The Spanish university system


Types of Universities


The Spanish University System is made up of two types of universities: public and private.

According to the Organic Law 6/2001 of universities, the public universities are institutions created by the Law of the Legislative Assembly of the Autonomous Community, established within its jurisdiction and also those institutions created by Law by the Spanish Parliament, proposed by the government and in accordance to the Autonomous Community where the institution will be established.

In contrast, Private Universities are those institutions created by physical persons or legal bodies in virtue of section 6 of article 27 of the Spanish Constitution, with respect to the constitutional principles and subject to the Organic Law 6/2001 of universities.

That is to say that whether a university be public or private depends on ownership: on the one hand there are public universities created by a public entity; and on the other hand there are private universities created by physical persons or legal bodies.

There are also universities that are specialized in online studies that allow to study and obtain Bachelor’s, Master and Doctorate degrees. Additionally, more and more public and private universities include the possibility of taking part of their academic offer online.

Degrees that are Offered

According to what is established in the Organic Law 6/2001, within the autonomy of the universities, they can issue an official degree that are valid within the National territory, in addition to diplomas and non official degrees.

  • Official degrees:

Official University degrees are valid in all National territory, are established by the Government and are adapted to the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). Therefore, they have official validity in all the countries that comprise the EHEA. These degrees are equivalent to/recognized in other countries that do not pertain to this area (countries like Latin America, Asia, Africa, etc.).


  • Non-official degrees:

Meanwhile, non-official degrees are created by the university and do not have validity in the EHEA. Therefore they are not equivalent in other countries, but valid only by the same public or private university that has given the degree.


The degrees may be differentiated by its denomination according to whether it is non-official or official. The denomination of the official university degrees are: Bachelor’s, Masters and Doctorate while the denominations of the non-official university degrees are Non-official Bachelor’s Degree, Non-official Masters, Masters Specialist and Masters Expert. Non-official Doctorates Degrees do not exist.


For more information about the Spanish University System Degrees, the official as well as the non-official, please visit our search engine of degrees in


Since the adaptation of the Spanish university system to the European Higher Education Area (EHEA), the structure of university studies in Spain now comprises three cycles: bachelor's degrees (in Spanish, Grado), master’s degrees, and doctoral degrees. The bachelor’s and the master’s degrees are taught in the following areas of knowledge:

  • Arts and Humanities.
  • Experimental Sciences.
  • Health Sciences.
  • Social and Legal Sciences.
  • Engineering and Architecture.



1st Cycle: Bachelor’s degree

The bachelor’s degree (grado) replaces the old qualifications of undergraduate diplomas and degrees. To obtain a bachelor’s degree, students must earn a total of 240 ECTS credits over four academic years (including an end of degree dissertation).

The bachelor’s degree is structured as follows:

  • Basic training subjects (minimum of 60 credits).
  • Obligatory subjects.
  • Optional subjects.
  • External placements (maximum of 60 credits).
  • End of degree dissertation (minimum of 6 credits and a maximum of 30).
  • Cultural activities (maximum 6 credits).

Students must enrol for a minimum of 9 credits and a maximum of 90 in each academic year.

2nd Cycle: Master’s degree

Master’s degrees comprise between 60 and 120 ECTS credits, spread over one or two academic years.

Official master’s studies aim to prepare students for academic, professional or research work and lead to the award of the master’s degree which is valid in all countries that are members of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA).

Students will be admitted on master’s programmes in accordance with the assessment criteria stipulated for the degree in question.

The universities’ Commission for the Coordination of University Degrees establishes the procedures and criteria for admission to master’s programmes.

3rd Cycle: Doctoral degree

The goal of Doctoral programs in Spain is to train the student in advanced research techniques. These programs are divided in two parts or ciclos: the first part consists of studying 60 credits, which can form part of the Master’s degree; the second is the actual research which culminates in the student’s public defence of his/her original research project (doctoral thesis). Regarding the duration of the program, there is a maximum of three years studying and researching full-time, or five years part-time.

International Doctorate

To obtain the honorary mention of “European Doctorate”, the doctorate student must have spent at least 3 months outside of Spain carrying out studies or conducting research; part of the thesis must be written and must be presented in one of the languages, other than Spain’s official languages, of the European scientific community; the student must have had consultation regarding the thesis with at least two expert doctors from a non-Spanish European university or research centre; and on the thesis judging panel, at least one of the panellist experts must be from a non-Spanish European country.

Doctorate Schools

Universities will be able to establish Doctorate Schools which most properly focus and direct the doctoral training programs carried out by each university, in addition to promoting collaboration with public and private research institutions or national and international businesses. For their part, the schools will facilitate the organisation of the doctoral program around one or more branches of knowledge or across multiple disciplines. They will also attempt to attract a group of researchers with diverse backgrounds in order to improve the well-roundedness, skills, and competence of the doctoral students.

For more information on the postgraduate studies offered by Spanish universities, please visit the Ministry de Education website.

ECTS credits

ECTS credits (ECTS = European Credit Transfer System) are the standard adopted by all the universities in the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) in the process of convergence between Europe’s higher education systems.

ECTS credits are based on the work completed by the student, and cover hours of class, self-study, written work, and practicals.

An ECTS credit represents 25 hours of study. A student studying full-time is expected to obtain 60 ECTS credits in an academic year.