Choose to study in Spain, and one thing is for sure: your friends will be very jealous!
Stretching to the Pyrenees in the east, the Mediterranean in the south, the Bay of Biscay in the north, and Portugal in the west, Spain is one of the biggest countries in Europe.
Spain is consistently among the world’s most popular tourist destinations (third in 2013, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization), welcoming an annual volume of tourists which considerably exceeds its population. It's also among the most popular destinations for international students, due to its winning combination of good universities, attractive lifestyle, and the fact that Spanish is one of the world's most spoken languages.
Universities in Spain
Spain is a country of contrasts, where the affluence and cosmopolitan bustle of western Europe is mixed with a distinctly southern European extravagance and charm; where an expressive and flamboyant culture segues into afternoon naps and long languid evenings in bars and cafés; and where distinct regional identities often take precedence over a unified national one.
Of course, lifestyle alone isn’t enough to draw in the punters – you need to have good universities too! And Spain has plenty, with 18 universities in Spain featured in the 2014/15 QS World University Rankings, of which 12 are within the global top 500.
The largest concentrations of leading Spanish universities are found in capital city Madrid and second city Barcelona, with the latter boasting the country’s two highest ranking universities, Universitat de Barcelona and Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona.
Read more about the top six Spanish universities, all ranking within the world’s top 300:
University of Barcelona
The highest-ranked Spanish university, the University of Barcelona is placed at 166th in the 2014/15 QS World University Rankings. It was established in 1450, which makes it one of the oldest higher education institutions in the world, with rich traditions dating back to the Medieval Ages. Currently, more than 90,600 students are enrolled in the university, across 18 faculties and 100 departments, which offer a wide array of undergraduate and postgraduate courses. It ranks within the world’s top 100 for many of the subject areas covered by the QS World University Rankings by Subject.
Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona
A much younger institution, Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona was established in 1968. Currently it ranks at 173rd place in the world, making it Spain’s second representative at international level. It also takes 10th place in the QS Top 50 Under 50, which highlights the world’s highest performing young universities. Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona teaches about 43,000 students among its 13 faculties. It is famous for being one of the few universities in Spain to have a centralized campus, created in order to promote a sense of a strong university community, with all the different academic, research, cultural and social activities in the same place. This purposely built campus is located about 20km (12 miles) from the center of Barcelona.
Universidad Autónoma de Madrid
Also established in 1968, following extensive reforms in higher education in Spain, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid is currently ranked at 178th place in the world, following one place behind Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona in the QS Top 50 Under 50. It is home to more than 36,000 students in its eight faculties, and is especially noted for its Faculty of Law. The university has three campuses, of which the main one, the Cantoblanco Campus, is located 15km (9 miles) north of Madrid. Universidad Autónoma de Madrid prides itself in being the alma mater of His Majesty King Felipe VI of Spain.
University Complutense Madrid
The oldest Spanish university, University Complutense Madrid is in fact one of the oldest higher education institutions in the world. It dates back to 1293, when it was originally known as Estudio de Escuelas Generales de Alcalá, before receiving its current name in 1499. Today, the University Complutense Madrid ranks at 212th place in the world and within the global top 50 in the subject area of history and archaeology. More than 86,000 students study in the university, which was one of the first in the world to give a doctoral degree to a female student, in 1785.
University of Navarra
The University of Navarra is a private-sector university, located in the city of Pamplona in the north of Spain. The university was founded in 1952 by St. Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer, the founder of the religious organization Opus Dei (which gained fame following the success of Dan Brown’s bestselling novel The Da Vinci Code). The university has more than 11,000 students enrolled across 14 faculties. In addition to its Pamplona campus, it also has facilities in San Sebastián, Madrid, Barcelona, Munich and New York City. In the 2014/15 QS World University Rankings, the University of Navarra takes the 254th place.
Universitat Pompeu Fabra
One of the youngest Spanish universities, the Universitat Pompeu Fabra features in the 2014/15 QS World University Rankings in 298th place, and is another Spanish representative in the QS Top 50 Under 50. It was established in 1990 and named after the famous Catalan philologist Pompeu Fabra. The university is located in Barcelona, across three separate campuses which each focus on a particular field of study: social sciences and humanities, health and life sciences, and ITC and communication sciences.
The other Spanish universities which feature in the 2014/15 QS World University Rankings are: Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (337th), Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (355th), Politécnica de Madrid (385th), Universitat Politècnica de València (421-430), University of Granada (461-470), University of Salamanca (481-490), Universidad de Sevilla (501-550), Universitat de Valencia (501-550), Universidad de Zaragoza (501-550), Universidade de Santiago de Compostela (551-600), Universidad de Alcalá (651-700) and University of Murcia (701+).
Studying at Masters or PhD level? Read our graduate-level guide to Spain >