“Multidisciplinarity is the differential value of knowledge transfer at the UPC”
“We can offer new formulas for the relationship between university and society and between universities and companies.”
“The government cannot overlook universities, their capacity for knowledge transfer, and particularly the UPC which is a great technology centre itself”
Jordi Berenguer is vice-rector for Knowledge Transfer and Innovation at the UPC, an area that has become particularly relevant during the health emergency caused by COVID-19, when all efforts seem insufficient to fight against the disease. Society is looking to the UPC for the technology, solutions and knowledge transfer that arises in the university.
“Indeed… despite the fact that we do not offer courses in biosciences or health sciences, as soon as the pandemic broke out many of our research groups began to study how their experience and technological knowledge could be applied to areas associated with healthcare aspects of the pandemic. These include 3D printing and its use in the design of ventilator parts, the actual design of ventilators, criteria to apply to the selection of fabrics for manufacturing masks and personal protection equipment, and the application of mathematical models to control and monitor the disease. In other cases, the university has explored the possibility that, depending on research area, some groups open channels of collaboration relating to health authorities’ needs. Finally, specific proposals have been presented to calls, such as that opened urgently by the Carlos III Health Institute,” explained the vice-rector of the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya · BarcelonaTech (UPC), Jordi Berenguer, in a context in which it is particularly important to correctly coordinate the instruments to orchestrate knowledge transfer.
“In this area, there is an online platform that has just been created by the CIT UPC Technology Centre to connect the needs of companies and institutions with the university, also in the framework of action against COVID-19, and the UPC has announced a call to implement cooperation projects that fight on the ground against the pandemic”.
More than ever, Jordi Berenguer defines himself as someone who is convinced of the university’s responsibility for transferring research results to society. “I believe that we can offer a lot, starting with the professionals with leading technological knowledge who we train and who are incorporated into the social and business fabric of the country. Also because we can offer new formulas for the relationship between university and society and between universities and companies, in a win-win situation that enables companies, above all, to become more competitive.”
“Innovation hubs are instruments created for this purpose. They are the evolution of company chairs. They are designed to be flexible, dynamic instruments that can meet companies’ needs but inevitably involve talent attraction and often work through the application of open innovation; a concept that is increasingly well-established in business culture. Based on each company’s innovation strategy, a relationship is built that tends to last three years and has an impact on the company’s specific problem. The university provides knowledge, multidisciplinarity, technology solutions and talent. Through this process, a relationship of trust is formed, not only with the most suitable research groups, but also with our entire innovation ecosystem that includes students’ projects, companies that are incubated in our spaces of the Parc UPC and spin-offs and start-ups generated in our UPC environment.” Damm or Siemens are just some of the companies that have committed to creating a hub with these characteristics at the UPC.
Transfer and multidisciplinarity
Proactiveness in the area of knowledge transfer is one of the positive aspects of the UPC, explained Jordi Berenguer, but the greatest value is multidisciplinarity, drawing on many areas of knowledge. “We have moved from a university that is defined by its vertical knowledge and transfer projects focused on one area, to the promotion of large, cross-cutting, horizontal knowledge projects, which involve many interdisciplinary groups. For example, an urban development project can no longer be understood without considering energy aspects, logistics, mobility and telecommunication infrastructure.”
The vice-rector also believes it is vital to show companies that UPC researchers are working on two paths. One is related to research, “a highly structured process that requires time and maturation, which is carried out in the long-term and is not improvised.” The other is the path of transfer, “which responds to other characteristics and should be a flexible tool that must adapt to demand and is based on the application of results from research carried out to resolve the proposed problem.”
The vice-rector reflected on how the university fits into the current structure of transfer in Catalonia: “the Catalan Government made a commitment to integrate technology centres into one body. However, it must not overlook universities and their knowledge transfer capacity. In particular, it should not overlook the UPC, which is a large technological centre itself.” In this context, the vice-rector wishes to establish clear collaboration with EURECAT, in cooperation and on equal terms. “And that is what we’re doing now”, he acknowledged.
“The challenge within the university is clearly to respond rapidly to companies,” he stated. “Another factor are budget limitations, funding and the uncertain economic situation that will emerge after the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said. He added that the complementary challenge for the UPC is now to gain the ability to transfer knowledge in a great international partnership. “An example in this area will be the project UNITE! Through the UPC, companies can access a pan-European network where the capacities of member universities will be put together in one map, and I think this could be a very interesting opportunity for our university”.
Jordi Berenguer believes that we should continue to fight against the age-old mistrust between companies and universities, by gaining more credibility. “The UPC offers technological knowledge, of course, but also technological neutrality that is very valuable in the business world. We propose technology without prior judgements, with total transparency,” he concluded.