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Spain to give UK students same access to universities as before Brexit

Alex Dunham
Alex Dunham - [email protected]
Spain to give UK students same access to universities as before Brexit
Spain’s Minister for Education and Vocational Training Pilar Alegría and the UK Ambassador to Spain Hugh Elliott after signing the reciprocal agreement. Photo: Spain's Education Ministry

Spain and the United Kingdom on Wednesday agreed to make it easier for students from the British educational system to study at Spanish universities, essentially giving them the same access rights as when the UK was part of the EU. 

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The agreement was signed by Spain’s Minister for Education and Vocational Training Pilar Alegría and the UK Ambassador to Spain Hugh Elliott in Madrid on June 28th 2023.

In the coming days it will also be ratified by the Spanish Minister of Universities Joan Subirats and come into force 30 days after the final signature.

The deal is meant to limit the impact of Brexit in terms of access to Spanish university education for UK-based students, as well as the 70,000+ pupils who study at the approximately 80 British schools in Spain.

The agreement is reportedly reciprocal, meaning that pupils in the secondary Spanish education will have the same rights of access to UK universities as they did before Brexit, although there is no practical change as UK universities will continue to recognise Spanish schools’ bachillerato qualifications.

"What the agreement does do is provide additional legal certainty for Spanish school bachillerato qualification holders," the UK Embassy in Madrid told The Local. 

However, the deal won't see the return of the UK to the EU's Erasmus year abroad scheme, which is "done through separate channels".

It will also not make a difference for Spanish-system students in terms of British universities' sky-high tuition fees for international alumni, as EU/EEA students no longer have access to home fee status since Brexit. 

Following the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union in 2021, qualifications obtained in the UK were no longer automatically recognised in Spain and had to first be validated by Spanish authorities before British-system pupils could access Spanish universities.

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The recognition process, whether of school or university qualifications, is notoriously complex and slow in Spain. More than 40,000 non-EU foreigners in Spain have been waiting for several years to have their university qualifications recognised and be able to work in their fields through a bureaucratic nightmare called homologación.

In 2021, we reported how UK students heading to Spanish universities were facing delays in getting their student visas and qualifications approved before the academic year began. 

This was despite the fact that there were allegedly measures in place to facilitate the enrolment of British-system students in Spain in the first year since Brexit came into force.

The new agreement is positive news for young people in British sixth form who are yet to complete their university studies and wish to study in Spain, but it is unclear if the recognition process will be streamlined for those with a UK higher education qualification which they wish to have recognised in order to work in Spain. 

Britons who weren’t living in Spain before Brexit and are therefore not protected under the Withdrawal Agreement now need to obtain a work permit to work in Spain, even if it’s work as an English teacher. 

READ MORE: ‘No guarantees’ - How easy is it for Brits to work as English teachers in Spain after Brexit?

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