30% of URV master's and doctoral students are foreigners
Sescelades Campus cafeteria. We hear a conversation in English and only we turn around to try to detect where the chatter is coming from; no one else seems to be curious. Although if you pay attention it is not strange to hear an exchange in Spanish or Catalan with an accent from some Latin American country. The scene makes sense when it is known that this year there are at least 1,965 foreign students at the Rovira i Virgili University. In fact, there could be more, taking into account that in the data handled by the institution a significant percentage of students, especially doctoral students, do not state their nationality.
In the last five academic years, the number of foreign students has maintained a slight but sustained growth that has barely been interrupted by the pandemic. The number and origin of the students, however, varies greatly depending on the studies they are studying. Where there is a greater concentration compared to the total is in master's degrees, where foreigners represent 30.4% and in doctorates, where they are 33.3% (this last figure is provisional taking into account that enrollment is still open).
These are data below the set of universities in Catalonia, where doctoral students from abroad are 38.3% but above the State, where they represent 27.5%. Catalonia is, in fact, the autonomous community with the most international students.
Proximity to Barcelona
Meritxell García, the university's marketing coordinator, acknowledges that being so close to Barcelona has both positive and negative aspects when it comes to attracting the interest of students from other countries. On the one hand, Barcelona has the attraction of living in an internationally known metropolis.
The URV has an international center where it attends to those who come to study in Tarragona
Other students, however, know Tarragona precisely because of its proximity to the capital of Catalonia. Here, in addition, the standard of living is cheaper and there are fewer accommodation difficulties.
The statistics also show a great variety of nationalities. Among doctoral students there are students enrolled from 89 countries, and among master's students, 67. Although there are especially striking cases, such as the fact that China is the country that leads the countries of origin among doctoral students. A good part of the explanation, García points out, has to do with the good relationship with the Asian country's universities whose students come to study Spanish.
In the case of doctorates, the choice of the university is related to the research projects carried out here and the available scholarships. This explains the interest of researchers from India or Pakistan to participate in engineering projects.
There is also a large presence, at all levels, of students from Latin America who choose Spain for the language and culture.
The university has an international center that deals with foreign students and guides them on specific aspects, such as how to process documents, how to request a health card, the money needed to live in the city or how to find a house.
Among the aspects that are making some master's students opt for Tarragona, García highlights blended studies. There are students, he explains, who because of their work cannot travel and leave their posts for nine months.
In these cases there is a virtual part and the face-to-face part is concentrated in three or four months, which also means less travel and subsistence expenses. It is an option that existed before the pandemic but after it has skyrocketed.
Less presence in grades
A separate case deserves the data of undergraduate students. In this course they represent 7.6% of the total and they are from 61 nationalities. The countries of origin with the most representation are, by far, Romania and Morocco. In this case, it must be clarified that it is not usually the case of students who choose Tarragona to come to the university, but who had already studied in Spain in previous educational stages.
The lowest proportion of foreign students occurs in the degrees, they are only 7.6%
García clarifies that just as specific actions are carried out to position the URV in web search engines and social networks to reach master's and doctoral students, in the case of undergraduate degrees the objective is those who already live here. In fact, it is difficult to homologate foreign Baccalaureate degrees and you also have to take the Selectividad.
The fact that among undergraduate students they are only 7.6% helps to verify how foreign students are dropping out as they go up steps in the educational system and how they have less access to the university. If the Tarragonès region is taken as an example in 2020 (last year available) foreign students in ESO represented 15.5% of the total, while in Baccalaureate the percentage already dropped to 10.5%.