Universities

Scientific disciplines relating to technology (engineering) are taught at the so called Polytechnic Universities (Universidades Politécnicas), which can be public or private. Similarly to Universities that are not technology related, these Universities are organized into Schools (Facultades) and Departments. In the case of Polytechnic Universities, the teaching programmes show a certain disequilibrium between practice and theory, being much heavier on the practice side. These centres of higher education constitute one of the main factors of the dynamism of the economic development in the country, and their graduates have high guarantees of joining the business world and a high international vocation.

All the training provided in these centres allows for the attainment of an official degree of graduate (licenciado) or higher engineer (ingeniero superior) recognized by the Spanish Government, and having this degree is a necessary requirement to have access — following highly specialized post-degree studies and the development of a thesis — to a PhD level (Título de doctor), maximum level in the educational system in Spain. The duration of the studies to obtain the degree of University Graduate (licenciado) ranges from five to six years.

University Schools

Depending on each university and also within the higher education level, we find the so called University Schools (Escuelas Universitarias), both of scientific disciplines and specialties (human science and pure science) and of technological or auxiliary sciences. Its teachings have a more practical perspective and usually deal with auxiliary scientific disciplines (nursing, education, statistics, computer science, telecommunications, etc). Their shorter duration (three years) and the immediate nature of their objects of study with relation to the social needs of today make these professionals very sought after in the labour market.


University studies are organized in cycles. There are three different models:

– First cycle studies, with a clear professional orientation, which, at present, are not followed by a second cycle (Library Science, Nursing, etc.). They have a three year duration, with a class load no lower than 180 credits. The degrees for the first cycle are called Diploma (Diplomatura), Technical Architecture (Arquitectura Técnica ) or Technical Engineering (Ingeniería Técnica).

– Two cycle studies with no intermediate degree. In this case the studies are organized by cycles, but completing the first cycle does not grant the right to any degree, and it therefore does not constitute a complete cycle of academic studies, nor does it provide with any specific professional qualification (Veterinary Science, Medicine, etc.) They may last between four and five years, with a class load no lower than 300 credits.

– Two cycle studies with intermediate degree. In this case the completion of the first cycle will grant a Diploma, Technical Engineer of Technical Architect degree, allowing for the continuation onto the second cycle in order to obtain the degree of Graduate (Licenciado), Engineer (Ingeniero) or Architect (Arquitecto).

University degrees

Spanish universities are autonomous entities of public right, and they can therefore establish their own academic offer. At present, the aforementioned academic offer may be twofold:

– Official degrees valid in the whole of the Spanish territory

– Degrees specific to each University


Grades are based on the points obtained over a maximum of 10:

0,0 – 4,9 SUSPENSO (SS)

5,0 – 6,9 APROBADO (AP)

7,0 – 8,9 NOTABLE (NT)



The ECTS has been established as follows:

A – EXCELLENT: Extraordinary performance, with only minor errors

B – VERY GOOD: Above the average, but with a few mistakes

C – GOOD: In general, good work, but some notable errors

D – SATISFACTORY: Good but with significant room for improvement

E – SUFFICIENT: The performance is just over the minimum level required

FX – FAIL: A little more work is necessary on order to obtain the credits

F – FAIL: A lot more work is necessary


The approximate equivalence of the numeric grade according to the Spanish scale of 10 corresponds to the following ECTS grades:

9,6-10 MH Matrícula de Honor = A (EXCELLENT)

9,0-10,0 SB Sobresaliente = B (VERY GOOD)

7,0 – 8,9 NOTABLE (NT)

7,0-8,9 NT Notable = C (GOOD)

6,0-6,9 AP Aprobado = D (SATISFACTORY)

5,0-5,9 AP Aprobado = E (SUFFICIENT)

3,0-4,9 SS Suspenso = F (FAIL)

0-3,0 SS Suspenso = FX (FAIL)


In a parallel way, during the last few years there has been a surge in organizations and institutions oriented towards post-degree studies and continuous education, which has significantly multiplied the diversity of studies and training available.

The variety and specialization of the teaching profiles of each of these organizations makes it difficult to provide an exact classification, although they could be considered as centres for post-degree studies and business schools.

The main characteristics of the studies available in these centres combine a high degree of specialization, a high level of academic demands, a shorter length of the programmes (between 8 and 24 months) than the ones of official courses, and being oriented for the most part towards students that already have a higher education university degree. The array is endless, and it goes from MBA to Cooking Schools, Foreign Trade and International Business schools, Flamenco dancing, Drama, etc, all of them aiming to meet immediate needs in the Spanish society and in the international community. They are the key element to access the labour market.

The development of this sector is the immediate consequence of the importance that the Spanish educational system gives to the idea of continuous education, or continuous training throughout a lifetime, encouraged by the big international entities (UE, UN, UNESCO, OECD, etc.)


Within the specialized studies, we should highlight the importance of the area of language studies and Spanish as a foreign language, which is highly specialized. In the constant search for quality and academic excellence, the traditional course offers have been widened to include educational offers that link the study of the language to specific professional activities. Spanish for business, Spanish for medicine, Spanish for legal matters, mix the beauty of learning the language with the added professional value of each of the students. This added value places each foreign student in a privileged position to follow a more in depth learning plan.

Regarding the duration of the courses, the study of languages and of Spanish as a foreign language varies between intensive four week courses and the longer ones, which last for a semester.

Regardless of the type of centre chosen, or the desired level of training, the Spanish education system has always been extremely open to international students, as shown in the importance placed in the different exchange programs available within the EU (Erasmus, Socrates, etc), and the great variety of mobility programs for students and teachers offered between Spanish centres and foreign institutions. In the majority if the cases, classes are taught in Spanish. In the case of higher education that leads onto an official degree, it is necessary obtain to the validation of the degrees in accordance with European regulations.


One of the main tools to measure the quality of institutions dedicated to the studies of Spanish as a Foreign Language is the CEELE ( Certificate of Quality in the Teaching of Spanish as a Foreign Language).CEELE is a certification that guarantees the quality and academic excellence standards of those study centres that have obtained it.

It is granted by the University of Alcala de Henares and by EDUESPAÑA. The CEELE is designed as a tool to certify the quality management in those study centres dedicated to the teaching of Spanish as a foreign language.

The inspection for obtaining the CEELE certification quantitatively evaluates areas such as quality of teaching, programme design by the centre, the teachers, the infrastructure or the adequate advertising of the offer, amongst other factors. Likewise, the inspection committee (who belongs to the Department of Modern Languages of the University of Alcala de Henares) issues, through academic reports, recommendations and suggestions with the objective of increasing the level of quality of the school or institution that it is evaluating.

CEELE guarantees the compliance with a series of internationally recognized criteria on the part of the centres specialized in the teaching of Spanish as a foreign language. This certificate guarantees a quality control similar to the one present in many of our neighbouring countries and which allows for a student, teacher or linguistic agent who has chosen a school or institution with the CEELE certificate of guarantee to be assured that the schools has successfully undergone an independent, objective and professional inspection.

Moreover, the CEELE schools may participate in international collaboration programs that require a guarantee of compliance with the established quality standards.