The history of Spain’s universities dates back to the beginning of the thirteenth century when the first university institutions were founded in the kingdoms of Castile and Leon, under the auspices of the cathedral schools of Palencia (between 1208 and 1214) and Salamanca (1218). During that century, many of the kingdoms in the Peninsula created their own studia generale. Institutions of this kind were established in Valladolid towards the middle of the century, in Lleida between 1279 and 1300, and in Alcalá in 1293. The greatest expansion took place between 1450 and 1625, with the opening of universities in Barcelona (1450), Santiago de Compostela (1495), Valencia (1499), Granada (1531) and Oviedo (1608).
In modern times, the Spanish university boom coincided with the process of decentralization following the ratification of the Constitution in 1978, as many sectors of society began to demand access to higher education for the first time. In 1984, Spain had 34 universities and 700,000 students. By 1995, almost a million and a half students were enrolled at a total of 51 universities, and five years later the number of universities had risen to 61.
Today, in 2013, the Spanish university system is made up of 81 public and private universities which offer students from Spain and abroad a broad-ranging, highly-regarded variety of courses at undergraduate, master’s and doctoral levels.