The Universidad Pontificia de Salamanca redefines its research and innovation areas and equipment
José Pichel Andrés/DICYT The Universidad Pontificia de Salamanca (UPSA) aims to give a new boost to research and innovation as it has identified five areas with special potential and 10 research teams have shown their quality after a rigorous evaluation. From this starting point the academic institution will endeavour to improve both the transfer of the knowledge generated to society and the specialised teaching available at the three formative levels.
“Research and innovation have been a basic tenet in all university policies”, DiCYT was told by Antonio Sánchez Cabaco, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research, Innovation, and New Technologies of the UPSA in reference to the period of over three years that the vice-chancellor's team has been in office. It had a double objective; on the one hand it aimed to determine “the strategic lines in which the university could be competitive”; and on the other “to develop the muscle with which to implement this strategy, i.e. research groups”.
The five research areas are Computer Science, Education Sciences, Philology and Philosophy, Social Science, and Psychology, for which a new catalogue of research teams has been drawn up. The 14 initial teams were reduced to 10 after a two-year evaluation that will be held annually from now on. “We want to see their results and their strengths and find out how to address their weaknesses, in addition to giving them more management capacity, because they can be multi-disciplinary teams and count on researchers from outside the university to seek greater competitiveness”, Sánchez Cabaco points out.
The idea is for the teaching and research staff to undertake the three missions of the university: teaching, research, and transfer and management, which overlap considerably. “Teaching will be more valuable if the lecturer not only transmits knowledge but also produces it”, the deputy vice-chancellor points out, which “maintains the vitality of PhD programmes”. Moreover, the 2014-2020 Regional Research and Innovation Strategy for Smart Specialisation (RIS3) of Castilla y León particularly stresses transfers, but “it is not possible to carry out transfers without research with the potential that the teams contribute as an institutional representation”.
The new structure does not close the door to more teams, to the expanding of existing ones, or to individual research, but “as an institution our strengths must lie in the areas that we have identified with productivity based on evidence”, the deputy vice-chancellor maintains.
Encouraging, stabilising, and visualising research
In order to consolidate this initiative, between 2013 and 2015 the Programme for Encouraging, Stabilising, and Visualising Research and Innovation at the UPSA has been implemented.
Firstly, the encouraging of research has concentrated on capturing resources in competitive calls, on strengthening research with internal funds, and on supporting the lecturers in tasks such as the presentation of papers in congresses.
Secondly, stabilisation has been undertaken by means of the evaluation of almost all the teaching and research staff so as to establish six categories that now offer “a precise X-ray of the university that will materialise in an academic development plan”.
Finally, visualisation takes the form of specific actions such as the recent publication of the research groups and their activities on the institution's website, where projects, doctoral theses, and training capacity can be found. In this way “we seek to make the teams more attractive and to increase the possibilities of establishing partnerships with companies and institutions in order to carry out projects”.
The new initiative of the University Innovation Club
In this aspect of the transfer of knowledge the University Innovation Club (Club Universitario de Innovación, CUI) has been particularly outstanding in recent years. This association represents an original idea of the UPSA that consists of involving students in research projects and has been exported to other universities. Initially it was limited to computing, but in its second stage it has extended to other fields of knowledge, which has generated numerous multi-disciplinary projects.
The CUI is currently in its third phase which is that of making the projects more accessible to the market. “This is important as a source of ideas but we must take things further; we must continue to take steps towards a more competitive University innovation Club that looks to an alliance with companies”, Sánchez Cabaco points out. This also fits in with the philosophy of the European financing programme for the 2020 Horizon research, which is going “from the idea to the market”. All action is carried out in collaboration with the Salamanca School General Foundation of the UPSA, which allows a relationship with various offers of patronage.
Innovation is reflected in new products and in new markets but moreover the concept of creating value may be diverse. “It is said that there can be no innovation if there is no VAT in the most literal economic sense, but if we are creative we can also speak of social VAT, i.e. our association with companies, institutions, and NGOs is not only at the service of economic profitability”. Among the examples that unite all these ideas, several CUI projects follow this philosophy. Their development includes collaboration with a company, aiming to improve the product that the company has previously designed and with the objective of putting a technological package on the market so as to attend other calls.
The University Innovation Club has become a powerful tool to project the UPSA, which is why it is being promoted on national and international forums, the deputy vice-chancellor explains. “We are beginning to seek alliances to make the CUI an international body; if we manage to attract financing the teams could be made up of students from various European and Latin American universities”, he comments.
In general terms, although the recent years of the economic crisis have been a challenge for university administration, Sánchez Cabaco is optimistic about the future of research. “I am convinced that it is not merely a case of resources but rather of our strategy and intelligence when offering a quality product to differentiate us from the keys that give us our identity”, he affirms.