Doctoral Education in Spain


In the Spanish higher education system, students graduate with a first degree after 4 or 5 years. The first 2 or 3 years of undergraduate education comprise broad study of the chosen field (e.g., physics, law, or chemistry), followed by a further 2 years of more specialised study.


Spanish postgraduate students who intend to pursue a doctoral degree must first be admitted to a specific PhD programme in order to obtain the Advanced Studies Degree. There were 61,483 matriculations in 1999-2000 (48.6% men and 51.4% women) [1]. The average age at the start of these studies is 23. Doctoral programmes are offered by the universities and other public research organizations and last for a minimum of 2 years.

All PhD students must complete a number of compulsory taught courses in their research area and undertake original research work that will contribute to the final thesis.

After completing these courses, the student spends a further 2 years exclusively carrying out the practical development of the thesis and preparing the manuscript and final dissertation. The doctoral program is designed to be completed within 4 years, which is the usual length of Spanish predoctoral grants. However, because research groups are often underfunded and because of other factors (such as the requirement to undertake research not directly related to the thesis), it is not uncommon for students to take longer. The average time to complete the doctorate is 4.3 years [2].


The main funding bodies are the Ministry of Science and Technology; the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport; the regional governments; and several universities and public research organizations. Other ministries and private foundations offer grants, too [3]. Potential students apply to grant-awarding bodies directly, although there are grants(particularly postdoctoral grants) held by individual research groups, to which students should then apply. There is a wide variation in the level of stipend, depending on which body a student is funded by, ranging from 80,000 to 160,000 pts (about 480 to 950 euros) per month.

Dropout Rates

In 1997, there were only 6120 new doctorates [4]. Recent studies estimate that in 1998 46% of students left doctoral grants [2], and in 2000 nearly 87% of Spanish doctoral students abandoned the programme [5] before finishing the PhD. Why are these numbers so high? It seems that many students pursue doctoral studies simply to extend their knowledge (but without of aiming to obtain a doctoral degree) and that a portion of students leave in order to take up jobs with better financial rewards.

[1] "Estadística Universitaria", VI Edición, Secretaría General del Consejo de Universidades, Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte. Febrero, 2001. (

[2] "La formación de investigadores en el Plan Nacional de I+D: Una aproximación evaluativa", M. T. González de la Fe, M. Pérez Yruela y M. Fernández Esquinas, Gestión y análisis de políticas públicas 5-6, Enero-Agosto 1998. (

[3], Information collected by the Spanish Young Researchers Federation (" Federación de Jóvenes Investigadores / Precarios" )

[4] "Towards a European Research Area. Science, Technology and Innovation. Key Figures 2000", European Comission. (

[5] "Informe Universidad 2000", J. M. Bricall. Edited by the CRUE (Spanish Vicechancellors Conference), Madrid, Mars 2000 (

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