Teresa García-Milà

Director of the Barcelona Graduate School of Economics

“It isn’t necessary for each new government to change the country’s education model. It isn’t productive for each government to understand the powers of the Autonomous Regions in a different way”

Should the various political parties stop trying so hard to leave their mark on the education system?

Yes, clearly. It isn’t necessary for each new government to change the country’s education model. The political parties should meet up, and plan and agree on an approach to education that will avoid the need to make changes to legislation concerning this sector. In Catalonia, a pretty broad pact has been reached and it has proven to be very useful. Such pacts should be implemented on all levels, since the basic structure of the education model is defined by central government. We need to create a strong, clearly defined framework setting out what corresponds to the central level and what is to be delegated to regional government. It isn’t productive for each government to change the law and understand the powers of the Autonomous Regions in a different way.

Do universities have sufficient autonomy?

Universities have a huge range of problems. One of them is organizational, since the university model imposes various restrictions concerning the hiring of staff, the selection of directors, and financing. These three aspects of the university system prevent it from being competitive. In order to achieve a decent level of competitiveness, we should seek mechanisms outside the standard model that will allow for complementary actions to be implemented. Some mechanisms have been set in motion in Catalonia, one of which is the Icrea model. The regional government employs this model to fund certain posts for very talented researchers, allowing them to choose a university or research center. They are selected based on their CVs and the program is designed to attract talent, mainly from outside Spain. The Imdea program run by the region of Madrid sought to attract and bring together very talented people, but since they were just a few, grouped together in one place, it didn’t work. The key is to send this talent, these few selected researchers, to existing universities or centers. The Basque country has done something similar with the Icrea model and it has worked very well.

How can bridges be built between research and innovation, between universities and enterprises?

Some researchers decide at some point in their career to become entrepreneurs, and they make the perfect bridge between the world of research and the world of business. This type of person is highly valuable and should be encouraged. Nevertheless, our model has such a closed structure that it represents a barrier to such movement. University professors and their research groups are, in the majority, endogamic. There are models for doing things differently. At the Barcelona GSE, for example, we have a rule that prevents us from hiring the doctors we are training during the first few years they are with us, since they first have to demonstrate that they have talent and potential. Enterprises and universities are starting to observe each other. It’s a big step. And it is possible because basic research is beginning to become more solid. Without cutting-edge basic research no transfer can take place. Our country needs to consolidate its research and assess it, and then we can talk about transfer and innovation. From there, it will be necessary to integrate research into enterprises. The researcher isn’t the person who innovates, but if you find someone who notices the potential for transfer in what they are researching, then that generates interest.