Review of Higher Education in Regional and City Development 2008-10: Catalonia in brief


The region under review: boundaries, geography and population

Catalonia is located in the northeast of Spain. It borders on France and Andorra to the north, the Mediterranean Sea to the east, the Autonomous Region of Aragon to the west and the Autonomous Region of Valencia to the south.


The geography of Catalonia is defined by three different areas:

  • The Pyrenees, in the North, a mountain range that separates Catalonia from France.
  • The Coastal Mountain Chain, which alternates between plains and small size mountains.
  • The Central Depression, which is the plain zone that covers most of the central part of Catalonia.


The autonomous region is administratively divided into four provinces:

  • Barcelona
  • Girona
  • Lleida
  • Tarragona


Additionally, Catalonia it is further divided into 41 entities called comarques which are groups of municipalities.


Catalonia is the second most populated region in Spain, with 6.93 million inhabitants, representing 16% of the country’s population. The region represents 6.3% of the Spanish geographical area. The population density is high compared to the national average, with 229 inhabitants per square kilometre in Catalonia versus 91 inhabitants per square kilometre in Spain. Two thirds of the Catalan population live in the metropolitan area of Barcelona, i.e. the city of Barcelona and its surrounding area.



Spain is a constitutional monarchy with a bicameral legislature. The country consists of 17 autonomous regions which are further divided into provinces. Four different levels of administration – central, regional, provincial and local – co-exist and interact within the regions.

The Autonomy Statute of Catalonia defines its political organisation as follows:

  • The Parliament of Catalonia holds the legislative power
  • The Presidency of the Generalitat, headed by the President, holds the executive power
  • The Executive Council, which brings together the regional ministers and the president, sets the direction of the government policies

The Generalitat de Catalunya holds the exclusive power in the area of higher education in Catalonia, however the Generalitat shares this competence with the Central Government in Madrid. More on HE governance in Spain



Catalonia is one of the richest regions in Spain with a GDP per capita of  EUR 27 445, which is 124.7% above the Spanish average (2007) and 131.5% above of the EU-27 average (2007). Moreover, its GDP has been growing more than the EU-27 average in recent years, with a GDP of 128% above the EU-27 average in 2005, to a 130.3% in 2006.


The distribution of employment by sectors is the following:

  • Agriculture: 2.3%
  • Industry: 22.9%
  • Construction: 9.6%
  • Service sector: 65.2%




  • Barcelona International Airport
  • Girona Airport
  • Reus Airport
  • Sabadell Airport


Biggest commercial and passenger ports

  • Port of Barcelona (the second largest port in Europe)
  • Port of Tarragona
  • Port of Palamós



  • High speed train, called AVE (Spanish High Speed) links Madrid, Lleida, Tarragona and Barcelona.



Catalonia start page | HE and research in Catalonia | Further reading and useful links

HE and regions start page


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