Pompeu Fabra named ‘young gun’ university

Spain's Pompeu Fabra has been named on a list of the seven "fastest rising young universities in the world" by UK-based Times Higher Education.

Pompeu Fabra named 'young gun' university
Photo of Pompeu Fabra University building. Photo: Teresa Grau Ros/Flickr

The Pompeu Fabra University (UPF) in Barcelona is grouped among universities less than 50 years old that have risen the most in the THE’s World University rankings, traditionally dominated by institutions founded between the 11th and 19th centuries.

Typically, the older a university is, the better it tends to do in rankings.

But the publically funded Pompeu Fabra, founded in 1990, is among those bucking the trend, THE said, and is identified as one of seven "young guns" identified in the "Young Universities Summit Report".

Barcelona's Pompeu Fabra, which ranked 165 in the 2014-15 THE World University Rankings, is Spain's highest ranking university and the only one to appear in the top 200.

Now it has been recognized for its swift rise up the ranks, moving 12 places in just four years.

The university, with 9,568 undergraduate students, 3,319 master students and 1,156 doctoral students is among a group of rising stars that have shown what others developed over centuries "can be achieved in a matter of decades".

Photo: Teresa Grau Ros/Flickr

The small research-based university, which has campuses in the center of the Catalan capital, is the leading Spanish university in terms of Starting and Advanced Grants funded by the European Research Council and the second one when it comes to obtaining money from European research funds. It also has the highest research productivity and the highest citation index in Spain.

It is ranked fifth out of the top seven behind Singapore's Nanyang Technological University (founded in 1991); Maastricht University in the Netherlands (1976); University of Warwick in the UK (1965); and Korea's Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (1971).

Just behind Pompeu Fabra is Switzerland's École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne and Hong Kong’s University of Science and Technology, founded in 1991.

Copyright Times Higher Education 2015.  

The Catalan university like the others in the group has racked up high scores in three areas, THE says.

These include "citation impact" — how much a university's research papers are being referenced by other academics, a measure of the influence its research has on the rest of the world.

Another category is "income from industry" – how much companies are working with academics and applying their research to the real-world.

A third area is "international outlook"; a measure of how many international students and staff a university attracts, and how much it is collaborating on international research papers with other institutions.

"The average age of the top 100 institutions in the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings is close to 200 years old, and Oxford University can trace its origins back to 1096," Phil Baty, editor of the THE rankings, said in a statement.

"But this research shows emphatically that to be world class you don’t have to be old – you just have to be bold."

With strong leadership and financial backing the rising stars have shown that it is possible for visionary young universities to break through.

The list of fastest rising universities was released ahead of the THE's Young Universities Summit set for April 29th-31st at Dublin City University.


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EXPLAINED: How Spain will make it easier for students to graduate

The Spanish government has passed a new decree which will allow secondary and sixth form students to graduate and receive their qualifications, even if they have failed some subjects.

Spain is changing its education rules
There will also be no re-sitting of exams at Spanish secondary schools. Photo: CESAR MANSO / AFP

The Spanish government approved on Tuesday, November 16th a new Royal Decree which gives instructions to teachers to change the way they grade their students for the rest of the school year of 2021/2022 and 2022/2023.

Education in Spain is compulsory for all those from ages 6 to 16. The Spanish education system is made up of primary and secondary schools. Secondary school is referred to as ESO and students receive a Título de Graduado Educación Secundaria Obligatoria (Title of Graduation from Obligatory Secondary School Education). This is the last four years of compulsory education, up until age 16, and is similar to GCSEs in the UK.

After age 16, Spanish students can go on to study for the optional Bachillerato for the next two years up until age 18. This is equivalent to A-levels in the UK and is needed if the student wants to attend university. 

The new rules apply to the ESO and Bachillerato qualifications. In primary education, there were no specific qualifications or failure limits and this is the same in the new decree too. 

What is changing?

