12 Sep 2017

Developing internationalisation in Spanish higher education

If you’re lucky enough to be one of the more than 6000 people from 95 countries in Seville to attend the 29th annual EAIE Conference and Exhibition this week, you may be wondering about the higher education sector in the host country, and how internationalisation is developing in Spanish institutions. Many of you already know that Spain has been very successful in the Erasmus programme as a favourite destination of Erasmus students and a leading country for outgoing students for well over a decade. But what else do you know about how colleagues in Spain’s 84 universities are moving towards their internationalisation agendas? 

A new publication, The Internationalisation of Higher Education in Spain: Reflections and Perspectives, prepared with the EAIE Conference in mind, hopes to contribute to the rather sparse literature available on the topic by gathering together the views and experiences of a group of national experts as well as international authors whose contributions bring a broader perspective to the Spanish international context. The book presents an analysis of many aspects of internationalisation of higher education in Spain as a first step towards understanding the current Spanish internationalisation landscape.

English-taught programmes: the only way to internationalisation?

One of the topics dealt with is the often polemic issue of whether it should automatically be assumed that teaching in English will make our institutions more international. It is widely accepted that well-implemented English-taught programmes (ETPs) or carefully developed instances of English-medium instruction on non-English-taught programmes can bring considerable added value to universities. They can be a valuable instrument in attracting international students, facilitating the attainment of high-level language competences among local students and enhancing the international profile and international partnerships of our universities. Indeed Spain, like many other European countries, has seen a constant increase in the number of ETPs in its universities in recent years.  Yet should we be so sure that teaching through English is necessarily the best route to being international?
As in so many other aspects of internationalisation, there is no ‘one size fits all’, and the case of Spain is different to that of other European countries. In one chapter, while advocating pluri-lingualism as a necessity in our globalised world, Dorothy Kelly analyses the role of the Spanish language as an asset in the internationalisation strategies of Spanish higher education institutions and encourages Spanish universities to take advantage of the tremendous benefit that having their principal language of instruction be a language spoken by 567 million people around the world.

A history of recruiting students to Spain

Antoni Luna García and Maite Viudes cover another aspect of the internationalisation of higher education in Spain, providing us with a short history of marketing and attracting international students to Spanish universities.  They also highlight three developments that have taken place in recent years which suggest a future far more open to attracting degree-seeking students. One such development is the possibility of offering three-year degrees instead of the four-plus-one model which was mandatory in Spain and which, although making the Spanish one-year master’s degrees attractive, was perceived by many as a handicap for recruiting at undergraduate level.
Secondly, the fact that the admission requirements for international students are becoming more flexible, both for students from EU member states and for non-European students, is having a positive effect on international demand for studies in Spanish universities.

Finally, the possibility of charging different fees for local students (including those from the European Union) and non-EU students – registration fees for the latter are four to five times higher than those for local students – has increased the number of universities viewing internationalisation not only as a strategy to secure a strong national and international standing but also as an additional source of income.
Despite these developments, there is still a lot of ground to be covered. Authors highlight the need for an international recruitment strategy on a national level, accompanied by an adequate allocation of resources, including a strong scholarship scheme to attract talent to our universities and point out the importance of having properly trained specialised marketing and recruitment staff in our institutions.
If you would like to read more about these and other topics exploring this crucial dimension of Spanish higher education, access the complete book here. The book is published by the Spanish Service for the Internationalisation of Education (SEPIE) and edited by Adriana Perez-Encinas, Laura Howard, Laura E. Rumbley and Hans de Wit.
Adriana is Lecturer at Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Spain and winner of the EAIE’s 2017 Rising Star Award. Laura is Lecturer at University of Cadiz, Spain and the EAIE’s Immediate Past President.

  • Icy Anabo

    Very interesting! I’d love to see how the Spanish government can streamline bureaucratic processes for international students and provide attractive professional avenues to explore post-graduation. As an international student in Spain myself, I’ve had to struggle (a lot) with paperwork and feel I have bleak opportunities to apply my knowledge and skills right after. For many students, gaining some international work experience abroad is also a motivation to pursue foreign studies, but unfortunately for Spain there’s no way for fresh graduates to extend their stay to look for a job, and neither is it easy to get a work permit. These are just some of the things that Spain’s internationalisation strategy can tackle in the future.

  • Richard Everst

    Teaching in English is not the-only-way towards internalization, it is a necessity.
    Poor English among students and the lack of internationally qualified staff are major roadblocks for Spain towards internalization. 567 million people around the world speaking Spanish doesn’t really mean anything. Denmark and The Netherlands score much higher on world’s most international universities than Spain. How many people in the world speak Danish or Dutch? There are 1.3 billion Chinese speakers in the world but do students of international universities in Hong Kong submit their papers in Chinese? No.
    Spain is still milestones from internalization but just the fact that more and more Spanish universities are teaching in English is already making me feel very positive about their future.