Ferrán Sancho

Rector of the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB)

“We are lacking a support structure to facilitate exchanges between the university world and the world of business”

Do Spanish universities lack autonomy?

According to the indicators created by the European University Association for all European universities, it is clear that Spain’s universities are bringing up the rear when it comes to true exercise of autonomy. The starting salary for a professor set to be employed on a permanent contract is around €30,000 to €32,000 per annum. With this salary you cannot attract anyone who is at the top of their speciality at the European level. Even less so at the global level. Ultimately, the iron law applied to the salaries offered becomes an iron law in terms of the talent that you are going to be able to attract.

Are the available resources used in an efficient way?

Yes. The volume of resources invested in Spain is very limited but the results obtained with them are at a pretty high standard. To give you an example, the investment made by the government of Catalonia in universities, a subsidy worth around €700 million per year, is the same as that invested in the University of Copenhagen. Only in Catalonia we have eight public universities and in Copenhagen there is just one. And there’s the big difference. Nevertheless, we regularly and consistently achieve good results in rankings. And when a Spanish student finishes their degree and they go to work in Germany, for whatever reason, they don’t have a problem. Spain’s university system has the capacity to produce good human resources.

Should the university system have more contact with enterprises in order to encourage innovation?

The Spanish industrial fabric is made up of small and medium-sized enterprises, and it would not be profitable for them to have an R&D department because it’s expensive. And there aren’t any large-scale programs to incentivize this kind of interaction: everything is left a bit to the mercy of whatever initiatives a particular university, research group, or enterprise might embark on. We are lacking a support structure to facilitate this kind of exchange between the university world and the world of business. There is one good idea, that of the industrial doctorate, although it might be a bit of a token concept. It has been running in Catalonia over the last three years. The idea is for a person who wants to gain a PhD to do it by linking the university with an enterprise. In exchange they receive a grant to do their doctorate at the enterprise. But first, the enterprise has to agree that the subject of their doctoral thesis will be of interest to the company. It’s a very good idea, but only about thirty of them happen each year, so it hasn’t had a big impact yet.

What can be done to ensure there is a long-term strategy in education?

All politicians need to get round the table and talk, come to an agreement, make some pact to ensure that within the next twenty years they’re not going to touch anything unless everyone agrees on reforming the system. This is quite difficult when education on all its levels—in particular, primary and secondary education—is used as an instrument of ideological intervention. No one is willing to give it up because the issue goes beyond human training in the sense of enriching their capacity to be useful to society.