In Spain, higher education institutions are classified according to whether they organise university or non-university provision. The later are further subdivided into centres which offer advanced vocational training cycles and specialised education institutions.
This type of provision is organized by universities, which may be public or private.
Public universities and private universities are founded pursuant to a specific act passed by the Legislative Assembly of the region where the institution will be located, or an act approved by the Spanish Parliament, at the proposal of the central government and in accordance with the relevant Autonomous Community Council. A report from the General Conference for University Policy is also mandatory.
Public universities are integrated by University Schools, Faculties, Departments, University Institutes for Research, Doctoral Colleges and by other necessary schools or structures for the development of their functions. The requirements for the establishment and the maintenance of these institutions are established by the Government, once a report by the General Conference for University Policy and the Council of Universities has been issued.
University Schoolsand Facultiesare the institutions responsible for the organisation of their studies and in charge of academic, administrative and implementation processes of the regulations that lead to the conferment of the different university degrees. Their creation, modification and abolishment, as for the implementation and abolishment of studies leading to the obtainment of an official university degree and validated nationwide must be accorded with the Autonomous Community to which the university belongs either through the Autonomous Community’s initiative gaining the agreement of the Government Council of the university, or through the university’s own initiative through a proposal of the Government Council, in both cases with a previous favourable report on behalf of the Social Council.
Departments are teaching and research units in charge of coordinating studies of one or more fields of knowledge in one or more university centres according to the teaching schedule of the university. They support teaching and research activities and initiativesof the teaching staff as for exerting all other functions appearing in their statutes. The establishment, modification and abolition of departments correspond to the university, according to its statutes.
Universities may also have university research institutes. Their activity focuses mainly on technical and scientific research and on artistic creation. These centres are also entitled to offer graduate programmes (Master’s degrees or PhDs). University research institutes may belong to more than one university. They can also be the established by public or private organisations by means of collaboration agreements or specific arrangements. Furthermore, universities can create joint research institutes, in cooperation with other public research bodies, with the National Health Service and with public or private non-profit research centres.
Furthermore, universities and public authorities promote the creation of integrated higher education areas, which develop new channels of collaboration between the production sector, universities, vocational training institutions and other dependent bodies, so as to encourage business and scientific innovation. Therefore, an integrated higher vocational area consists of a university campus which incorporates vocational training centres offering higher vocational training, specialised in professional families which are related to the areas of specialisation of university colleges operating in the same campus.
The official regulations which establish the structure of PhD programmes also authorize the creation of Doctoral Colleges, the objective of which is to organise provision at this level into one or more interdisciplinary knowledge branches, which may also include official science-oriented Master programmes, as well as many other types of training activities in the area of research. These colleges may be founded by one or more universities, with the possible participation of other bodies, centres, institutions or national and international entities which carry out R&D activities.
Public universities may also have public or private associated centres offering official study programmes. The association is established by means of an agreement which requires to be endorsed by the relevant regional government, at the proposal of the University Government Council, once the proposal has been positively informed by the University Social Council. Associated centres must be established within the territorial scope of the relevant regional government, or receive approval from the regional government where they are located.
Private universities and university private centres may be created by any individual or legal entity, regarding that they respect the constitutional principles as they are subject to State and Autonomous regulations. University private centres must be integrated into a private university as centres belonging to the university or they must be ascribed to a public or private university.
Private universities elaborate and approve their own regulations for their organisation and functioning. These must respect and guarantee, through a broad participation of the university community, the academic freedom manifested in the academic freedom, research and study.
In order to guarantee the quality of universities and university centres a series of requisites are established to which they must comply with whether they were already in existence or whether they were recently created. From these the Autonomous Communities establish the specific requirements for the universities to establish themselves in their territory. For detailed information on the minimum requirements of university centres see the article on Organisation of Private Education.
Both public and private universities, together with university centres must be registered in the Register of Universities, Centres and Qualifications (RUCT).
