Spain Country Profile - Education System

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System structure

The education system in Spain is known ‘Ley Orgánica de Educación’ (LOE), and students of foreign nationals are welcome at state schools. Schooling is compulsory and free for children aged between 6 and 16, while free preschool is optional from the age of 3. Private fee paying establishments are also available, and these include the international schools popular with expats. Students must complete primary and compulsory secondary education before deciding whether to continue into post-compulsory secondary education from the ages of 16 to 18. To continue post-16 they must achieve their secondary education certificate, and at 18 they can take a university entrance exam.

Academic year

The school year in Spain is usually divided into three terms of 10 to 12 weeks. These run from September to June with holidays for Christmas, Easter and the summer break. School hours vary depending on the region and the individual institution, with some opening from around 9am to 4pm with a lunch break and some finishing at 2pm without a break. Universities typically run two semesters with an exam period in June.

Higher education

Spain has just under a hundred higher education institutions, with the majority state-funded and a smaller number operated by private enterprises or religious institutions. Although Spanish universities are perhaps yet to take a place amongst the world’s most famous, there is a long history of academia in Spain and teaching standards are considered good. Demand for university places is proportionally high for the country’s population, but with soaring unemployment in recent years young people are increasingly keen to take higher qualifications to attempt to improve their future employment prospects.


With relatively low tuition fees, Spanish universities are an attractive proposition for students from around Europe. Most EU citizens may attend university in Spain at the same cost as Spanish students and can often access grants and scholarships too. Fees are usually calculated on a cost-per-credit basis, with public university rates set by the government and private institutions setting their own fees. More information is available in the FAQs section of the website.


Universities in Spain offer a range of courses and qualifications in both Spanish and English. Since 2006, Spain has adopted the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) standards and as a result, universities can confer either official degrees or non-official degrees. Official degrees are those which conform to the EHEA standards and are divided into three types:

  • Bachelor’s degrees or ‘grado’ – undergraduate degrees typically taught in three or four years and requiring 240 credits
  • Masters degrees or ‘posgrado’ – postgraduate qualifications of one or two years and 60 to 120 credits
  • Doctoral degrees or ‘doctorado’ – typically lasting three to five years and incorporating extensive research 

Non-official degrees are awarded by individual universities and typically support a specific vocation or skill. They are also awarded at different levels and can be powerful tools in the Spanish job market.


Research is a growing area in Spain and the National Research Council, the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC) is among the largest public research institutions in Europe. For more information, consult the website. 

Post-16 education

When compulsory education is completed at the age of 16, students in Spain have the option to continue their studies with a Spanish Baccalaureate or ‘bachillerato’ qualification. This two-year period of study encompasses a broad range of subjects designed to prepare young people for either university or work.

Primary and secondary education

Children in Spain attend six years of primary school and four year of secondary school with the aim of completing their secondary education certificate. Although some expat families prefer their children to attend private international schools to take qualifications more relevant to their home country, Spanish state schools have a good reputation for welcoming foreign children and helping them to learn Spanish effectively, so they are certainly worth considering.

Preschool and childcare options

Although preschool is not part of compulsory education in Spain, it is provided free for children aged between 3 and 5 years old and is therefore very popular with around 90% of children attending some form of preschool. Private options are also available for any child under the age of 6 and can be quite reasonably priced. However, make sure you understand what level of care the establishment provides as some nurseries are childcare centres only and do not deliver the educational content expected in preschools.

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