Market intelligence for international student recruitment from ICEF
12th Jul 2023

Spanish universities report a big jump in foreign enrolment in 2022

Short on time? Here are the highlights:
  • Foreign enrolment in Spanish higher education grew by nearly 30% last year
  • The overall volume of international students in Spanish universities now exceeds pre-pandemic levels
  • Participation in short-term academic exchange in Spain has also almost reached pre-COVID volumes

The latest data from Spain's Ministerio de Universidades paints a picture of post-pandemic recovery and growth for the country's higher education institutions in the 2021/22 academic year.

The total number of international students enrolled in Spanish universities that year reached a record-high of 224,080. This includes 170,222 students in degree programmes and another 53,858 on shorter-term academic exchanges.

Those totals represent a 27.8% increase over 2020/21, the year in which COVID-19 had its greatest effects on student mobility to Spain. The Ministry reports a total of 175,382 international students enrolled that year, including 155,919 degree students and 19,463 exchange participants.

Perhaps more significantly, the student volumes for 2021/22 surpass those of 2019/20, the last academic year before the pandemic began to impact student movement. Spain's universities enrolled a total of 208,321 foreign students that year, including 153,044 in degree studies and another 55,277 in exchange programmes.

From that, we can observe that the 2021/22 totals are nearly 8% higher than the pre-pandemic high point, and that short-term academic exchanges have almost fully recovered to pre-COVID levels.

Where do students come from?

Not surprisingly, European students are well represented in the foreign enrolment base for Spanish universities with Italy, France, Germany, and Romania comfortably in the top ten. Also not surprisingly, a large percentage of students coming from elsewhere in Europe visit Spain for short-term academic exchanges. Of the 22,688 Italian students enrolled in Spanish higher education last year, for example, roughly half were exchange participants.

Outside of Europe, there are some notable entries in the top ten sending markets with China and Morocco as the 5th and 9th-largest source countries respectively. The top 20 list is otherwise dominated by Latin Markets with Colombia fair and away the leading sending of degree students (and the third-largest sender overall), and with notable numbers from Ecuador (4th), the United States (8th), Peru (10th), Mexico (11th), Chile (12th), Venezuela (14th), Brazil (15th), Argentina (16th), and the Dominican Republic (19th). As we might expect, those non-European markets skew heavily to degree enrolments as opposed to short-term exchanges.

The top 20 sending markets for Spanish universities, 2021/22. Values shown include total student numbers by market, enrolment in academic exchange programmes ("programas de movilidad") and degree enrolments ("de matricula ordinaria"). Source: Ministerio de Universidades

Where do they go?

As we see in the chart below, that foreign enrolment base is distributed throughout the country with five regions collectively hosting nearly two-thirds of all international students in 2021/22: Madrid (46,223), Catalonia (43,787), Valencia (25,513), Andalucia (25,472), and Castilla y Leon (13,757).

Distribution of international students in Spain by region, 2021/22. Source: Source: Ministerio de Universidades

For additional background, please see:

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