Home Education Higher Education Study in Barcelona: universities and higher education institutions
Last update on October 12, 2020
Written by Explorer Publishing 

If you’re looking to study in Barcelona, here is what you need to know about becoming a student along with details of the city’s top universities and business schools.

For those wanting to study in Barcelona, there are several universities and colleges to choose from. Studying in Barcelona has some quirks and you will need to speak Spanish or Catalan to study most of the university courses offered in Barcelona. Preparatory classes for learning Spanish are available, however, and there is an increasing number of English university courses offered in Spain.

Studying in Barcelona

Although Spain is home to some of the oldest institutions in Europe, Spain’s universities are where the Franco legacy is said to have lingered longest. Complaints in the past have revolved around the semi-official system of patronage between established and young academics, poor pay for junior teachers and researchers, poor publication records and limited investment in scientific research. This is a generalized national picture, though, and there are individual centers of excellence and a changing education scene.

In the Times Higher Education 2018 survey of the world’s top universities, the two Spanish universities that made the top 200 were Barcelona institutions. Pompeu Fabra University was ranked 140, with the Autonomous University of Barcelona just behind at number 147. These two universities were also ranked at numbers 11 and 13 respectively in the THE list of world’s best universities under 50 years old.

Admission requirements to study in Barcelona

For admission to university (from either state or private schools), Spanish students must sit two sets of exams. Firstly, the Batxillerat (high school leaving exam) and secondly, an exam set by the university itself, known as Selectivitat (university entrance exam). Prior to 2014, foreign students wanting to study at a Spanish university also had to take the Selectivitat but this has now been scrapped.

Admission for foreign students whose educational qualifications were acquired outside Spain can be quite bureaucratic. To study in Barcelona, high school diplomas and degree certificates must be formally approved by the Ministry of Culture, Education and Sport. To get your qualifications approved, you may be asked to provide authenticated and translated copies of your qualification, course details and proof of identity. You can deliver your paperwork to the Delegación del Gobierno in Barcelona.

For information in English you can contact the BCU (Barcelona Centre Universitari), the information service for the city’s universities: +34 932 389 049 or [email protected].

EU/EEA/Swiss nationals do not need a visa to be residents or study in Barcelona but they do need to register with the Central Office for Foreigners. Read more in Expatica’s guide for EU/EEA/Swiss nationals moving to Spain.

Non-EU citizens will need to apply for a Visado de Estudios at a Spanish embassy or consulate in their home country; read more in Expatica’s guide to Spanish student visas and permits.

Student life in Barcelona

Barcelona’s student population is relatively big, with around 188,000 students 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 planning to study in Barcelona on an Eurasmus+ exchange, a TEFL programme, studying for a Master’s or embarking on a full undergraduate course, there are plenty of opportunities to get involved in this enriching city. However, your social life can, at first, be determined by where you live, who you meet and what societies you decide to join.

The University of Barcelona, for example, has a good range of activities to meet people. It has one of the largest sporting venues in the city and caters to those who 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.

Unlike US and British universities, students here tend to live with their parents, creating an atmosphere that some may find lacks the extra-curricular intensity of campuses in Anglo states. Some institutions, such as Universitat Pompeu Fabra, are considered a little too insular for some tastes.

Student accommodation in Barcelona

Students doing an undergraduate degree at larger universities can expect to be housed in halls of residence (colegios mayores) based on campus. It is worth contacting your university’s accommodation office well before you arrive to study in Barcelona, as availability can fill up. The Autonomous University of 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.

There are a few useful websites for students hoping to find a home. The CIAJ (Centre d’Informació i Assessorament per a Joves) is an Ajuntament-run organisation that helps arrange student accommodation, among other things. Some universities may also have an affiliation with Resa Housing, which specialises in accommodation for students. Options vary from shared flats and rented apartments to university halls.

Business and higher education institutions in Barcelona

There are many institutions and schools in Barcelona offering corporate training and executive education to business people, in English, Spanish and Catalan. Barcelona’s ESADE business school was one of the first to offer business programs in Spain, and now provides open programmes for continuing career development, as well as partnership programmes in which business people can customise their own course, either as individuals or through their companies. There are even some free or subsidised training courses to be found.

The international business institutions European University, United International Business School, Toulouse Business School, and Geneva Business School provide business courses in Barcelona as well.

Some other leading business schools in Barcelona include:

Top universities in Barcelona

Autonomous University of Barcelona
Founded in the heady and optimistic last years of the Franco dictatorship, the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona consists of 57 departments spread across 13 faculties. It offers 88 bachelors degrees, 133 master’s programmes, and 67 doctoral programs. The main campus is outside the city, in Bellaterra, with affiliated centres in Barcelona, Manresa, Sant Cugat del Valles, Terrassa and Sabadell. It has over 25,000 students enrolled.

University of Barcelona
Venerable and highly respected, the Universitat de Barcelona was founded in 1450. Its 16 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 73 undergraduate degrees, 151 master’s programmes, 48 doctoral programmes and 215 postgraduate courses. It has nearly 65,000 students.

Polytechnic University of Catalonia
Created in 1971, The Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya has several schools in Barcelona, Manresa, Sant Cugat del Vallès, Castelldefels, Terrassa and Vilanova i la Geltru. UPC specialises in technology and science for degree, doctorate and continuing education courses, and has a strong research record. Over 30,000 students are enrolled.

Pompeu Fabra University
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. Around 14,000 students are enrolled in Universitat Pompeu Fabra although some say it’s quite Catalo-centric.

Universitat Ramon Llull
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. It has nearly 20,000 students enrolled.