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?

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


EXPLAINED: How Spain is overhauling its university entrance exams

The Spanish government has announced major changes to Spain’s university entrance exams, including fewer tests, no stand-alone foreign language test and more focus on ‘academic maturity’.

EXPLAINED: How Spain is overhauling its university entrance exams

Pedro Sánchez’s PSOE-fronted coalition government is set to overhaul the Spanish selectividad  process (also known as EBAU) for entry into university, something akin to a UCAS application in the U.K, or SAT tests in the U.S.

The changes halve the number of mandatory exams students need to take, and instead focus the thrust of the application around an ‘academic maturity test’ designed to encourage critical thinking, changes that have been derided by some newspapers, unions and associations in Spain as a ‘dumbing down’ of the process and major modifications that have been rushed out.

From the 2026/2027 academic year, the ‘academic maturity test’ will count for 75 percent of the final exams, and replace the traditional exams on the history of Spain and history of philosophy, with the remaining 25 percent taken from subjects chosen by the students. 

In terms of the overall grades and university application itself, 40 percent will be determined by the new exam format, and the other 60 percent by the student’s overall Baccalaureate file – equivalent to A-levels in the U.K and the GPA (grade point average) in the U.S.

The maximum score that can be reached will be 10.

With the new system students will take between two and four exams, with the minimum being just two: the maturity test, a test chosen from the pool of core subjects (including Maths, Sciences, and Arts) plus two elective tests, which are voluntary and students can choose the subjects.

The proposed changes, set to be presented to Spain’s autonomous communities and universities this week by the Ministry of Education, outline a lengthy transitional period for students, teachers, and university faculties to adapt to the new way of learning, teaching, and, crucially, test taking.

The implementation of the new selectividad will be gradual and enter into force by the 2026/2027 academic year. The transitional model will be in force in the 2023/2024, 2024/2025 and 2025/2026 academic years.

The reforms represent the largest reform of the university access system since it was created almost 50 years ago, and follows recent changes to Spain’s ‘ESO’ system.

READ ALSO: How Spain is changing its ESO secondary education system

One long held criticism of Spain’s university entrance system has been the number of exams, up to a maximum of nine. (Photo by FREDERICK FLORIN / AFP)

Academic maturity test

The new ‘academic maturity test’ – which can be understood as encompassing critical thinking, reasoning and good judgement – will be made up of several sources including texts, images, infographics, and audiovisuals. Each student or applicant will do the same test, which may be topical, scientific, linguistic, or humanities-based, and the test will be divided into three parts.

The first part will be intended for “reading and analysis” of the documents and will last just 15 minutes. The second part will include a series of “closed or semi-constructed” questions that will be aimed at testing the “capacity for critical thinking, reflection and maturity” of the students. 

Two or three of these questions will be asked in a foreign language, most probably English, and this question and answer section will last for around 40 minutes.

However, according to Ministry of Education documents circulating in the Spanish press this week, the changes mean there will be no stand-alone foreign language exam. 

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

The third and final part of the test will consist of three open-ended questions (of which one will be in a foreign language) about the sources, and is designed to encourage critical thinking with “a single unequivocal correct answer”. It will last 45 minutes.

In recent decades, several Spanish governments promised reform on the university entrance process, but no substantial changes ever materialised.

One long held criticism of the system has been the number of exams, up to a maximum of nine.

Among foreigners, another perceived weakness of the selectividad – and the Spanish education system more broadly – is that the style of teaching and learning is anchored by a very memory-based, rote-learning approach. 

The ‘academic maturity’ test, therefore, is intended to encourage teachers and students to place greater emphasis on critical thinking as opposed to memorising topics or texts purely for the purpose of passing exams.