Higher education institutions are classified according to whether they organise university or non-university provision. Within the latter, a distinction can be made between the centres that provide advanced vocational training cycles and those that provide specialised education.
University education is provided by universities, which may be public or private.
Public universities are created and private universities are recognised through one of the following options:
- an act passed by the Legislative Assembly of the autonomous community where the institution will be located;
- an act approved by the Spanish Parliament, at the proposal of the Government, in accordance with the Government Council of the autonomous community where they are to be established.
This process requires a prior report from the General Conference on University in accordance with the provisions of articles 4 and 5 of Organic Law 6/2001 on Universities (LOU). To prepare this report, which will issue a favourable or unfavourable statement towards the creation or recognition of universities, compliance with the following basic requirements set in Royal Decree 420/2015 must be taken into account:
- To have a minimum academic offer of official degrees, leading to the award of at least a total of eight official Bachelor's and Master's degrees. This provision must be coherent within each branch of knowledge and as a whole. To accredit this requirement, the university must present a degree development plan for each branch of knowledge, which must include at least the following (Article 6.2.a of Royal Decree 420/2015, of 29 May):
- the list of degree programmes;
- the forecast of the total number of university places to be offered, academic year by academic year;
- the academic year in which these activities will begin;
- the timetable for the complete implementation of the courses;
- the start-up of the corresponding centres;
- the resources specifically allocated for their development.
- This plan is evaluated by the National Agency for Quality Assessment and Accreditation (ANECA) or, where appropriate, by the external evaluation body of the autonomous community where the university is located, which must be registered in the European Quality Assurance Register (EQAR).
- Likewise, the individual implementation of each degree programme is subject to the procedure for the verification and accreditation of the curricula foreseen in Royal Decree 822/2021.
- To have an adequate research programme. To prove this requirement, universities must submit a multi annual programme of their research activity in the scientific areas that are related to the official degrees they are to provide. This programme must include, among others, the strategies for:
- the incorporation of scientific talent;
- the acquisition, use and/or construction of scientific-technical infrastructures;
- the participation in competitive research projects at regional, national and international level;
- the collaboration with the productive sector in R&D&I matters, including the indicators to be established for their evaluation.
- To have a sufficient number of suitably qualified teaching and research staff:
- The total number of members of the teaching and research staff (on a full-time basis or the equivalent on a part-time basis) cannot be less than the one that results from applying 1/25 in relation to the total number of students enrolled in official university studies. The ratio can be modulated when the university offers distance-learning courses, allowing a range between 1/50 and 1/100 depending on the level of experimentalism of the degree programmes and the greater or lesser degree of blended learning in them.
- The staff dedicated to teaching and research activities, calculated on a full-time equivalent basis, must be composed of at least:
- a 50% of Doctors in the case of studies leading to the award of a Bachelor degree;
- a 70% of Doctors in the case of studies leading to the award of a Master’s degree;
- a 100% of Doctors in the case of studies leading to the award of a PhD;
- at least 60% on a full-time basis at each university as a whole.
- Likewise, in the field of health sciences, the number of associate lecturer posts determined in the agreements between universities and health institutions shall not be taken into consideration for the purposes of the above percentages.
- In turn, teaching staff who do not hold a doctoral degree must hold at least a bachelor's degree, architecture, engineering, degree or equivalent, except when the teaching activity to be carried out corresponds to areas of knowledge for which the Council of Universities has determined, in general terms, the adequacy of a three-year degree or of a technical architecture or technical engineering degree. In this case, and for the teaching activity in these specific areas, it will be enough for the teaching staff to hold one of the latter qualifications.
- To have the appropriate facilities, means and resources for the fulfilment of their functions; at least the following:
- teaching and research spaces, depending on the number of students expected to use them simultaneously;
- Learning and Research Resources Centre (CRAI): the building or the corresponding physical or virtual services intended for this purpose, which will include the university library services, must allow, as a whole, the simultaneous use by at least 10 per cent of the total number of students enrolled;
- IT equipment: classrooms and general services that guarantee adequate network connectivity through the creation of Wi-Fi space and an adequate number of computers for students, as well as access, via web services, to institutional teaching and scientific requirements for the university community.
- In turn, education in the field of health sciences has certain special requirements.
- In any case, university facilities must meet the occupational risk prevention, acoustic and habitability requirements stipulated by the legislation in force. They must also comply with architectural conditions that, in accordance with the applicable regulations, allow access and mobility for people with disabilities.
