The Daily Prosper
The enterprise-university relationship, key to research

University and enterprise: a key relationship for research through education

The first university in the world was created in 859 in Morocco; today there are more than 17,000 universities over the five continents. Throughout these centuries, these institutions have transmitted knowledge to society, thanks to which society and humanity have managed to evolve. Now the function of the University does not only lie in this work, research, but it also holds a privileged place. In fact, today 65% of the teaching time is put over to research, according to data from the journalist Sara Rivas.


The consequences of the economic recession have had a direct effect on the university system. Public expenditure in these years fell almost 8%, and 12,418 professionals were lost, or 10.16% of the total, according to the annual report on University R&D+i made by the Alianza 4U IUNE Observatory, a body formed by four Spanish universities (Autonomous University of Barcelona, Carlos III, Autonomous University of Madrid and Pompeu Fabra). Despite this, the number of scientific publications drawn up by Spanish centres has duplicated in the last 10 years.

This arduous work has also borne fruit and left Spain, with 11 centres, in fourth place in Europe in the number of institutions in the ranking of the 100 most innovative universities of Europe, drawn up by the science division of the Reuters agency, which based its work on data on research and patents. The University of Barcelona is the most outstanding of the Spanish universities and appears in 63rd place. This is followed by the Autonomous University of Barcelona (81), University of Valencia (82), Polytechnic University of Catalonia (84), the Polytechnic University of Valencia (85), the University of Santiago de Compostela (92), University of Seville (93), the Polytechnic University of Madrid (96), the Complutense University of Madrid (97), the University of Granada (99) and finally, the autonomous University of Madrid, in 100th place.

The keys to achieving a good position on this kind of ranking, according to Ernest Pons, the head of the cabinet of the board of deans of the University of Barcelona, in first place among the Spanish centres on the list, are diverse: the size, the age of the teaching staff and the conception of research and innovation of the university. “Being a large university facilitates the creation of large, powerful and multidisciplinary groups, as well as helping us to be selected in a larger number of public research tenders. Furthermore, the age of our teaching staff is around 58, and although this might cause problems in other areas, it is an advantage in research. Finally, our DNA includes the conception that innovation and research are fundamental at University, which is undoubtedly another of the basic reasons that has lifted us to this position”, says Pons.

The first three universities on the ranking agree on what is primordial in research, which is the relationship with the companies, as they believe that this is the way to bring this work to what society needs. However, the three agree that although a large part of their efforts are currently focused on tightening the bonds with the entrepreneurial framework, there is still a long way to go.

Spain stands out amongst the European countries as one of the regions with least private investment in R&D+i. In this sense, Pons asks for more commitment. “With the exception of the agreements with Banco Santander through Santander Universidades, which benefits almost all Spanish universities, there is not much more in this area. Companies should become more involved because it is the only way to reach the places where public subsidies do not go”.

The sign that the relationships between enterprise and university work is to be found in the centre. Boston University is very powerful in the field of biotechnology and health research is a consequence directly proportional to the large presence of companies of these sectors in Catalonia, and specifically in Barcelona. “The intervention of the companies is of vital importance. The demands of society come through them, and with the collaboration we create incubators of start-ups to give solutions to real problems. The companies represent the bridge between society and university”, Pons explains.

"Banco Santander is classified as the company that most invests in education in the world, according to a Varkey report"

Investment in education

Banco Santander believes that the key to contributing to a future of progress, one that is fairer and more equitative, with greater opportunities for everyone, and to achieve better prepared and more competitive companies in ever more globalised surroundings that are more digital and absolutely changing is to support education with everything that this involves: training, innovation, digital transformation, research, internationalisation, entrepreneuring and employability.

The number of agreements the financial group maintains with universities and research centres is now more than a thousand. In the last year alone, it worked with 21 countries, devoting 157 million to different initiatives and as a result, more than 36,600 people benefited from its programmes, which covered from access to quality and international training, to how to find the different resources to develop a business idea, passing through the performance of professional practice in companies, the holding of innovation awards with prizes to help to implement or drive the projects, and access to ever more digitalised environments with services adapted to their needs.

As a result of this close relationship, Banco Santander is classified as the company that most invests in education in the world, according to a Varkey report with the support of the UNESCO. The entity believes that collaboration between enterprise and university is fundamental along the path of research and innovation. “In this relationship we both benefit. Banco Santander develops projects with universities to meet the needs of our businesses, but as part of our social commitment we also support the strengthening of the research function of the university, because we are convinced of the benefit that this produces in territories and communities”, says Javier Roglá, Global Director of Santander Universidades y Universia, of the Banco Santander.

“Research would not make sense if it did not seek an answer to society’s problems"

Research communities

“For our research work to make sense, it must be direct, and this is not possible if work is not done with companies. Companies are our connection with society, and we therefore have to cultivate and promote collaborations between enterprise and university”, firmly states Francisco Javier Lafuente, Vice Dean of Innovation and strategic project of Barcelona Autonomous University, the centre in second place on the Reuters ranking in Spain.

To try to tighten and promote these relationships, the centre for seven years has worked with institutes and companies through research communities in the area of smart cities, cultural heritage and mental health. “These communities allow us to place society at the centre of the research”, Lafuente explains. The initiative has been so well welcomed that next year a new one focused on healthy eating will be started up.

The University is also currently working on the Asociación B-30, a hub whose name comes from the freeway going around Barcelona, an area of great industrial power, which seeks to form a kind of unique window where companies can go with any need for innovation that might occur. “Research would not make sense if it did not seek an answer to society’s problems, and a way to do this is to help companies solve their daily problems”, Lafuente maintains.