Universities in Spain

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Spain is considered one of the best countries to study in, both for Spaniards and foreigners. This is due to its high quality of life and cultural diversity, as well as the quality of its institutions.

If we take the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), better known as the Shanghai ranking, which has been published since 2003 and is considered the most prestigious ranking in the world, for example, five Spanish universities are among the top 200 in the world. These are the University of Barcelona, the Autonomous University of Barcelona, the Complutense University of Madrid, the University of Valencia and the University of Granada. 

Today, both public and private universities in Spain are engaged in a large-scale renewal that seeks to address the technological, social and cultural changes of the current historical moment, seeking to respond to the expectations of students, professionals and society as a whole. For this reason, we will now talk about the best public and private universities in Spain to study abroad.

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Public universities

Of the 87 Spanish universities currently registered, 50 are public. According to the CYD ranking, which analyses the performance of 73 of the 87 institutions, the public Autonomous University of Barcelona is in first place, recognised mainly for its excellence in research and its quality in teaching. It is a university that offers 105 undergraduate degrees, more than 320 postgraduate programmes and 90 doctoral programmes.

Ranking of the best Spanish public universities

In second place we find the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, founded like the previous one in 1968. Today it has 12 centres and more than 300 research groups, making it the second most important university in the country with its 58 official undergraduate degrees, 8 double degrees and more than 110 official postgraduate programmes. 

In third place is Pompeu de Fabra University, one of the youngest public universities in the country, created in 1990. Today, it has 7 faculties and a School of Engineering that offer 27 bachelor’s degrees, 33 master’s degrees and 9 doctorates, as well as more than 50 master’s degrees of its own.

Next, according to the CYD, is the University of Barcelona, which is one of the oldest in the country, founded in 1450. Its library is the second largest in Spain and it has 16 faculties, 54 departments and 6 affiliated centres, including 75 university degrees, 48 doctoral programmes and a total of more than 150 official master’s degrees. 

Rounding out the top five, the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, created in 1971 and specialising in the fields of architecture, engineering and science, is organised into 9 research centres, 15 affiliated research entities, 30 departments and 10 institutes. Today, it offers 64 bachelor’s degrees, 75 master’s degrees and 46 doctoral programmes. 

The following institutions complete the list:

  • Carlos III University of Madrid
  • Rovira i Virgili University
  • University of Valencia
  • University of Girona 
  • Polytechnic University of Valencia

Private universities

One of the main reasons for entering a private university in Spain rather than a public one has to do with the ease of admission, as there are fewer requirements to fulfil. At the same time, the number of students per class is generally smaller, which allows for more personalised learning.

According to the Ivie and BBVA Foundation’s U-Ranking, the best private universities in Spain at present are the following.

Ranking of the best private universities in Spain

In first place is the University of Deusto. With campuses in Bilbao and San Sebastian, but also in Vitoria and Madrid, it is a university governed by the religious order of the Society of Jesus. Founded at the end of the 19th century, it seeks to achieve teaching and research excellence with well-resourced facilities and many exchange programmes.

In second place is the University of Navarra, with almost 70 years of history. It is an institution that promotes scientific research as well as healthcare activities. One of its highlights is the inclusion of the Clínica Universidad de Navarra and its Centre for Applied Medical Research. In third place, we can name IE University, managed by the Instituto de Empresa, which appears in the QS world ranking together with Navarra.

Ramón Llull University should also be mentioned with its fourth place. Founded in the early 1990s with a Christian orientation, it also appears in the QS world ranking and stands out for its faculty programmes and methodology. 

The ranking of the best private universities in Spain is completed by the following institutions:

  • University of Vic
  • International University of Catalonia
  • International University of Catalonia
  • Nebrija University
  • Pontifical University of Comillas
  • CEU San Pablo University

What is the best option for foreigners?

Spain is considered one of the best countries for foreigners wishing to study in higher education institutions. One fact that can be taken into account to understand this is that in the 2019-2020 academic year alone, a total of 54,009 foreign students were enrolled, with more than 34,000 coming from Latin America and the Caribbean. This is due both to the ease of the language and to the academic quality and quality of life in the country.

In this sense, one of the things to take into account when choosing a public or private university is the cost of tuition. In the public system, part of it is funded by the state, which means that students from the European Union pay a reduced tuition fee. For non-EU students, on the other hand, full tuition fees are paid. In the latter case, the difference in price between public and private tuition may not be very high. 

As far as the teaching staff is concerned, it is common for public universities to have academics with careers mainly focused on full-time teaching and research. Meanwhile, in private centres, the staff is often made up of business people or managers who combine other activities with teaching.

Finally, it should be borne in mind that entrance requirements for public universities may be higher than at private universities. Therefore, if you choose these institutions, it is important to get advice beforehand on what is necessary for pre-enrolment and acceptance, in order to be able to obtain a place at the university of your choice.


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