The Best Data Science Masters (in Spain and online) to Consider this Summer

Maria Hernandez, Beatriz Alonso and Jairo Mejía

d&a blog

If you are an IT person you know that being updated is part of your daily work and that you have to be up to date with new technologies, lines of development or analytical techniques that are constantly emerging. Summer is coming and many of us are planning a training programme for the following academic year. The offer is very diverse, but not all of us are looking for the same thing and not all of the courses offer the same approach.

From my experience, as a Data Scientist for some years now, I often get the question: “I want to do a master’s degree in Big Data (or Data Science). Which one do you recommend?” and my answer is always the same: “It depends entirely on what are you are looking for”.

The first thing we need to think about is whether we want to focus on the technological or architectural side, what I consider to be “Big Data”, or whether we want to expand our knowledge on statistical modelling and data-based business problem solving, “Data Science” in the strict sense. We also need to consider whether we want to get a more applied approach, or practitioner, or acquire in-depth knowledge on how Machine Learning algorithms work, when do they converge and what are the conditions under which this could happen.

In this post we will try to answer this question from several point of view, based on my personal experience and that of other colleagues at BBVA Data & Analytics, in which we have participated either as students or as teachers. It is not intended to be an exhaustive list of master’s degrees, but the personal opinion of the authors, so it should be considered as such. We have also included some that we do not know firsthand, but for which we have good references. For reasons of geographical bias, they are mainly Madrid or Barcelona programs. We hope this is an added attractive to the study of Data Science in summer.

Case 1: I have been working as an IT specialist for a long time, and I want to start in the data world

In this case, we understand that you already know how to program, you also have some experience, and you want to direct your career towards Data Science. In this case, we assume that, for the moment, you are interested in knowing at a high level what it is, what approaches there are, what tools and some success stories. And you hope to learn the basics so that you can then work in this world.

Here we recommend some programs that give enough importance to contextualization, motivation, and tools, without going into too much technical detail, or mathematical concepts and tests. This is probably where there is probably the most offer of many and varied institutions. We propose a list of those we know first hand.

  • Online courses. MOOCs are, in this case, a good starting point. Coursera being the pioneering platform is the way to go. There are also others like Udemy, with an increasing number of followers. With an affordable cost, relatively short duration and great variety, they allow us to choose those aspects in which we would like to learn. There are specializations, such as Data Science of Coursera, that touch almost every area of a DS project. We recommend choosing those from prestigious universities, and reading the syllabus or index carefully before enrolling, to see if the content fits us.
  • Course in Big Analytics, of UC3M, Carlos III University of Madrid. With 120 hours, and about 6 months of duration, during the weekends (Thursday and Friday afternoons, and Saturday mornings), it includes a part of Big Data technologies, as well as programming languages for Data Science; all with a practical approach where professors with an academic profile, but with experience in the industry are in charge of teaching the curriculum. It is hoped that after finishing it you will have the necessary tools to become a Data Scientist. Our colleagues Amanda Garci and Rafael Hernández have been part of the teaching staff in its first edition and consider that the agenda is quite correct.
  • Course in Data Science KSchool. In its 11th edition, it has a very similar profile to the previous one, with 230 hours during 8 months during the weekend. It focuses on learning the tools and algorithms to begin to professionally dedicate ourselves to Data Analytics, with a practical approach, taught by professionals from the world of Big Data and Data Science. It includes a part about Big Data, but the bulk is Data Science. Some of our colleagues have also taught here in some of the past editions of this programme, and Israel Herráiz is the director of the master’s degree in particular. In general, the level of the students is quite good, and they end up quite happy.

Case 2: I would like to understand the theoretical fundamentals of Statistical Learning.

You may be finishing your degree and want to focus on the world of data; or you have already worked as a Data Scientist, but you think you lack some theoretical or mathematical background in many aspects and are attracted to go deeper. In this case, our experience is that you will only get this in official university programs. In them, the models are studied from a theoretical point of view, blackboard, paper and pen, and technologies are left in the background. In particular, we know the following:

