Like most European countries, Spain is a signatory of the Bologna Process. This means that its university degrees are organised according to the ‘three cycle’ system: undergraduate programmes are ‘first cycle’, Masters degrees are ‘second cycle’ and PhDs are ‘third cycle’.
The Spanish academic year generally runs between September and the end of June. At most institutions this year is divided into two main teaching semesters, separated by examination and holiday periods.
The first semester generally runs in the winter, between September or October and December. The second runs in the Spring, between January or February and May. The main examination period is held in June, with a holiday between July and the beginning of the next academic year. Depending on the length of your Masters programme, you may find that this holiday period is designated for the completion of your dissertation.
Organisation of a Spanish Masters degree
A Masters in Spain can take 10 to 24 months and will represent between 60 and 120 ECTS (European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System) credits.
Spanish Masters programmes may include modules (or asignaturas) which can be core (asignaturas troncas), compulsory (asignaturas obligatorias), or optional (asignaturas optativas or de libre elección). Most will comprise a mixture of modules or be exclusively based on core units, depending on the level of flexibility built in. At the end of your programme you will be required to complete a Masters dissertation, the credit weighting of which can range between six and 30 ECTS credits, but will generally account for around a quarter of the total value of your course.
Masters courses offered through the Erasmus programme are very common in Spain. They are always two years in duration and include periods of study abroad, placements and/or internships. These Erasmus Masters are not to be confused with 'Inter-University' Masters which are delivered collaboratively by groups of Spanish institutions.
Official and non-official degrees
One peculiarity of the Spanish education system is the presence of two different categories of university degree at both undergraduate and Masters level.
Official degrees are fully recognised academic qualifications, established in accordance with government regulations. They are valid throughout Spain and recognised within the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) as well as most international university systems.
Non-official degrees (also referred to as university-specific degrees) are created by universities without government input or accreditation and are not recognised within the EHEA system. A selection of Masters qualifications fall into this category, with titles such as 'Non-official Masters', 'Specialist Masters' and 'Expert Masters' as well as various other diplomas or certificates. As a rule these qualifications do not carry an ECTS credit value and do not require independent research and dissertation tasks, as they’re instead focused on professional skills.
The existence of such qualifications may seem strange, but they can serve a range of purposes. The majority are professional qualifications designed to train graduates with key skills in vocational fields. In some cases universities may even design and run very specific training programmes in collaboration with external, non-academic partners and aimed exclusively at students seeking to work for those partners.