In addition to teaching and research, one of the university’s missions is contractual collaboration with agents in society and the production sector. Although we already have various years’ experience in this area (the first regulation that addressed it was Article 11 of theÂ University Reform Act [LRU] of 1983, and a network of Technological Innovation Centres was launched by the Government of Catalonia in 1999), university lecturers, researchers, research groups and centres that have embarked on this path have the feeling that the situation is highly inconsistent. On the one hand, political and academic authorities and social and business managers are very positive about this collaboration and demand it; on the other hand the framework of university laws, regulations and administrative procedures hamper its development and form a barrier that is hard to overcome.
So how can we encourage this increasingly recognized, essential university activity?
Firstly, we must define it appropriately. From a distance, the general view is that universities generate knowledge and then simply transfer it. However, those who are involved in the academic world on a daily basis know that the most fruitful relationship between the university, society and production is collaboration based on a contract in which each party makes a relevant contribution. Social agents and companies help perceive needs and the market, and adapt costs and deadlines; universities help to promote new solutions through an in-depth examination of the principles of the sciences and a rigorous search for new knowledge. Efforts to establish a common language and forms of cooperation between these two approaches tend to create strong synergies.
This collaboration is very beneficial to universities: it helps to reveal their social function, forces members to maintain a sense of reality (and modesty), and provides elements that contribute to the two other traditional missions of universities: enhancing teaching to meet present and future social and economic needs, and improving research to strengthen society and production.
So how can we progress? We must recognize this new function of universities in their legislative and administrative structure. Currently, the Catalan Universities Act (LUC, 2003), the Spanish Universities Act (LOU, 2007) and most universities’ statutes address contractual collaboration between universities, society and companies in a marginal, subordinate way. One way to address this issue is therefore to gradually modify administrative procedures and laws (starting with university statutes themselves) through a calm, productive debate to recognize, promote and effectively implement this new role of the university in an organized way.
In this process, numerous issues must be resolved and regulated, including statutes, the dedication of researchers who promote collaborations, ways of hiring staff, the careers of those associated with research groups, suitable economic and administrative management procedures, forms of evaluation that take into account specific aspects of this new function such as economic viability and the social impact of projects and confidentiality, as well as how to make the new function compatible with teaching and research (in order to promote synergies). Other important factors are criteria regarding the financial costs of collaborations to promote returns for universities, cooperation between interdisciplinary university groups on complex projects, and the avoidance of bad practices among people or groups in the university’s exterior relations.
This is the process that should be implemented to recognize and boost the collaboration between universities, society and business, in order to reinforce the social role of the university.
Dr Carles Riba, Director of CDEI UPC, member of the UPC Technology Center,written with 19 directors of UPC centers
Published in La Vanguardia on 13/09/2015