  • Master on Artificial Intelligence, Universidad Politécnica of Madrid. It has both a part-time or full-time track. It is taught by top-notch professional of AI. It touches very innovative and advanced themes, including non conventional computation. Our colleague Roberto Maestre knows it and has a pretty good opinion about it.
  • Master’s Degree in Mathematical Engineering, UC3M. 2-year full-time master’s degree. It has a first part (a four-month period), and then you can choose the specialty in Statistics or in Mathematics. It is quite theoretical, and taught by reputable and highly experienced professors of this university. Amanda Garci has been a student, and considers that she has been very useful in knowing this mathematical part of the Machine Learning algorithms.
  • Inter-University Master’s Degree in Artificial Intelligence in Catalonia (UPC, URV, UB, UOC). One of the pioneering master’s degrees in this discipline in Spain. Axel Brando, an industrial doctorate student with us, studied here and tells us that the level is very high, where hard work is required but the results are totally what I expected. As a handicap, as it develops on several campuses in Catalonia, it requires complete dedication.
  • Master’s Degree in Research and Innovation in TiC, from the UAM, Universidad Autónoma of Madrid. With several itineraries, the Computational Intelligence branch is focused on understanding and developing intelligent software, including subjects such as Machine Learning, Information Retrieval and Bayesian Methods. As a student of this master’s degree, I can say that it is a purely theoretical program, where classification algorithms, clustering, SVMs, Recommendation Systems, among others, are seen in depth; and its operation is fully understood since they are programmed from scratch. It lasts one year, in the afternoon, but can be done part-time in two years, in order to combine it with the world of work, if desired. The professors are experienced teachers and top-level researchers, so it is a very positive point.

In addition, these programs enable students to study for a doctorate if they wish to continue their research careers.

  • Finally, and although it is not a master’s degree, we also want to include one of the first degrees in Data Science in Spain, at the UPC. With a lot of competence (there are places for 30 students), it is managed by highly recognized personnel in this field.

Case 3: I’m looking for something in the middle…

If you want to go out with tools that will enable you to work, but you are also interested in understanding the models and algorithms you are applying, there are also some programs that will give you both. While it is true that they are somewhat less common, we know the following:

  • Master’s Degree in Fundamentals of Data Science from the UB, University of Barcelona. As its name suggests, it tries to address the fundamentals of Data Science, but without losing sight of the practical approach. It lasts one year, in the afternoon, but the 60 ECTS can also be done in two years in part-time. The instructors are high level researchers and experienced teachers, so the quality of the subjects is high. Our colleague Jordi Aranda is finishing this year and recognizes that he has fulfilled the expectations of what he was looking for: to go deeper into the techniques studied, to understand the differences and similarities between different approaches, and at the same time to see everything applied with the technologies and libraries that are currently used. Our colleague Jordi Nin will also teach the Big Data module, reviewing the technologies that are most used and applying his knowledge of years of experience in the industry.
  • Master in Data Science and Big Data (Afi Escuela de Finanzas): One-year long master, 4th edition starting in September. This master is designed for those who want to know not only the theoretical basis of data science models but also to learn how to implement and use them. Although it includes a big data module, it’s focused on the fundamentals of data science so, upon graduation, students will have the tools for a Data Scientist job. The examples and homework used during the course are real world cases. In addition, the final module is given by real professionals of multiple sectors who share their insights and experiences (Elena Alfaro takes part in this module every year).  Good internship program. (Recommended by Juande, BBVA Data & Analytics Data Scientist).
  • Master in Data Science from the URJC, Universidad Rey Juan Carlos. The Master’s Degree in Data Science from the Rey Juan Carlos University (1 year long, 60 ECTS) provides a comprehensive training both in Big Data technologies and tools for statistical analysis. Thus, it integrates knowledge from two complementary data engineering (Spark, Hadoop, cloud architectures, data collection and storage) and complex datasets analysis (statistical models, data mining, machine learning, optimization and simulation, graph analysis, and visualization and communication). This way, the Master’s offers a training pathway that prepares the students to apply Data Science to multiple industrial, research and innovation areas. Our colleague Felipe Alonso, from BBVA, participates as machine learning lecturer in this program. Also, several data scientists at BBVA have attended this course.
  • Master in Big Data for Finance (CUNEF): This master is focused on mixed profiles and for those wanting to combine Data Science and Finance. It stresses the importance of applied cases, such as asset management, market research, or pricing. The master is one year long (60 ECTS) with an internship in a company at the end. BBVA Data & Analytics’ data scientist Alejandro Vidal teaches the development of data-products and data visualization techniques.

We hope that this post will be useful for anyone who wants to start or deepen their knowledge of the exciting world of the Data Scientist; if there are any that have been left out, and you want to comment or ask us, do not hesitate to contact us at or in our social networks.

*This list have been prepared taking in account our point of view and experiences. Thus, could have other great courses not reported in this article.