Universities in the Canary Islands have learned the benefits of working together. Rebecca Warden reports
Six YEARS ago the two universities of the Canary Islands were not on speaking terms - one pretending the other did not exist.
Today they have learned to get along and even cooperate in certain areas. Both have recognised that good relations between neighbours are a must on islands hundreds of miles from the Spanish mainland.
The Canaries' 1.6 million people have traditionally been served by a single university founded in La Laguna on the island of Tenerife in 1792. The 1989 creation of a second university, based on an existing polytechnic on the island of Gran Canaria, was highly controversial and led to mass demonstrations for and against it on the two main islands.
For the people of Gran Canaria, the decision satisfied historic demands for higher education provision closer to home. But across the water on Tenerife, many saw the event as the dismemberment of La Laguna, which would waste resources and lead to a drop in academic standards.
Relations were strained for the first six years of Las Palmas's existence; La Laguna's then rector Mar!a Luisa Tejero refused to recognise the other university's existence. In 1995, the election of a new rector at La Laguna, Mat!as L"pez, signalled a change. "When I took over, I decided to adopt a different viewpoint, that regardless of my views at the time of creation, I was now dealing with a fait accompli," says Professor L"pez.
Relations between the two institutions have since entered a new phase of detente and cooperation. The universities are joint coordinators of ISA, a Unesco scheme for sharing expertise between island universities, and participate in joint research projects.
Although competitors - both offer qualifications in law, tourism and medicine - the two institutions maintain distinct profiles. While La Laguna has a reputation for pure scientific research, Las Palmas is true to its origins as a former polytechnic and concentrates on applied research and innovation.