Skills beyond school

Spain must accelerate the pace of tertiary education reform, says OECD


10/03/2009 – In some respects, Spain has joined the ranks of countries with a modern, responsive and creative system of tertiary education. But the tertiary system must accelerate the pace of reform to respond to the social and economic pressures facing Spain.

This is the main conclusion of an independent Review of Tertiary Education in Spain led by the OECD. Spain is one of 24 countries which participated in a major OECD review designed to assist countries to understand how the organisation, management and delivery of tertiary education can help them achieve their social and economic goals.

Spanish tertiary education has changed remarkably over the past three decades. The system has responded successfully to the rapid growth in demand. It has put in place a comprehensive framework of governance and quality assurance, readying it for successful integration into the European Higher Education Area. It now has a broader range of institutions, with an increasing number of private universities and the expansion of the non-university sector. The autonomous communities have assumed responsibility for funding and support of tertiary education, and institutions now have autonomy over the design of their educational programmes.

However, the system is still very much academically driven and that means it cannot respond adequately to the diverse needs of today’s economy and society. Key challenges identified by the review team include:

  • The tertiary education system should respond more effectively to emerging labour market demands.
  • The university system needs to offer a more diverse range of programmes and curricula.
  • Spain needs to better integrate its universities and higher vocational institutions.
  • The student grant and loan system needs to be expanded.
  • There are significant concerns about the equitable provision of tertiary education.

The review team based its findings on extensive background documentation prepared by the Spanish authorities complemented by a ten-day visit to Spain in May 2007. During their visit, the team met with a wide range of educational authorities and relevant agencies and visited several institutions of tertiary education. This allowed the team to obtain a wide cross-section of perspectives from key stakeholders on the strengths, weaknesses and policy priorities regarding tertiary education in contemporary Spanish society.

Members of the review team included José Joaquín Brunner (Professor, Research Institute in the Social Sciences, Universidad Diego Portales, Chile); Guy Haug (formerly with the European Commission, France); Salvador Malo (Research Director, Institute for Competitiveness, Mexico); Paola di Pietrogiacomo (Senior Scientific Officer, Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS) of the European Commission Joint Research Center, Italy); and Paulo Santiago (OECD Directorate for Education).

The OECD drew upon this report on Spain and reports on the other participating countries to prepare an international comparative report on tertiary education, Tertiary Education for the Knowledge Society (OECD, 2008). The country reports are available on the OECD website at

For further information, journalists are invited to contact Susan Copeland (tel. (33) 1 45 24 97 34) in the OECD’s Directorate for Education.

The free PDF e-book is available here: OECD Reviews of Tertiary Education: Spain


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