Back to school: How Spain is battling to keep its students safe

The new school year is fast approaching and Spain is battling to come up with a strategy to keep its students safe as infections rise across Spain.

Back to school: How Spain is battling to keep its students safe
Photos: AFP

Spain’s education chiefs are meeting on Thursday to discuss strategy ahead of reopening the schools at the start of the school year but with 17 regions, each coping with diverse situations of the coronavirus evolution, and with infection rates high in some towns and virtually non-existent in others, it isn’t going to be easy to come up with solutions that suit everyone.

All agree on the importance of getting children back into schools and on track with their education while ensuring classrooms and the school environment are made as safe as possible, that contact is to be limited and hygiene standards maintained.

Guidelines were produced by the central government in June in order to assist regional authorities come up with their own return to school plans, but with the second wave hitting Spain earlier than anticipated and infections on the rise, the plans need updating.

Some regions have already outlined strategies, and others have yet to come up with definitive plans.

Strategies are in place to limit classroom sizes, create ‘bubbles’, and ensure procedures are in place when an outbreak is discovered.   

Here’s what is under discussion:

Face masks for children

Under recommendations by Spain’s health ministry face masks should be mandatory for all children aged 6 years old and above when walking around school, but once in the classroom itself the rules change.

Some regions are suggesting that these could be removed when seated at a desk in the classroom as long as students can remain 1.5metres apart, while those who are being taught in “student bubbles”, will be able to move freely around the classroom and interact without masks.

One town in the Seville province, El Rubio, has used funds that would have been spent on the town fiesta to instead invest in Perspex screens placed around individual desks at the local school of 250 pupils.

Mass testing

Galicia, Andalusia and Catalonia have all announced plans to carry out mass testing of teachers and pupils, with Catalonia putting aside funds for half a million tests between the start of the school year and November.

This idea isn’t one that has the support of Spain’s Health Ministry which says it is an expensive measure that is not particularly affective unless the tests are carried out regularly.

Fever checks

Likewise there is some discussion over the usefulness and practicality of taking each student’s temperature on arrival at school. Although running a temperature is one of the most common symptoms of Covid-19, using a thermometer won’t detect the virus in those who are asymptomatic, as many children are.

But it would likely cause crowding at entranceways to the school as children line up to have their temperatures taken.

Some regions will insist on parents agreeing to take the temperatures of their children before they leave the house and to keep them away from school if they show any symptoms of illness.

Smaller class sizes

Recommendations agree by the Education and Health Ministries include the need for smaller class sizes between 15 and 20 which they call “student bubbles” and for class to remain together rather than swap groups and classrooms.

Mixing outside the classroom should also be limited to these “bubbles” which means staying together in the canteen and playground.

In situations where this can’t be observed – such as among older groups who may need to move between classes – then a minimum distance of 1.5 metres must be maintained.

Staggering starts

Some of the regions have already announced plans to stagger the start of the school year depending on year group.

Madrid has set five dates to return to school depending on the year group with those in “infantil” returning on September 4while some secondary school years will have to wait until September 18th.




 Split timetables

Some regions are already outlined plans to combine school attendance with online learning. Madrid, Valencia and La Rioja have said that they will put in place a system that will involve some learning from home for those in secondary schools.

While Murcia indicated already that for those schools where class sizes exceed 20 pupils a combined school/home teaching system will be in place.

Isolation of students with suspected covid

Recommendations outline the need for a dedicated isolation space where a child can be taken if they appear to show symptoms of the virus. They will be cared for here while the health authorities are contacted and the family can take responsibility.

There is still discussion over what to do when a case has been identified. Some regions (Catalonia, Andalusia, La Rioja) suggest that when a case has been identified the whole class, including its teachers, must also remain in isolation until they can take a test.

Covid co-ordinators

Each school will appoint a “covid co-ordinator” to oversee measures within the school and to communicate with the local health and education authorities in the case of  corovavirus being detected in the school

 Limited playtime and lunch time

Some schools may choose to close canteens and restrict outdoor play to limit the risk of contagion. In Navarra, lunch rooms won’t be operating and all extra-curriculum classes are cancelled.


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What are the rules and costs for foreigners who want to go to university in Spain?

