From the beach to the classroom

With the summer over, the country returns to school to study degrees, business, languages or professional training

High on many agendas will be an English course

In a country like Catalonia, in which everything traditionally closes down for summer, September begins with a ‘new year’ feel. With the holidays over and the weather beginning to change, the return to routine leaves many determined to get life back on track. It might be losing weight or getting fit, giving up smoking or eating better, but if September is about one thing it is education. While tens of thousands of young people begin another academic year in schools and universities all over the country, autumn is also the biggest time of the year for business schools, language schools, professional training centres and nurseries. Whether it is toddlers taking their first steps on the educational ladder, business people improving their market worth, or retirees indulging a lifelong desire to learn a foreign language, it seems as if no one in Catalonia is immune to the bug of improving oneself now that the lazy days of summer have come to an end.

Back to school

On September 12, and in some cases September 14, more than 150,000 children in Catalonia will start in the 4,000 public and private schools around the country. Apart from the Christmas and New Year holiday (December 23 to January 7), they will spend almost 10 months in class until the summer holidays begin on June 22, 2018.

Yet this year, schools reopen on a high. Results for the end-of-year exams in English, taken by all level six primary school pupils and fourth year ESO pupils, were unexpectedly high. According to Catalan government statistics, the average score for English was 79.9%, which the authorities attributed to improved teaching methods, a focus on communicative skills and social recognition of the language’s importance. Also breaking the 70% barrier were maths, Catalan and Spanish.


Meanwhile, tens of thousands of young people will begin or continue degree courses in September. Catalonia’s seven public and four private universities, as well as the UOC open university, will in September welcome more than 200,000 students between them (more than 150,000 public, over 20,000 private and 34,000 plus for the UOC). First among them will be the capital’s two main higher education institutions, Barcelona University (UB) and the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB), which together account for almost 80,000 students.

The subjects for September most in-demand in Catalan universities are the Physics and Mathematics double degree at the UAB, followed by Business Administration and Management at the UB. The Psychology degree offered by Barcelona University comes next among the most popular courses, followed by Medicine in Pompeu Fabra. A new subject that sneaked into the top 10 most popular courses this year is International Studies of Business and Economy, at UPF, which is taught entirely in English.

Big on business

If there is one thing Catalonia is known for, it is its prestigious business schools. The acronyms for the names of the schools come thick and fast: ESERP, ESADE, EADA, EAE, ESEC, ISM, ESIC, ESCI, ESEI, INSA, IESE...

As the business ecosystem in Barcelona in particular grows, so does the prestige of the local business schools. Every year, Catalonia’s main business schools are near the top of global rankings. In 2017, for example, the ranking of MBAs compiled by the Financial Times put IESE (10th) and ESADE (17th) among the top 100 business schools in the world. Meanwhile, The Economist magazine’s ranking placed ESADE in 10th position and EADA 20th among its top 40 business schools, and the Latin American business publication, América Economía, placed ESIC 18th in its top 20 list.

“This training not only allows our students with opportunities in foreign countries, but also attracts students from other countries,” said ESIC head, Eduardo Gómez, who could have been speaking for any of Catalonia’s business schools.

Speaking in tongues

Whether it is in one of Catalonia’s 46 Official Language Schools (EOI in Catalan), in one of the eight university language services, or in one of the thousands of private language schools in towns and cities all over the country, high on many people’s agenda will be a language course, especially English.

The importance of English is not in doubt and many areas of the modern life require a knowledge of English, from technology and travel, to the Internet and business. A recent study of European countries by Cambridge University Press found that 80% of people in Spain considered a good level of English to be a must when looking for work and business competitiveness. Yet, Spain has a middling record when it comes to the rankings of the population’s level of English compared with other European countries. Out of 26 European countries, Spain comes in at 19th. Nevertheless, along with Madrid, Catalonia is the part of the Spain with the highest levels of English, with some 27% of people claiming to have a high or very high level of English.

It is not for a want of trying. While over 60% of people in Catalonia say they studied English at school, another 18% have done courses in private English schools and over 11% have studied the language abroad. Yet, with well over 30% of young people between 18 and 25 now claiming to have a good level of English and record results in the subject in the end-of-year exams in public schools this year, we can hope and expect that, albeit slowly, the general level of English in the country is going up.

Learning a trade

Professional training (known as FP in Catalan) provides school-leavers with an alternative to studying at university by providing practical training and work experience in a profession, skill or trade, from cookery to building, or from nursing to audiovisual production, and just about everything in between. In the 2015/16 academic year, more than 116,000 young people did an FP course in Catalonia. With a recent study finding that 15% of young people in Spain neither work or study, boosting FP training is seen as essential to reducing the high levels of unemployment among young adults. However, the FP system has been dogged by funding problems, with only this summer the heads of FP centres, backed by trades unions, publically calling on the Catalan government to provide the full level of agreed financial support, with staff levels in particular seen as “insufficient” for the coming academic year.

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