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EDUCATION

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.

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Studying at university in Spain. Photo: Gerd Altmann / Pixabay

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. 

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EDUCATION

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. 

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