- They must have an adequate organisation and structure. To this end, when the activity begins, universities must provide the following:
- the structure and rules of organisation and operation that will be in force until the final approval of these rules (in the case of private universities) or of their Statutes (for public universities);
- the determination of the university's facilities location in the territorial area of the corresponding autonomous community. In turn, this must include a justifying report and the specification of the buildings and facilities already in existence and those planned for the future.
- To guarantee the service provision, as well as the maintenance of their activities for the time necessary to achieve the academic and research objectives established in the programme. To this end, they must provide:
- a commitment to maintain the university and each of its centres in operation for a minimum period of time that will allow all students who, with sufficient academic achievement, have begun their studies there, to complete their studies. Universities must therefore foresee the mechanisms to guarantee these students' completion of their studies in the event of the termination of any of the degrees offered, either by decision of the university itself or by non-renewal of the accreditation of the degree;
- in the case of private universities, the guarantees to ensure their economic funding, which shall be proportional to the number of degrees offered and students enrolled and shall be calculated on the basis of the teaching offer, as well as a viability and closure plan in case their activity should prove to be non-viable.
- To ensure that the Statutes, legal regime and organisational and operational rules comply with the law and the legal order both at state level and in the autonomous community in which they are to be established. All this must be carried out in accordance with all constitutional principles and fully and effectively respecting and guaranteeing the principle of academic freedom, which is reflected in the freedom of teaching, research and study. Along these lines, the Statutes of public universities and the Rules of Organisation and Functioning of private universities must at least include:
- the nature, functions and competence of the university;
- the legal, staff and economic-financial regime;
- the structure;
- the governing and representative bodies;
- the rights and duties of the student body;
- the procedure for the election or appointment of the University Ombudsperson, the duration of his/her term of office and dedication, as well as his/her operating regime;
- the disciplinary regime;
- the reasons for termination or suppression of the university, including failure to submit or approve the corrective measures plan referred to in Article 13.2 of Royal Decree 420/2015;
- any other provision considered relevant, provided that it is not contrary to the LOU or any other university regulations.
The initiation of the activities of universities must be authorised by the relevant body of the autonomous community, after verification of compliance with the requirements for their creation or recognition in compliance with the legislation in force. In addition, universities must apply for the institutional accreditation of their centres from the National Agency for Quality Assessment and Accreditation (ANECA) or, where appropriate, the body for external evaluation of the autonomous community where the corresponding university is established.
The chosen body will issue a binding evaluation report for the Council of Universities, which will then issue the accreditation resolution that will be sent to the university, the autonomous community and the ministry with jurisdiction at the time, currently the Ministry of Universities, for the purpose of registering the accredited centres in the Register of Universities, Centres and Degrees (RUCT). The renewal of the centres' accreditation, or institutional re-accreditation, must take place within five years from the date of obtaining the first accreditation resolution, or subsequent ones, from the Council of Universities.
Public universities are integrated by university schools, faculties, departments, university institutes for research, doctoral colleges and by other schools or structures necessary for the development of their functions.
University schools and faculties
University schools and faculties are the institutions responsible for the organisation of their studies and in charge of the academic, administrative and management processes that lead to the conferment of the different university degrees.
Their creation, modification and withdrawal, as well as the implementation and withdrawal of studies leading to the award of an official university degree and which is valid nationwide is agreed by the autonomous community to which the university belongs either through the autonomous community's initiative with the agreement of the Government Council of the university, or through the university's own initiative through a proposal of the Government Council. In both cases, the previous favourable report by the University Social Council is required.
Departments are the teaching and research units in charge of:
- coordinating studies of one or more fields of knowledge in one or more university centres according to the teaching programme of the university;
- supporting teaching and research activities and initiatives of the teaching staff;
- performing all other duties determined by their statutes.
The establishment, modification and withdrawal of departments correspond to the university, according to their statutes.
Research university institutes
University research institutes are centres for scientific and technical research or artistic creation. They may also organise and develop doctoral and postgraduate programmes and studies, and provide technical advice within the scope of their competences.
Their creation and suppression is governed by the same principles as those applicable to university schools and faculties. It must be something agreed by the autonomous community to which the university belongs either through the autonomous community's initiative with the agreement of the Government Council of the university, or through the university's own initiative through a proposal of the Government Council. In both cases, the previous favourable report by the University Social Council is required.
Taking the above into account, they can be set up by one or more universities, or jointly with other public or private organisations by means of collaboration agreements or other means of cooperation, in accordance with their statutes.