In 2013/14, the Spanish university system was integrated by 82 universities, 50 of which were public and 32 private. Six universities (one public and five private) organise distance education. In addition, there are two universities with a special status, since they only provide specialised graduate programmes (Master’s degrees and PhDs).
Higher non-university education
Higher Vocational Training may be offered in different types of institutions, namely, in secondary education schools, which also organise Compulsory Secondary Education (ESO) provision and Bachillerato programmes, in national reference centres and in integrated vocational training centres. For detailed information on these centres see the article on Organisation of the Education System and of its Structure.
Regardless of public or private ownership, these institutions are subject to the same minimum requirements. Among these, the highlighted minimum requirements of the spaces established in the regulation of each qualification and the equipments established by the Educational Authorities in order to achieve the results of each vocational module.
The Act on Education 2006 (LOE) includes the two first-cycle programmes within the Spanish education system as part of higher education, even though they lead to rather different professional and academic qualifications. These two programmes are Bachelor’s degrees and Advanced Vocational Training. They are not equivalent, they are offered in different institutions and they lead to qualifications included in different levels of the Spanish Qualification Framework for Higher Education (MECES):
Bachelor programmes belong to university education, have an academic orientation and are longer than non-university higher provision. They lead to a Bachelor’s degree assigned to level 2 qualifications within the MECES and is defined by the following descriptors, in terms of educational outcomes:
• To have acquired advanced knowledge and proven comprehension of practical, theoretical and methodological aspects of the relevant field of studies, including understanding of the most recent and state-of-the-art breakthroughs in the area.
• To be able to apply knowledge, by means of elaborated procedures and defence of arguments, comprehension and problem-solving abilities, to the solution of problems in complex working or professional specialized environments, which may also require the use of creative and innovative ideas.
• To be able to gather and interpret information and data in order to support conclusions, including, whenever necessary and appropriate, a reflection upon social, scientific or ethical issues related to their area of specialization.
• To be able to handle complex situations or those requiring to devise new solutions, both in the academic and professional world, within the relevant knowledge area.
• To be able to address all kinds of audiences (either specialised or not) and to communicate in a clear and accurate way knowledge, methodologies, ideas, problems and solutions related to the area of specialization.
• To be able to identify professional development needs within the area of studies and professional or working environment, and to organise learning paths autonomously, both in structured and non-structured contexts.
However, the Spanish Qualifications Framework for Higher Education and the organisation of official university education, in order to include some Bachelor degrees in Level 3 (Master’s) of the Framework, were modified in February 2014. The duration of some studies, generally in the field of Health, is longer than that established for Bachelor programmes and they provide access to PhD programmes, either directly or through complementary training.
Advanced Vocational Training belongs to the stage of post-compulsory non-university education and has a clear professional orientation. These programmes lead to a diploma of Higher Technician, included level 1 of the qualification framework (MECES). Advanced Vocational Training qualifications may be defined by the following descriptors, in terms of educational outcomes:
• To apply and assimilate technical knowledge in order to define and develop work procedures autonomously in the relevant professional field. To be able to coordinate and supervise specialised technical work.
• To be able to analyse the necessary information to evaluate and handle expected and unexpected situations, looking for essential, creative and innovative solutions, within the relevant professional area.
• To be able to inform peers, supervisors, clients and subordinates, of knowledge, ideas, skills and operational procedures. • To have acquired the necessary skills to engage in further education autonomously, showing maturity to innovate in the application of these skills and to progress to higher training levels.
Branches of study
Bachelor’s degrees have a minimum duration of 240 credits of the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS), and are ascribed to one of the following branches of knowledge:
• Arts and Humanities.
• Experimental Sciences.
• Health Sciences.
• Social Sciences and Law.
• Engineering and Architecture.
The Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport (MECD) regulates the access to university studies. It establishes the general conditions at a national level and at a regional level through the corresponding Educational Authorities, which in turn, are in charge of adapting and developing these rules within the scope of their competences.
