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.