Furthermore, universities can create Joint Research Institutes, in cooperation with other public research bodies, with the National Health Service and with public or private non-profit research centres, promoted and participated in by a public administration.
On the other hand, by means of an agreement, the law allows for their affiliation to public universities, as university research institutes, of public or private research institutions or centres. The approval of such affiliation or, as the case may be, withdrawal of affiliation, is the responsibility of the autonomous community, through the same process described above.
The main objective of doctoral colleges is to organise, within their sphere of management, PhD programmes into one or more interdisciplinary knowledge branches. In addition, in accordance with the provisions of the statutes of each university and the regulations of the corresponding autonomous community, they may include official Master's degree courses with a fundamentally scientific content, as well as other open research training activities.
These colleges may be created by one or more universities, or in possible individual or joint collaboration between universities and other national and international entities which carry out R&D&I activities.
Public or private associated centres
The purpose of publicly or privately owned associated centres is to offer studies leading to the award of official degrees that are valid throughout the national territory.
The association is established by means of an agreement that has to be approved by the autonomous community: if the association is to a public university, it is done at the proposal of the Governing Council of the university, subject to a favourable report from its Social Council; if the association is to a private university, it is done at the proposal of the university.
They must be established within the territorial scope of the relevant autonomous community or count with the approval of the autonomous community where they are located. They must comply with the rules of the State and the autonomous communities, in the exercise of their respective powers, the joining agreement and their own organisational and operational rules.
Private universities and university institutions
Any individual or legal entity, in compliance with constitutional principles and subject to state and regional regulations, may establish a private university or private university institution. However, those who provide services in an education administration, or those who have a criminal record for fraudulent offences or who have received a final administrative sanction for a serious offence in educational or professional matters will not be able to exercise this right. With regard to legal entities, these disqualifying circumstances apply to:
- administrators, representatives or directors, while their representation or designation is in force;
- founders, promoters or holders of 20% or more of their capital, either themselves or through an intermediary.
University private centres must be integrated into a private university as centres belonging to such university or they must be ascribed to a public or private university.
Private universities elaborate and approve their own organisation and functioning regulations, which must respect and guarantee, through a broad participation of the university community, the academic freedom manifested in the academic, research and study freedom. In addition, they must be governed by the LOU and the regulations issued by the State and the autonomous communities, in the exercise of their respective competences.
In order to guarantee the quality of universities and university centres, a series of requirements are established, which both existing universities and newly created ones must comply with. Besides, the autonomous communities establish their own specific requirements within their territory.
Both public and private universities, together with university institutions, must be registered in the Register of Universities, Centres and Qualifications (RUCT), which is nowadays under the responsibility of the Ministry of Universities.
The data for the academic year 2021-2022 show that the Spanish university system comprises 86 universities:
- 50 public universities: 47 offering on-site teaching and 1 distance teaching. In addition, there are 2 public universities with a special status that only provide specialised postgraduate programmes (Master’s and PhD);
- 36 private universities: 31 offering on-site teaching and 5 distance teaching.
Source: Statistics from the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training and the Ministry of Universities on the number of active universities by type and modality of university.
Advanced vocational training
Advanced vocational training can be studied in:
- public institutions (e.g. secondary schools, which may also provide compulsory secondary education and bachillerato studies) and private institutions authorised by the competent public administration;
- national reference institutions, under the conditions and for the purposes established in Royal Decree 229/2008;
- integrated vocational training institutions, according to the provisions in Article 78 of Organic Law 3/2022 on the Organisation and Integration of Vocational Education and Training, and Royal Decree 1558/2005.
In the 2020/2021 academic year, there were 2592 schools in the whole country providing on-site advanced vocational training, of which 1720 were public schools, 332 publicly-funded private schools, and 540 private schools. As for distance advanced vocational training, it was provided by 406 centres, of which 217 are public and 189 private. Some centres offer both on-site and distance learning for higher vocational training programmes. Source: Statistics from the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training on the number of centres that provide each type of education.
Regardless of public or private ownership, these institutions must comply with a series of minimum requirements:
- to meet the occupancy and safety conditions stipulated in current legislation. In this sense, the spaces in which the teaching practice takes place must have natural ventilation and lighting;
- to have the conditions that make access, circulation and communication possible for people with disabilities, in accordance with the provisions of the applicable legislation on the promotion of accessibility and the elimination of barriers, without prejudice to the reasonable adjustments that must be adopted;
- those related to the spaces established in each degree regulation;
- the equipment established by the education authorities in order to achieve the learning outcomes in each vocational module.