University access is guaranteed through the observance of the fundamental rights. Furthermore, admission to university is granted on the basis of equality, merit and ability. In addition, universal accessibility and design are also taken into consideration. The body in charge of ensuring that students access official Bachelor programmes is the General Conference for University Policy. This body is general, objective and universal, equally valid for all Spanish universities and complies with the criteria established by the European Higher Education Area (EHEA).
Access to university education depends on the academic situation of candidates:
1. They may have access to official Bachelor programmes provided they have successfully completed general upper secondary education: • Students holding a Bachillerato certificate who have passed the university entrance examination organised by the education authorities and public universities.
• Students coming from the education systems of the Member States of the European Union (EU), or from other States that have signed international agreements with Spain that are applicable in this regard, on a basis of reciprocity. In this case, they have to meet the requirements established in those countries for students to have access to their universities, under the same conditions as students who have passed the university entrance examination.
2. From this academic year 2014/15, they may have access if they meet the criteria set by universities in their procedures for admission to official Bachelor programmes. Universities establish these procedures, which must include one or several of the following criteria: final grade obtained in the studies completed or in specific modules/subjects; relationship between the curricula of the studies completed and the relevant university degree; additional academic or vocational training and previously taken higher education studies.
These criteria apply to:
• Students coming from the EU who do not meet the requirements in order to have access to the universities in their countries, or from States that are not members of the EU and that have not concluded international agreements for the recognition of the Bachillerato certificate, on a basis of reciprocity.
• Students holding an Advanced Technician certificate in any specialisation of advanced vocational training, Plastic Arts and Design or equivalent qualifications.
However, there are other academic situations where universities are free to decide whether they apply or not an admission procedure for candidates to have access to these university studies:
• Students holding an official first or second-cycle university degree, corresponding to the EHEA or the previous organisation of university education, or equivalent degree.
• Students with partial studies carried out in Spain or abroad, or students whose degree has not been recognised in Spain but who want to continue studying in a Spanish university. In this case, apart from the criteria the relevant university might establish, students will have to be recognised at least 30 ECTS credits by this university.
• Students who were in a position to have access to university according to the organisation of the Spanish education system prior to the 2013 Act on the Improvement of the Quality of Education.
• Students with studies other than those equivalent to the Bachillerato or Advanced Technician certificates, obtained or carried out in a Member State of the EU or in other States that have signed international agreements that are applicable in this regard, on a basis of reciprocity, provided they meet the academic requirements established in that Member State for students to have access to its universities.
3.They may have access if they have passed the relevant specific university entrance examination:
• People aged over 25 who do not hold any qualification to gain access to university education by other means.
• People aged over 40 without a qualification providing access to university education who accredit work or professional experience.
• People aged over 45 without an academic qualification providing access to university education, through an adapted entrance examination.
In those cases in which there is a compulsory entrance examination, each university decides on the location and dates for the sessions, as well as on the registration dates for students and the date when the examination will be held. Universities may exceptionally establish specific knowledge and/or skill evaluations regardless of the original qualification.
Universities enjoy the autonomy to design the curriculum for the programmes and degrees they offer. However, the programmes must be verified by the Council of Universities and receive authorisation from the relevant regional government, once they have been submitted to consultation of the National Agency for Quality Assessment and Accreditation (ANECA) and/or the analogous Agency of the corresponding Autonomous Community. Once the studies have been verified and accredited, the studies must be registered in the Registry of Universities, Centres and Degrees (RUCT) as mandatory requisite to obtain the official validity throughout Spain.
The guidelines to be followed by each university in the design of their study programmes are:
• Each programme must have a workload of at least 60 ECTS credits devoted to basic training, 36 of which have to be linked to some of the areas included in the knowledge branch to which the programme belongs. These areas are further specified into subjects, with a minimum of 6 ECTS credits each, which need to be taken during the first half of the programme.
• The remaining credits to complete the 60 compulsory ones are devoted to basic training and must be earned through basic subjects from the same branch or knowledge or from a different one, or through other areas, provided that they are basic for the initial training of the student or they have a cross-curricular nature.