  • Before, students studying for the ESO were allowed to pass each year only if they did not have more than three failed subjects, but now with the new decree, there is no limit.
  • There will also be no re-sitting of exams in ESO.
  • In order to graduate with the ESO qualification at age 16, students could still graduate even if they had up to two failed subjects, however now there is no limit in the number of failed subjects allowed to graduate. 
  • In order to pass each year of the Bachillerato, students could still move on if they had up to two failed subjects. This will stay the same in the new decree too. 
  • In order to graduate with the Bachillerato qualification before, students had to pass all subjects and exams, but now one failed subject is allowed. 
  • Students will also be able to sit the Selectividad, which are the Spanish university admission tests if they have failed some of their Bachillerato (sixth form) school subjects.
  • For the first time in history, students with special needs who have had significant curricular adaptations and have not studied the minimum requirement for other students will also be able to receive their high school qualifications.

READ ALSO: Why Spain is failing in maths and science teaching

How will it be decided if students can graduate?

The text presented to the Council of Ministers by Pilar Alegría, the Spanish Minister of Education states that the decision on whether or not a student passes secondary education will be decided on by each board of the school or institution at the end of the school year.

It is the teaching team “who is given the ultimate responsibility for the decision on the promotion and qualification of students” she stated. It will be the teachers who have to make the decision after assessing whether the student “has reached the appropriate degree of acquisition of the corresponding skills”. 

This means that there will no longer be specific requirements to graduate high school and that the parameters for passing will be different for each institution.   

Why have the rules changed?

The new measures are designed to avoid students repeating years and improve graduation statistics.

According to the latest statistics, out of the countries in the EU in 2020, 79 percent of the population between 25 and 64 years old had graduated Secondary Education or higher and Spain is around 16.1 points below this average. 

Pilar Alegría said that 30 percent of 15-year-old students have repeated a year at least once and “dropout rates are increased by this percentage of students”. 

That is why we are committed to a system “based on trust in teachers”, “continuous evaluation” and “collaborative work by teaching teams”. She has assured that “the culture of effort does not run any risk with this new norm. An effort based on motivation is better than one based on punishment”.  

READ ALSO: Spain passes contested education bill

Are all regions on board with the new rules?

Madrid, Andalusia, Galicia, Castilla y León and Murcia strongly oppose the new rules because they “lower the requirement” and “unsettle the teachers”. 

The five regions complain that the royal decree changes the rules of the game in the middle of the course since the students have started the academic year with a particular curriculum and specific criteria in order to pass it. 


“Within our powers, while respecting the law, we are going to try to prevent the royal decree from being applied, as we consider that it is a direct attack on one of the pillars of the Madrid educational system, as is the merit and the effort of the students “, said sources from the Department of Education of the Community of Madrid.


The education authorities in Galicia said that they will also “explore any legal possibility that allows for preserving the culture of effort and quality as signs of identity”.

Castilla y León

The education departments in Castilla y León said that for their part, they “will make sure that the curricular development and the norms of promotion and qualification are the least harmful”.


“Although the norm establishes that the Baccalaureate degree can be obtained with a failed subject, we understand that it does not make sense because all subjects contribute to the acquisition of the necessary competencies,” said the education authorities in Andalusia.


Murcia is also not in favor of the royal decree and denounces “the improvisation of the Pedro Sánchez government and the lack of legal security for the decisions that have been taken”.   

Unions and Associations

Teachers’ unions such as Csif or Anpe or associations such as Concapa or Cofapa warn that more students are going to arrive less prepared for the next level of education, where the problem will explode. 

These regions argue that this new system will leave a lot of grey areas because teachers’ criteria can be very subjective. The elimination of make-up exams is also causing confusion because “they give another opportunity for students to pass based on their effort and ability”. 

The rest of the regions, on the other hand, were in favor of eliminating the need to re-sit exams because they believe that the evaluation should be “continuous” and the student should not risk everything for a single exam.