R&D: the future for ever more students
Training and development have always gone hand-in-hand, but more so in recent times. The exclusively theoretical conception of knowledge has given way to a practical, committed line of thought that seeks to become involved in society and to contribute to improving it.
Today the University is not a club of academics enclosed in a bubble. It is a dynamic entity that wants to play an active role in economic and social life, and the way it does so is to enhance the best of what it has, people, and to guide them to where they can get the best results, research and development.
This is one of the principles that the European Union’s Bologna Declaration of 1999 inspired in its conception. The plan, which forced an in-depth reformation of the Spanish university system, recognised the university’s role as an economic and social driving force and set the main objective of adapting higher education to the new social needs; and taking these Bologna principles as a base, the University’s role as a driving force of innovation has gained greater significance.
University and economy: the challenge of R&D
The universities are playing a fundamental role in the society of knowledge, which is marked by technological development. Spanish universities have become catalysts of innovation to such an extent that 30% of expenditure on R&D is connected to these institutions. Other significant data: 50% of R&D researchers come from university and 80% of the studies published in scientific journals originate in the same place.
These are data of the La Transferencia de I+D, la innovación y el emprendimiento en las universidades iberoamericanas [The Transfer of R&D, innovation and entrepreneuring in Ibero-American Universities] report published in 2015, which show the university’s importance in training and preparing new professionals for the technological sector.
The use of this research potential has transformed into collaboration agreements with companies, which are usually very good options for the students’ professional development. Last year (in 2017), in the Spanish economy as a whole, 13,260 million euros were spent on R&D, 88 million up on the previous year. The good news is that the private sector raised its investment in R&D by 3%.
Enterprising students, enterprising university
The work of the universities has given way to a new concept, that of the “enterprising university” which, in addition to working on research, is playing a role in driving new business initiatives. This new line of action answers a tangible reality: according to a study by the Santander International Entrepreneuring Centre and the Emprendia Network, 56% of Spanish students are interested in starting their own business.
To help these future entrepreneurs, Spanish universities and business associations have created special programmes. Each university has its own programme; for instance the Complutense University in Madrid has an office for entrepreneurs; the Rey Juan Carlos University also has an advisory programme and in the University of Granada there is the so-called Entrepreneur Route, which starts by developing an idea and ends by completing it and starting it up.
Regional and local development
The most innovative and developing communities always have a university behind them. This positive influence not only refers to starting up large R&D projects; the universities also have a direct impact at local and domestic level. Wherever they are established, they generate a positive human and economic movement that stands out for:
- Their influence on the local economy: the universities create jobs and produce capital circulation that reaches and benefits different sectors. Aside from the income from enrolments, student activity provides rentals and enhances leisure and restaurant businesses.
- Their influence on the social framework: the presence of a university brings changes in the social structure of the place where they are located. This is particularly seen in places where they bring in foreign students (Erasmus programmes). The presence of these youngsters and of all of the teachers has a dynamic effect and contributes to creating a modern and cosmopolitan atmosphere.
University and society: educating in values
Along with the activities of economic promotion related to the universities, the teaching centres also play an outstanding social role. By tradition, the faculties and University schools have been a germ of change and the trend remains the same. Today, one of the main elements of concern is the search for a sustainable economic model that works on the values of solidarity and wagers on the creation of a fairer and more equitable society.
Social cohesion and the development of a smart economy are the backbone to the Global Compact Sustainable Development made by the United Nations in 2015. The agreement aims to strengthen human, social and environmental rights and stresses the need to reinforce these concepts from the institutions, including University. In this sense, the centres of higher education once more become reference social instruments from whence to transmit values of respect and solidarity to the young.
One example of this commitment will is the CRUE Universidades Españolas, a non-profit association formed by 50 public universities and 26 private. The aim of the entity is to contribute to social progress by improving education and research.
Another body working along the same line is the Fundación CYD [Knowledge and Development Foundation], which seeks to drive the role of universities in the country’s social and economic development. The foundation gathers large economic groups and institutions and seeks to develop bonds between university and enterprise.
Clear signs of the service will of the universities are the volunteer programmes and their participation in supportive projects. According to the 5th Study on University Volunteering of the Mutua Madrileña Foundation, 72% of Spanish universities have students involved in supportive activities.
The large part of these actions occur in Spain, but there is also growing interest in international cooperation, mainly with Latin America.
The sector that awakens greatest interest among students is that of infancy, which is followed by groups at risk of social exclusion and the disabled.