• In the final stage of the programme students must do Bachelor’s project, which receives between 6 and 60 ECTS credits. The aim of this project is to assess the acquisition of competences associated to the degree.
• Students may receive accreditation of ECTS credits (up to 6) for their participation in a series of activities at university, related to the area of culture, sports, students’ representation, solidarity and cooperation.
In those universities located in regions which have a co-official language, the regional language is the one normally used in university activities, in compliance with the regulations for university education established by each regional government.
Universities follow the principle of autonomy to decide on methodology. To be more precise, university departments are the basic bodies in charge of both teaching and research of their respective areas of knowledge. They are responsible for the planning and coordination of the curriculum and of research activity at universities. In practice, teachers are free to make use of the teaching methods and pedagogical resources they consider more appropriate.
In general, teachers employ different teaching methods at university, being lectures the most common practice, although it is becoming more and more common to resort to other types of activities, such as seminars, cooperative work, learning based on problem-solving activities, project-based learning, etc. Practical classes (for example, laboratory or computer practices) are very frequent in experimental science studies.
The use of information and communication technologies (ICT) in the classroom is quite frequent. Most universities have technology support services for teachers, so as to help them devise multimedia materials and to encourage their use of ICTs. Presentations by means of computers or overhead projectors are also common practice, as well as the use of videos, computer-assisted learning, etc. In addition, teacher/student communication through the Internet or through virtual classrooms, online platforms, virtual spaces for specific subjects, websites, and so on.
Progression of students
Universities, making use of the autonomy granted to them by legislation, establish the conditions for the promotion of the students, as well as the minimum and maximum periods of permanence of students.
In order to pass a subject, students are allowed to sit examinations for a limited number of times. Students have between four and six attempts depending of the programme or institution. Moreover, they are allowed to take final examinations for the same subject only twice a year.
A main concern for both the Education Authorities and universities is improving the employability of their university graduates. In order to deal with this problem, university education must respond to the following principles:
• To include in their study programmes abilities and skills geared towards innovation, the fostering of creativity, business initiative and entrepreneurship, incorporating them into the different subjects, concepts and cross-curricular competences, in learning methods and in assessment.
• To make proposals for new degrees and educational provision which prepare students for the qualifications required by new employment needs so as to improve employability of citizens in the labour market.
• To promote adaptability to social and economic changes, providing citizens with opportunities for ongoing professional development and extension of university studies; and to increase the possibilities for mobility in education within Spain and in Europe, as well as the effective incorporation of university graduates into the labour market, strengthening the links between universities and the business world, paying special attention to the promotion of competences for entrepreneurship and self-employment.
Collaboration between universities and the productive sector may be articulated on the basis of the following initiatives:
• Creation of technology-based innovation companies.
• Establishment of innovation poles, by means of providing a common physical space for universities and companies in the production sector. • Launching and promotion of programmes to enhance transfer and appreciation of knowledge.
• Creation of consortiums for research and transfer of knowledge.
• Creation of corporate-sponsored university chairs, based on collaboration in research projects, which allow university students to participate and combine their research activity with training opportunities.
In addition, both in the regulations for university education and in the 2010 University Student Statute, there are a series of specific measures aimed at promoting employability of university students, such as:
• Universities offer student mobility programmes through university cooperation agreements. These programmes pay attention to academic training related to the degree in which the student is enrolled, and to other competence areas, such as training for employment. For detailed information on the types of mobility programmes available for university students see the article on Mobility in Higher Education.
• Universities have student information and guidance services available, the aim of which is to provide information and orientation regarding learning itineraries and future professional opportunities, training in cross-curricular competences and design of professional projects, in order to facilitate student employability and insertion in the labour market.
• Universities also offer student guidance and monitoring until they graduate. The law also considers the possibility of degree advisors. These are coordinators or student advisors who provide guidance to students throughout the program, regarding their learning process as well as their professional prospects in the labour market.
