The Evolution of University Life In Barcelona


University life in Barcelona is filled with thriving young students learning in a commonly bilingual environment. Two of Spain’s most prestigious universities are located in the city: the University of Barcelona (UB) and Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona. Both universities rank in the global top 200 of the QS World University Rankings 2015/2016.

History of the University of Barcelona


At the time of the Middle Ages, educational institutions called estudis (studium) were established and founded by popes, emperors, or kings. These estudis generals were separated into two facilities: faculty of the arts and a facility of advanced learning in theology, law, and medicine.

Estudi General

In 1401, King Martí I the Humane established the foundation of university studies in Barcelona- Estudi General of Medicine and the Arts. Then, in 1450,  King Alphonse the Magnanimous authorized a charter to create the Estudi General of Barcelona, bringing together all schools of higher education at the time. Chairs (or departments) were started in Theology, Canon Law, Civil Law, Moral and Natural Philosophy, the Seven Arts, Medicine, and more. However, during this period the Civil War in Catalonia was occurring and under the reign of Fernando the Catholic of Aragon, the institution was merged with the schools under the patronage of the Barcelona City Hall. [Read Here]

A New Building

During the 1500s, a new building at the top of the Rambla was built to transfer all existing facilities together in a single location. However, censorships of publications, bans on foreign contact, inadequate resources, along with student conflict and violence brought the institution into a period of hardship. In 1717, a royal order moved all university studies in Barcelona, Lleifa, Girona, Tarragona, Vic, and Tortosa to a single university at Cervera. [Read Here]

The Restoration

In 1822, a campaign was established to restore the university. 20 long years later, the University of Barcelona was finally restored in 1842. The former Convent of Carme was re-established into the new university building by architect Elies Rogent. [Read Here]



Franco Dictatorship

Under the period of the Franco Dictatorship (1939-1975), Catalan culture and language were expelled from academic life. In order to preserve and spread Catalan culture, the university took action to fight against this repression- which included the establishment of the Democratic Students’ Union of the University of Barcelona, and the student occupation of the university’s rector’s office in January 1969. [Read Here]

University of Barcelona Today- A New Normal


A new period of “normalization, modernization, and democratization” began after the election of Dr. Badia i Margarit in 1977. According to the university, they have “undertaken an action plan intended to respond to the current and future needs of Catalan society” [Article]. The fundamentals of this plan include:

  • Developing new departments
  • Promotion of lifelong learning
  • More international activity
  • Expanding links to the productive sectors
  • Advancing infrastructure and a better organization of the UB’s campuses
  • Modernized systems of management and planning
  • More widespread use of information technology

Campus Life


What the University Is Known For Today

“Today, the university is the fundamental center of university research in Spain and has grown to be a European benchmark for research activity, both in regards to the number of research programs it administers and the greatness these programs have achieved” [Read Here]. The university values the tradition of Barcelona and Catalonia, attempting to combine values with teaching excellence. It is a public university, located on Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes.


TPM Program

The university is also widely known for its Transplant Procurement Management International Education Program – which “promotes training for the experts of the field of organ, tissue and human cell transplantation and donation” [Article]. This program was created at the university in 1991- teaching around 13,000 experts from 100 countries all over the world (the program is taught in Spanish, English, French, Italian and Portuguese). The TPM program celebrated its 25th anniversary this week- on Monday the 14th.


  •  65,643 students
  • 73 EHEA bachelor’s degree courses
  • 144 university master’s degree courses
  • 48 doctoral programs
  • 654 post graduate programs
  • 5,311 professors, lecturers, and researchers

According to the fifth employment study of graduates from the Catalan university system, carried out by the Catalan University Quality Assurance Agency (AQU), 83% of UB graduates are currently employed and 85.2% would choose the UB again.

History of the Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona

On June 6th, 1968 the creation of the university was officially declared. The first four departments created were Philosophy and Arts, Medicine, Science, and Economics. Classes began in October 1968, in the two new centers: the Faculty of Philosophy and Arts, which was located in the Monastery of Sant Cugat del Vallés, and the Faculty of Medicine, which was located at the Hospital de Santa Creu i Sant Pau in Barcelona. [Read Here]



Since the beginning of the university, the aim of the foundations have been for a university of “autonomy, participation, and social commitment” [Read Here]. However, under the Franco Dictatorship, the university’s statutes were suspended in 1973 (as seen in the history of the University of Barcelona) and expelled the president from his position. But two years later, the university began the drafting of the Bellaterra Manifest- the first written record to uphold an “autonomous, democratic, and socially responsible university”.

Universitat Autónoma Today

Despite only being around for a little less than 50 years, “the UAB has already consolidated itself amongst the 200 best universities in the world within the main university rankings and is located within the top 10 new universities with greatest international projection and prestige” [Read Here]. In THE world university rankings of 2016-2017, the UAB ranked first. It is a public university, located in Placa Cívica.


  •  26, 467 undergraduates
  • 3,676 teaching and research staff
  • 87 bachelor degrees
  • 133 official master’s
  • 68 Phd programs
  • 1,346 foreign bachelor’s degree students

The Talk At UAB

A New Program

As of a couple days ago, the university paired up with the Abertis Foundation to create a campus “linked to the UNESCO International Centre for Mediterranean Biosphere Reserves and offer a space for research, dissemination, exchanges and innovation in this field” [Article].  This agreement includes developmental projects related to the reserves and the organization of the research conducted. According the UAB newsroom, there will also be “academic seminars, presentations of final projects from bachelor’s and master’s degrees, the promotion of student exchanges with universities around the Mediterranean”.

Thoughts From a Student- What is University Life Really Like For a Student In Barcelona?


Student Irene Navarro Baches currently attends the Universitat Autónoma and will be graduating with a degree in English in 2017. She attempted to get into the University of Barcelona but, unfortunately, did not have the grades. In the future, Baches wants to teach English. She finds the English program at the university challenging but rewarding. She mentioned that, “Secondary school was much easier to get along with your teachers. At the university I don’t have a relationship with my teachers and have to solve problems on my own.” Baches also said that many students, about 5 out of 10, in her difficult English courses fail or drop out of the class. “University is very hard for students and a lot of work, but learning English is very important to me so I do not give up” she said.


Social Life

Even though the academics seem to be very demanding for students, especially those studying English, Baches enjoys her social life at the university. She mentioned that she and most of her friends still live at home, so coming to the university everyday is a good chance to be independent and socialize. According to The Local– 80% of Spaniards under thirty still live at home with their parents. So, the university is commonly a place where young people can enjoy being in the company of people their own age.


The Evolution

University life in Barcelona has evolved over time from facing oppression to having the freedom to create ties between education and traditional values. The hardship that educational institutions faced throughout the city’s history creates even more appreciation for education in Barcelona today. The city now offers many prestigious universities, including the University of Barcelona and the Universitat Autónoma, that offer a range of programs and opportunities to aspiring students around Barcelona.

Learn More Here


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