Spain's digital divide

November 19, 2004

A Spanish rector has criticised the digital divide between Spanish universities as a university in Barcelona was named host to Europe's most powerful computer.

The supercomputer, to be known as Mare Nostrum, is being installed at the Technical University of Catalonia (UPC) and will be the world's fourth most powerful computer.

Josep Ferrer, UPC's rector, said: "This really puts us on the world map for supercomputing."

The facility will be operational by the beginning of 2005. The cost of building the machine, about €70 million (£50 million), will be shared between IBM and the Spanish Government.

But while the arrival of Mare Nostrum will help Spain make its mark in the elite field of supercomputing, on a more mundane level the situation is less idyllic.

Senen Barro, rector of Santiago de Compostela University and head of the Spanish Rectors' Information Technology Working Group, warned: "At some institutions there are an average of 2.68 students per computer, while others of a similar size have more than 20."

Presenting a study on the state of IT in Spanish higher education at a recent conference on new technologies in Valencia, Professor Barro said that less than 15 per cent of universities had a long-term strategy on how to integrate new technology.

He said: "Universities should allocate at least 5 per cent of their resources to this, with the lion's share going to staffing levels and training lecturers."

Mare Nostrum will occupy a space half the size of a basketball court and will be capable of 40 billion operations a second. The facility will be open to scientists from the rest of Spain and further afield. It will prove useful in fields such as biomedicine, aeronautics, meteorology and nanotechnology.

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