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Although home to some of the oldest institutions in Europe, Spain’s universities are where the Franco legacy is said to have lingered longest. Complaints include a semi-official system of patronage between established and young academics, dismal pay for junior teachers and researchers, poor publication records and limited investment in scientific research.
This is a generalised, national picture, though, and there are individual centres of excellence.
In the most recent survey of the world’s top 200 universities, the single Spanish university on the list scraped in at 190.
Bad news for Spain, but good news for Catalonia, as this one high-flyer is its very own Universitat de Barcelona.
Expats deciding whether to study here or go home will have to take language into consideration, as most (though not all) courses in Barcelona’s universities are taught in Catalan.
Unlike US and British universities, students here tend to live with their parents, creating an atmosphere that some may find narrow and lacking the extra-curricular intensity of campuses in Anglo states.
University of Barcelona hall © Martin Dougiamas
Some institutions, such as Universitat Pompeu Fabra are considered too nationalistic and Catalo-centric for some tastes.
For admission to university (from either state or private schools), students must sit two sets of exams. Firstly, the Batxillerat and secondly, an exam set by the university itself, known as Selectivitat.
Admission of students whose educational qualifications were acquired outside Spain is notoriously bureaucratic.
To study a first or second degree here, high school diplomas and/or first degree certificates must be formally approved by the Delegación del Gobierno, which is located in Carrer Bergara 12 (93 520 96 03), near the Estació de França in El Born.
For helpful details (in English) on this process, phone the Barcelona Centre Universitari, the information service for the city’s universities, on 93 23 89 049.
EU nationals do not need a visa to be residents or study in Spain. Non-EU citizens will need to apply for a Visado de Estudios for a Spanish embassy or consulate in their home country.
Barcelona’s student population is huge, with around 200,000 of the scruffy tikes spread across its several universities. The cultural, cosmopolitan and arty draw of the city attracts students from all over the world and for a variety of reasons.
Whether you’re on an Erasmus exchange, a TEFL programme, studying for a Masters or embarking on a full undergraduate course, there will be plenty of opportunity to get involved in this enriching city.
Students doing an undergraduate degree at larger universities can expect to be housed in halls of residence based on campus. The Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, for example, houses students in the University Village (Vila Universitària), which is designed to feel like a self-contained city with parks, leisure centres and so on. It is worth contacting your university’s accommodation office well before you arrive.
The universities also have an affiliation with Barcelona Housing Services, which specialises in accommodation for students. Options vary from shared flats and rented apartments, to university halls.
Your social life will, at first, be determined by where you live, who you meet and what societies you decide to join.
The Universitat de Barcelona, for example, has a good range. It has one of the largest sporting venues in the city and caters for those that want to join a sports team, drama club, music society or get involved in one-off events. Beyond campus life, a lively student social scene can be found in Gràcia. It is one of Barcelona’s hippest areas, with narrow streets, busy bars, bustling street cafes and lots of life.
There are a few useful websites for students hoping to find a home. The CIAJ is an Ajuntament-run organisation that helps arrange student accommodation. The site www.bcn-housing-students.com is useful and www.brighter place.com is focussed on Erasmus exchange students.
The Barcelona Business School (www.bbs-edu.org, 93 452 22 30) offers corporate training and executive education to business people, in English.
For those with good Spanish, Barcelona´s ESADE business school offers open programmes for continuing career development (www.esade.edu, 93 280 40 08), as well as partnership programmes in which business people can customise their own course, either as individuals or through their companies.
University of Barcelona hall © Martin Dougiamas
Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona
93 581 11 11
Founded in the heady and optimistic last years of the Franco dictatorship, the Universitat Autònoma consists of 11 faculties and three university schools. It offers 77 degrees and diplomas, plus 90 doctoral programs.
The main campus is outside the city, in Bellaterra, with affiliated centres in Barcelona, Manresa, Sant Cugat, Terrassa and Mollet del Vallès. It has over 50,000 students enrolled.
Universitat de Barcelona
93 403 54 17
Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes, 585
Venerable and highly respected, the Universitat de Barcelona was founded in 1450. Its 20 faculties and university schools are distributed over four campuses, the principle one centred in stately premises on the Plaça de la Universitat.
A large university, it offers 75 undergraduate degrees, over 90 doctorate programmes, 390 postgraduate courses and has nearly 70,000 students.
Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya
93 401 73 96
C/ Jordi Girona, 31
Created in 1971, The Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya has campuses in Barcelona, Manresa, Sant Cugat del Vallès, Castelldefels, Terrassa and Vilanova i la Geltru.
Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya : library
UPC specialises in technology and science for degree, doctorate and continuing education courses, and has a strong research record. Over 50,000 students enrolled.
Universitat Pompeu Fabra
93 542 28 81
Pl de la Mercè
Named after the Catalan linguist who died in exile during the civil war, Pompeu Fabra´s main campus is near Parc de la Ciutadella.
Since its founding in 1990, this young institution consistently yields high academic results, with a comprehensive range of degrees and postgraduate courses attracting diligent students with an eye to the top-end job market. Over 11,000 students enrolled. Quite Catalo-centric.
Universitat Ramon Llull
93 602 22 00
C/ Claravall, 1-3
Av Tibidabo FGC
A private university with Catholic leanings, Universitat Ramon Llull is named after the great medieval Catalan philosopher, and places a strong emphasis on architecture and engineering degrees.
Founded in 1990, URL is housed in several established educational centres, such as the business and law school, ESADE. Over 16,000 students enrolled.
Diversity is key for an international career: Find out about Kellogg-WHU’s international EMBA.
Reprinted with permission of Explorer Publishing from the Barcelona Complete Residents' Guide on April 2009.
Expatica's Getting Started section will provide practical information on how you can open a bank account, exchange your driving licence, improve your Spanish, and more.
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A brief introduction to our Tax section for Spain, from help with inheritance tax to accounting advice.
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