- to have at least the following spaces and facilities:
- office for management, coordination activities and guidance;
- secretary’s office;
- library and staff room appropriate to the number of school places;
- toilets and hygienic-sanitary services adequate to the number of school places, as well as toilets and hygienic-sanitary services adapted for people with disabilities in the number, proportion and conditions of functional use established by the applicable legislation on accessibility.
Artistic education: advanced professional studies in plastic arts and design
These studies can be pursued in:
- public institutions: art schools;
- private institutions (both publicly funded and with no public funding whatsoever): authorised centres for professional artistic education in plastic arts and design.
In the 2020/2021 academic year, there were 116 schools in the whole country providing advanced professional studies in plastic arts and design, of which 95 were public schools, and 21 private schools. Source: Statistics from the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training on the number of centres that provide each type of education.
The institutions providing these studies must meet, as a minimum, the following requirements regarding facilities and material conditions:
- classrooms for theoretical classes with a minimum surface area appropriate to the number of student places;
- classrooms for theoretical and practical classes with a minimum surface area appropriate to the number of school places;
- a classroom for each of the specific workshops corresponding to the training cycles taught at the centre, with the minimum surface area and with the necessary equipment to be determined for each particular programme;
- a multi-purpose space that can be used for exhibitions, artistic activities and other events.
The education authorities are also responsible for establishing, as a general rule, the number of classrooms required for each school place, in accordance with the curriculum they define.
Artistic education: advanced artistic education
The type of studies pursued determines the centres in which advanced artistic studies are taught. The public centres that offer these studies are given the following generic names:
- advanced music conservatories or advanced music schools;
- advanced dance conservatories or advanced dance schools;
- advanced performing arts schools;
- advanced schools of reservation and restoration of cultural assets;
- advanced design schools;
- advanced chools of the corresponding speciality when they provide advanced studies in the plastic arts field.
It is then the responsibility of the education authorities to determine the name of those public institutions that offer higher education programmes combined in a different way to the above.
Besides, each autonomous community may agree with the universities in its territorial area formulas of collaboration for this type of studies.
In turn, the education administrations may associate, by means of an agreement, advanced artistic education institutions to universities and establish procedures to favour autonomy and facilitate the organisation and management of conservatories and higher schools. They must also promote agreements with universities for the organisation of doctoral studies.
Along those same lines, advanced artistic education institutions should promote research programmes in their own disciplines.
In the 2020/2021 academic year, the following institutions were accounted for throughout Spain:
- 36 institutions providing higher education in music, of which 22 were public and 14 were private;
- 7 institutions providing higher education in dance, of which 6 were public and 1 was private;
- 18 institutions providing higher education in performing arts, of which 12 were public and 6 were private;
- 10 institutions providing higher education in conservation and restoration of property, all of them public;
- 55 institutions providing higher education in design, of which 38 were public and 17 were private;
- 2 institutions offering higher education in plastic arts, both of which were public.
Source: Statistics from the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training on the number of centres that provide each type of education.
These educational institutions must comply with the general requirements for facilities established in Article 3 of Royal Decree 303/2010, as well as with the requirements for spaces intended for departments and equipment to carry out the research tasks inherent to these programmes. They must also meet the space and equipment requirements necessary for the teaching of the courses established in the corresponding royal decrees regulating each degree. In turn, each specific course must comply with the specific requirements applicable to them set out in chapters II, III, IV, V, VI and VIIof Royal Decree 303/2010.
Advanced sports education
Advanced sports education is provided in:
- public or private training centres, authorised by the relevant education authority;
- integrated vocational training centres, which must comply with the requirements established by the regulation governing the qualifications and minimum teaching standards of the corresponding modality or speciality;
- national reference centres specialised in the sports sector, in accordance with the provisions in Article 45.1.c of Royal Decree 1363/2007;
- teaching centres of the military education system, by virtue of the agreements established between the Ministries of Education (MEFP) and Defence.
Exceptionally, the education authorities may authorise centres promoted by Spanish sports federations for the specific block of certain cycles of sports education, as long as the offer of the entire programme is guaranteed by means of an agreement with another centre, in accordance with the provisions of the first additional provision of Royal Decree 1363/2007.
In the 2020/2021 academic year, there were 51 schools in the whole country providing advanced professional sport studies, of which 19 were public schools, and 32 private schools. Source: Statistics from the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training on the number of centres that provide each type of education.
All the institutions must comply with the requirements established by the regulation governing the qualifications and minimum teaching standards of each modality or speciality.