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

The Spanish government is preparing legislation which will mean non-EU university students 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.

Non-EU students in Spain will be able to stay an extra year after finishing degree
There are longstanding problems that make Spain an unattractive destination for foreigners seeking higher education. (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

Higher education in Spain doesn’t have the global reputation of the likes of France, the United Kingdom or the United States, which attract international talent despite the often prohibitively high tuition fees foreign students have to pay.

For third-country nationals who do wish to study a degree, Master’s or PhD in Spain, the bureaucracy involved in enrolling at a Spanish university as non-EU applicants means it’s often not worth the trouble for them.

There’s the fact that it takes years for their prior qualifications to be validated before being allowed to study at a Spanish institution, the not-so-small matter of having to sit the Spanish EBAU baccalaureate unless there’s a reciprocity agreement, as well as the issue that once their studies are completed their residence in Spain isn’t guaranteed, among other setbacks.

Faced with the forecast that Spanish higher education institutions are set to lose up to 20 percent of their students aged 18 to 29 by 2035, authorities are now looking overseas to prevent university coffers from depleting. 

In turn, that means resolving some of the longstanding problems that make Spain an unattractive destination for higher education.

“Among the plans for the new University System Law (LOSU) is that the residence permit to study in Spain will no longer have to be requested every year, as is the case now, and will instead be extended for the duration of studies,” explained Universities Minister Joan Subirats on Monday.

“Additionally, we have to find ways to retain that talent that we have trained so they can keep their residence status and look for work for two years”.

According to El País, it is being debated whether this post-graduation residency extension should be for one or two years. 

Third-country graduates can currently apply for an extension to their residence in Spain (dependent on the length of their course). If approved, the new legislation will mean they will automatically get a residence extension without having to request it.

Spain and Italy are the European countries with the highest brain drain rates in the EU, according to data from the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS).

Around 90,000 highly qualified graduates who studied in Spain over the past decade have left the country to find better career prospects overseas.

Foreigners represented 9.4 percent of the total number of students enrolled at Spanish universities in 2021, according to data from the Ministry of Education. 

Most third-country university students in Spain are from South America followed by Asia and Africa.

“There are already 600 million people who speak Spanish in the world and the forecast is that in 2050 the United States will be the country with the most Spanish speakers,” Subirats optimistically said about the possibility of the Spanish language serving as a driving factor for attracting foreign talent.

The new University Systems Law is expected to be addressed at the Spanish Cabinet in the coming weeks, before requiring parliamentary approval for it to come into effect.

Although there are 82 universities in Spain (50 public and 32 private), some such as Salamanca’s,  Madrid’s Autónoma and Barcelona’s IESE Business School, all with a good reputation within Spain, not a single Spanish university was among the top 100 on the planet in the 2021 World University Ranking.

READ ALSO: What are the pros and cons of Spain’s student visa?

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Spaniards have second lowest level of English in EU

Despite Spain’s popularity with English-speaking holidaymakers and home buyers, its people continue to have one of the worst levels of English in Europe according to the 2022 English Proficiency Index.

Spaniards have second lowest level of English in EU

A study conducted by language school empire English First in their latest English Proficiency Index found that the Spanish rank number 33 out of 111 countries, but are way behind other nations in Europe, as they came in at number 25 out of 35.

In fact, Spaniards have the second lowest level of English in the whole of the EU, with only the French ranked worse. 

This is in stark contrast to other EU countries such as the Netherlands (number 1 in the world), Austria (3rd), Belgium (4th) and Nordic countries Norway (4th), Denmark (5th) and Sweden (7th).

Spain even fell behind other southern European countries – Portugal came at number 9, Greece at number 14 and Italy at number 32. 

READ ALSO: Why are the Spanish ‘so bad’ at speaking English?

In terms of how the Iberian nation’s level compares on the global scale, Spain maintains a medium level of English proficiency, in the same range as Ukraine, South Korea and Costa Rica. 

People with this mid-level English are able to carry out simple tasks in English such as understanding song lyrics and writing professional e-mails about subjects they’re familiar with, but may have problems with more complex conversations and understanding films that haven’t been dubbed.  

“Despite making a little progress, the English level of Spaniards remains at the moderate levels where it has stayed for many years, without showing great improvements,” said the director General of EF Spain, Xavier Martí.

“The data confirms that the educational model presents deficiencies in language learning”. 

Which regions in Spain have the best and worst levels of English?

The study revealed that Galicians have the best level of English among Spaniards, followed by Catalans, Basques and then those from Cantabria, which all had above-average levels of English compared with the rest of the country.

On the other end of the scale, those from Extremadura had the worst level of English. Only slightly better were people from La Rioja, Castilla-La Mancha and Murcia, who all had levels below the national average.

When it comes to cities, people in the Galician city of Vigo had the best level of English, followed by regional neighbour A Coruña, Barcelona and then Bilbao. Madrid is in fifth place.

In terms of the cities with the worst levels of English, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria took top spot, only slightly above the cities of Murcia, Valladolid and the other Canary capital of Santa Cruz de Tenerife.