Known for abundant sunshine and fine beach resorts, Spain has long been a top tourism destination; however, the country is increasingly attracting a different kind of visitor: international students. Spain is home to some of Europe’s top universities and business schools, drawing a growing number of college students and becoming one of the top destinations for the Erasmus program, an EU-sponsored exchange program.
In 2018, about 110,000 international students enrolled in Spanish academic programs, contributing more than EUR2 billion to its economy. The trend has been one of Spain’s bright spots in recent years, fostering an exchange of ideas and knowledge in learning institutions. These factors are now playing a growing role in the global academic community.
The prominence of world-class higher education in Spain dates back to 1281, when the University of Salamanca was established in the country’s northwest. Thanks to its long tradition of education, Spain in recent decades has become one of the most popular destinations for students seeking math, science, and business degrees. These courses are increasingly being offered in English.
“The internationalization of the Spanish education system since Spain first joined the EU cannot be denied,” said Alfonso Díaz Segura, head of international relations at Universidad Cardenal Herrera CEU in Valencia. “Primarily due to the Erasmus program, Spain is the number-one EU destination for international students.”
Among the top draws for international students is the Instituto de Empresa (IE) Business School in Madrid, which, along with Spain’s EU Business School and ESERP Business School, is ranked among Europe’s 10 best business schools, according to the Financial Times. The IE Business School is recognized for applying a technology-based learning system through an evolving curriculum that adapts to current trends and realities in the business world.
Students enrolled in IE Business School tend to fill some of Europe’s most prestigious and highest-paying management jobs after graduating with the institution’s undergraduate and graduate degrees. The most popular programs are the international MBA, master’s in finance, and master’s in management.
For liberal arts and sciences education, students are flocking to the revered University of Barcelona, considered to be among the top universities in Spain. Though it is not ranked high on international lists, university administrators argue that they do more with less, citing the school’s low annual tuition fees of just EUR6,000 per student. Founded in 1450, the University of Barcelona is known for rigorous academic standards and high research output, which distinguish its students as some of the most job-ready university graduates in the country. Students have a 90% employment rate the year after receiving a diploma.
In addition to world-class institutions, Spain has also attracted more students due to its thriving tech start-up scenes in Madrid and Barcelona. Over the last five years, the capital city has become home to more than 1,200 IT ventures and is considered one of the EU’s fastest-growing job markets. While students can enroll in English-language programs, many opt for Spanish-language degrees to take advantage of the growing app-driven economies in Spanish-speaking countries, home to at least 500 million people.
With the combination of high quality, low cost, and adaptable programs, education analysts expect enrollment in Spanish schools to continue to grow in the coming years. Such trends will boost national economic activity, as a report by the Spanish Institute for Foreign Trade found that for every euro spent on an academic program, international students spent EUR0.86 (USD.94) on other sectors of the economy. In response, Spanish officials are working to lower the barriers to entry for non-EU students outside the Erasmus program to expand the international student body in the country.