If you're thinking of going to university in Spain and want to know what qualifications you need to get in, how much tuition fees cost and what the differences are for international students, this explainer has the information you're after.

What are the rules and costs for foreigners who want to go to university in Spain?

There are around 1.3 million students in higher education in Spain, according to the latest statistics available and the number of foreign students who studied in the Spanish University System (SUE) in the 2019-20 academic year amounted to 208,366.

Spanish universities generally have a good reputation and the country is even home to one of the world’s oldest universities – the University of Salamanca, which opened back in 1218. 

Accessing university for foreign residents in Spain

If you are a foreigner who has residency in Spain and you are over the age of 18, you can access Spanish universities under the same conditions as Spaniards.

You are also able to apply for the same scholarships and grants as Spanish students.

If you attended high school in Spain, you will take the same test as Spaniards to enter university –  the Bachillerato Assessment for University Access (EBAU or EvAU), also known as selectividad.

This is a compulsory test for Bachillerato students, which is Spain’s equivalent to A-levels after the age of 16, who want to access university.

Accessing Spanish universities for EU citizens

If you’re an EU citizen, in most cases you will have to get an accreditation issued by the UNEDassis service (University Application Service for International Students in Spain) in order to attend university here.

To do this, you must visit the website of the National Distance Education University (UNED) where you will have to submit your educational qualifications and transcripts. It opens in April each year. You will then receive your Credencial de Accesso (access credentials), which you will need to submit to your chosen university within 3 to 4 months.

Accessing Spanish universities for non-EU, non-resident citizens 

Foreigners who are not from an EU country and don’t have residency in Spain are still able to go to Spanish universities, however it is a little more complicated.

Firstly, you will need to go through the homologation process in order to get your qualifications recognised in Spain. This is carried out through the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training, except if the university you want to attend is in Catalonia, Galicia or the Basque Country, because in those cases you must request homologation in the region itself. You can contact your local Spanish consulate to help you navigate the process.  

Once you have your qualifications recognised in Spain, by receiving the Accreditation (Volante de convalidación), you must pass the Bachillerato Assessment for University Access (EBAU) or the Specific Competence Tests (PCE). 

In addition, once you have received your place at a Spanish university, you must also apply for a student visa in order to legally be able to live in Spain during your studies.  

Recently, the Spanish government announced that it is preparing legislation that will mean non-EU university students will no longer have to renew their residence permit on a yearly basis, as well as allowing them to automatically stay in Spain for one or two years after graduating.

READ ALSO: Non-EU university students in Spain will be able to stay after finishing studies

What are the tuition fees for universities in Spain? 

Spain has both public and private universities and the cost greatly differs between the two.

In both public and private universities, the tuition you pay each year is obtained by multiplying the number of credits you enrol in by the cost per credit. Typically during each year of your studies, you take 60 credits.  

However, to make matters more complicated, each subject within the university has a different cost, depending on what you study. Each institution is free to set any tuition fee they choose because there are no fees set by the authorities.

On top of this, each region in Spain charges different amounts and some are considerably cheaper than others.  

According to data from the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport the average price is usually between €750 per year at public universities in Andalusia, Cantabria and Galicia and approximately €2,000 per year at public universities in Madrid, Catalonia and Castilla y León.

For example, to study medicine at a public university in Andalusia costs €757 per year, while in Catalonia the cost is around three times this amount at €2,372 per year.  

At private universities, the cost of enrolment for undergraduate studies is around €9,500 per academic year, depending on the degree and institution chosen, but it can be higher. Generally, though, private universities do not exceed €20,000 per academic year. 

International students from the EU typically pay the same amount as national students in Spain, as do those who have prior residency in Spain.

For those from non-EU countries, it can be a little different, but because there are no set fees it will depend on lots of different factors as stated above.

According to Studyportals, an international student website, there are reports of non-EU citizens being charged the same as EU citizens, as well as of others being charged around €1,000 to €1,500 higher than those from the EU or even tuition that costs two or three times higher. Your best bet is to contact the university you’re interested in directly and ask for the price.

You should know that Spain offers many different types of grants and scholarships for students, many of which are open to international students, as well as Spaniards. Your local Spanish consulate should be able to give you information on those that may be available to you.