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The structure of the EHEA degrees

marzo 31, 2021

The European Higher Education Area (EHEA) groups university degrees in three cycles. These degrees follow the ECTS credit system (European Credit Transfer System) that guarantee the convergence of the different European higher education systems.

The incorporation of Spain into the EHEA led to the establishment of the Spanish Qualification Framework for Higher Education (MECES) with the aim of classifying, relating and comparing the different higher education degrees in the European context. The MECES is structured in four levels.

Likewise, the MECES has its equivalent in the European Qualification Framework (EQF), the common frame of reference that relates the qualification systems of the different European countries and serves as a conversion mechanism.

Structure of university education

Degree studies are general studies that accredit for access to the world of work exercising the different functions of the profession. In general, they last approximately 4 years with a total of 240 ECTS credits (60 credits per academic year) and are equivalent to level 2 of the MECES (EQF 6).

However, there are some exceptions in some degrees that have a duration of 5 and 6 years and correspond to level 3 of the MECES (EQF 7). For example, Medicine, Veterinary Medicine, Dentistry or Pharmacy.

The EHEA master’s studies provide a advanced training oriented to academic or professional specialization. To access an official master’s degree you must be in possession of a bachelor’s degree or equivalent, they have between 60 and 120 ECTS credits and a duration of between 1 and 2 years. This training corresponds to level 3 of the MECES (EQF 7). Passing these teachings will allow you to access the doctorate.

Unlike the old master’s degrees, these have for the first time an official regulation regarding the minimum and maximum number of credits and also the structuring of their contents.

The doctoral teachings aim to offer a specialized training in investigative techniques on a specific area that culminates with the presentation of an original research work, the doctoral thesis. To access a doctoral program it is necessary to have completed a official master. The duration of doctoral studies is between 3 and 5 years depending on whether it is carried out full or part time. The doctoral degree constitutes level 4 of the MECES (EQF 8).

There is the possibility of obtaining the mention of “European doctor”. To do this, it will be necessary to meet a series of requirements, such as, for example, having made a minimum stay of three months outside of Spain.

Equalization of university degrees

With the EHEA, undergraduate degrees put different university graduates at the same level. In some cases, one more year of training has been added compared to the old degrees, such as Diplomas and Technical Engineering, and in other cases there is a decrease of one year of training, as in the case of Engineering.

After completing certain university degrees, it will be necessary to master of specialization or qualifying master’s degree to complete the training and be able to practice as a professional. This happens mostly with the old Engineering, such as Engineering in Industrial Technologies, in which it will be necessary to take the Master in Industrial Engineering to practice as an industrial engineer. But it also happens in other careers such as Law, since in order to practice as a lawyer, you must complete the Master’s Degree in Law.

The following table indicates the equivalences of the university degrees according to the levels of the MECES and the EQF and the cycles of the EHEA.

University degrees MECES level EQF level EHEA cycle
University degree two 6 First cycle
University degree with 300 ECTS credits

Master’s degree



Second cycle

Doctorate 4 8 Third cycle

European Diploma Supplement (SET)

In order to make the official degree understandable and easily comparable abroad, universities can issue the European Diploma Supplement (SET), an official document valid throughout the national territory that accompanies the university degree. This document provides a description of the studies completed, the acquired skills and the degree level in the national higher education system.

It is an interesting document to request if you want go to work or continue studying abroad. To do this, they will probably ask you for more documentation.

The information that is included in the SET is:

  • Identifying data of the holder.
  • Information about the degree.
  • Information about the degree level.
  • Information on the contents and results obtained.
  • Information on the function of the degree.
  • Additional Information.
  • Certification of the supplement.
  • Information on the national higher education system.

This document can be requested once university studies are completed and is issued by the universities themselves, at least in Spanish and English.

The SET does not guarantee automatic recognition of the degree in other countries, but it does facilitate such recognition.

See more information about university studies and degrees, masters and doctorates.