Barcelona, a global hub for higher education
published on 17.03.21
Barcelona Global and the consultancy firm SIRIS Academic have published the report “El reto de posicionar Barcelona como destino de estudiantes internacionales universitarios y de postgrado” (The challenge of positioning Barcelona as a destination for international undergraduate and postgraduate students), to turn Barcelona into a global hub for higher education. The document analyses the opportunities and challenges that the city faces and makes suggestions for improving Barcelona’s university system.
Towards further internationalization
By 2030, some 10.2 million students are expected to move from one country to another to obtain a university degree. The report highlights the growing importance of education among citizens’ priorities, as well as the increase in international mobility. Although Barcelona has schools that are highly ranked in international rankings and universities of international prestige in terms of research, it is not taking advantage of the opportunities offered by the education market. Spain is at the bottom of the list of European countries, far behind France and the United Kingdom.
Denmark and the Netherlands, two examples to follow
Several cities have managed to position themselves as higher education hubs following many strategies, for example, Singapore, Shanghai, Amsterdam, or Copenhagen. These cities have joined traditional higher education hubs such as London, Boston, or San Francisco.
Using Denmark and the Netherlands as examples, the report outlines how they have become hubs. They have achieved this through long-term strategies, transforming education and research policies. “A legal and incentive framework that promotes autonomy, institutional transformation (including mergers), flexibility and competitiveness of universities, coupled with high rates of public investment in higher education and low tuition fees for international students”. Thus, public investment in education and tuition fees are key to the growth of the sector. Even so, the report emphasizes that this investment pays off in the end, as international students have a huge impact on the economy of the country and city that hosts them.
Barcelona: Limitations and opportunities
As for Barcelona, they explain that in the private and public-private spheres, especially in business and design schools, there are very high rates of internationalization. Higher education in Barcelona has several limitations, for example, the absence of long-term policies, a university system with very little real autonomy, a lack of flexibility to establish new universities and programs, limited public sector capacity to invest in higher education, and an immigration policy that makes it difficult to obtain visas.
Even so, the city has many positive factors. International students find it very attractive; in fact, it is ranked 21st in the QS Best Student Cities and seventh in Europe. It stands out in fields such as biomedicine, physics, business schools, and economics. The report talks about the loss of prominence of the United States and the United Kingdom, due to political uncertainty, visa problems, and high tuition fees. It explains that the hubs of Northern Europe and Asia have been able to take advantage of this gap in the market and that Barcelona should wake up if it wants to position itself as a destination.
Following the model of Denmark and the Netherlands, they propose reforms in two areas to achieve a favorable regulatory framework. First, reforming the university system, giving universities more autonomy and space to define their strategies. Secondly, to reduce limitations on the free entry of international students, both in terms of access to university and in terms of migration policies.
Proposals of Barcelona Global
In addition to these regulatory changes, the report sets out a series of proposals for positioning the city of Barcelona:
- Attract a global university campus.
- Create a Liberal Arts College.
- Promote world-class professional education.
- Create institutionalized research collaborations between top research centers and international leaders.
- Explore the possibility of creating a campus for the Universities Europe initiative.
What is Barcelona Global?
Barcelona Global is a private association made up of 211 of the city’s leading companies, research centers, entrepreneurs, business schools, universities, and more than 800 professionals. The purpose of all of them is “to work to make Barcelona one of the best cities in the world for talent and economic activity”. Barcelona Global is responsible for developing strategic proposals for the future, as well as promoting specific projects for the city to grow as a center for global talent.
International students at TBS Barcelona
As the report indicates, Barcelona stands out for its business schools, which achieve very high rates of international students. TBS Barcelona is a good example of a business school that is highly multi-cultural. 70% of the students on campus are neither French nor Spanish.