The US State Department last year issued a note of caution about the University of Andorra, writes Alan Osborn. "The number of students makes it impossible for the university to develop a full academic programme, and it serves principally as a centre for virtual studies, connected to Spanish and French universities," it said.
But rector Daniel Bastida Obiols is convinced that strategic alliances with universities in its neighbouring states are a legitimate way of providing higher education to Andorrans without forcing them to leave the principality.
That a country as small as Andorra has its own university may come as a surprise. And it is certainly true that its education system is heavily in debt to Spain and France - the tiny principality's neighbours in the Pyrenees. But when the university is seen in the context of the Catalan-speaking regions as a whole, its existence makes a great deal more sense.
Andorra established the university in 1997. Along with 16 other universities in the Catalan-speaking regions of northern Spain and southern France, it is a member of the Joan Llu!s Vives Institute, created to bring about collaboration throughout the region in education and research. There is considerable co-operation between members to provide grants for summer courses, academic visits, joint seminars and courses and grants for doctorate students.
Professor Bastida Obiols said: "The university has to offer formal courses with emphasis on those we consider strategic.
"The objective is that living in Andorra should not restrain people from access to university education. Here it is promoted by the use of technologies applied to education; with online training and by developing agreements with other universities," he said.
It was also a goal of the university, he said, "to help and promote mobility of all the university community (which) will allow students to attend part of their studies in Andorra or abroad, and at the same time allowing students from other universities to complement their training in Andorra".
Most students are Andorran, but significant numbers come from Spain, Portugal and France. Most full-time professors are also Andorran. There are two graduate schools:the Nursing School and the School of Computer Science.
Professor Bastido Obiols said that 73 per cent of the university's finances came from the Andorran state, which guarantees the budget for official regular programmes. Under the principality's University Act, the university is required to be "an important actor in society". To this end, it organises regular lectures and other activities about subjects of general interest, he said.
"Universities are essential institutions in all developed societies," he observes. "Their functions as centres for higher education and for the creation of knowledge through scientific research are fundamental for social and economic development. The University of Andorra is one of the major forces in research in the country."
- Population: 76,875 (2004)
- Number of students enrolled at university: 718
- Percentage of students from Andorra: 60
- Percentage of Andorra's population attending university: 10