• The statute also contemplates the possibility of creating alumni associations for former students. These associations must be registered at universities, and one of their goals is to collaborate actively in providing access to the labour market to university graduates.
For detailed information on the organisation and advisement of university students on the basic structure of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport (MECD) see the article on Guidance and Counselling in Higher Education.
Universities must verify the knowledge acquired by students, as well as the development of their intellectual training and their academic achievements. In order to do so, it is necessary to establish assessment regulations. Evaluation objectives, tools, procedures, activities and criteria are set up in the syllabi of each programme, and fall under the responsibility of university departments and teachers.
One of the results of the adaptation to the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) is the implementation of an assessment system for university education, the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS). The European credit is the unit for academic accreditation, it represents the amount of work that a student must complete in order to attain programme objectives. Each ECTS credit represents between 25 and 30 class hours. In order to obtain the number of ECTS credits assigned to a subject, both in practical or theoretical learning or in any other academic activity, students must pass the exams or assessment procedures established for that area.
The results obtained by students in each subject, which appear in the student’s record, receive a numerical mark from 0 to 10, with a decimal position, which can be followed by a qualitative mark:
• 0 – 4.9: Fail
• 5.0 – 6.9: Pass
• 7.0 – 8.9: Very good
• 9.0 – 10: Excellent
Students may also be awarded an Excellent mark “with Distinction”, when the student has been given a 9.0 or higher. However, the number of students receiving this special mention cannot be higher than 5% of the total enrolled in a subject in an academic year. If this number is lower than 20, only one Excellent with Distinction may be awarded.
On completion of a Bachelor’s degree programme, students receive a Bachelor’s degree in the relevant area of specialisation. The diploma bears the specific name given to the degree in the Registry of Universities, Centres and Degrees (RUCT). The diploma is issued, on behalf of the King o Spain, by the University Vice-Chancellor. It has official validity in all Spanish universities, and qualifies for regulated professional activities, under the conditions established in the relevant official documents.
According with 2010 official regulations for university education, certified professional or working experience may also receive recognition in terms of credits, with validity to obtain an official qualification, as long as the experience is related to the competences inherent to the qualification.
As a result of the process of adaptation to the EHEA, a new procedure has been established, by means of which universities may issue the European Diploma Supplement of official university degrees, upon request of the person concerned, in order to provide information about the level and contents of the programme for which the diploma is issued including information on the external work placement. The aim of the EDS is to guarantee, for mobility purposes, transparency and legibility of knowledge and skills acquired.
The MECD has regulated the recognition of studies among the different courses of study that constitute Higher Education, establishing the relations between the different Higher Education diplomas, as for the validation of ECTS credits, including Bachelor degrees and Higher Technician from Advanced Vocational Training. Universities are responsible for the recognition of official studies accrediting Higher Technician of Advanced Vocational Training, with the effects of allowing students into study programmes leading to the university Bachelor’s degrees.
Branches of study
Advanced Vocational Training is the last stage of formal vocational education. These programmes lead to specific professional accredited qualifications within the National Catalogue of Vocational Qualifications. For detailed information on the National Catalogue of Vocational Qualifications see the article on Lifelong Learning Strategy.
Advanced Vocational Training is structured in a series of training cycles, organised into vocational modules and classified according to a number of professional families established in the Catalogue:
• Administration and Management
• Arts and Crafts
• Commerce and Marketing
• Computer and Communication
• Electricity and Electronics
• Energy and Water
• Extractive Industries
• Food Industry
• Glass and Ceramics
• Graphic Arts
• Hotel and Tourism Industry
• Imaging and Sound
• Installation and Maintenance
• Maritime and Fishery
• Mechanical Production
• Personal Image
• Safety Environment
• Socio-cultural and Community Services
• Textiles, Clothing and Leather/Fur
• Transport and Maintenance of Vehicles
• Physical and Sport Activities
• Wood, Furniture and Cork
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