Source: Pompeu Fabra University
By Katie Duncan
Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona leads the pack of Spanish universities in the 100 Under 50 Rankings 2015. Its Rector, Jaume Casals, says the university’s youth has allowed for a “flexibility and dynamism” which has helped propel it to 12th place in the world. Underpinning this is a “research-intensive focus”, which Casals says has prevailed since the university was founded in 1990.
The European Research Council, which has a budget of over €13 billion for the next five years, must also have reason to believe some of the best researchers are at Pompeu Fabra. In 2014, the institution accumulated 46 ERC grants, or 16 per cent of the total grants obtained in Spain — more than any other Spanish university.
“We have the highest research productivity in Spain and the most grants from the European Research Council,” says Casals. “That's quite remarkable because we have existed for only 24 years and we’re one of the smallest universities in Spain.”
Pompeu Fabra also secured over €75 million of research funding from the European Commission for its Seventh Framework Programme from 2007-2013, equating to 10 per cent of all funding provided to Spanish institutions.
Around 20 per cent of Pompeu Fabra’s funds come from research and help support its core areas of strength: Social Sciences and Humanities, Health and Life Sciences and Communication and ICT. More recently, Casals notes that “cross-cutting” and collaboration across these specialist fields has had real benefits — for each field, and the university has a whole.
The small size of the university is another advantage, according to Casals, who believes that a streamlined approach to governance cuts down on time spent on administration. “Being small allows for a flat management structure,” he says. “We have a simple organisation and we are working to simplify it even more.”
But being small is not preventing Pompeu Fabra from performing on the global stage and increasing its visibility. In November 2014 the institution unveiled the UPF Research Park at its Ciutadella campus, allowing knowledge transfer between internationally renowned joint centres and university research groups in a single space. At its launch, Barcelona’s Mayor Xavier Trias said he was convinced the building would become a benchmark for the country.
Casals now wants Pompeu Fabra to become “the university of reference in Barcelona.” “I believe the city of Barcelona has potential to become a higher education hub and we want to become a strategic partner,” he enthuses.
Capitalising on Barcelona’s alluring appeal, Pompeu Fabra has teamed up with the University of Barcelona, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona and Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya to create a programme that allows nine leading US universities to send students to the city. What is known as the Consortium for Advanced Studies facilitates student exchange, volunteer and internship opportunities and also allows doctorate degree holders from the Barcelonan universities to complete their research in top US universities such as Brown and Stanford.
In early 2011, Pompeu Fabra made steps towards fusing academia and entrepreneurism in the city, by joining the business incubator programme. The UPF Business Shuttle Incubation Spaces aims to promote the establishment of a business incubator among universities, vocational schools, venture capital firms, and other organisations.
The university also participates in the Barcelona Biomedical Research Park, one of the largest biomedical centres in the south of the continent.
At national level, the government has supported the university’s alliance with three other leading Spanish universities to form the Alliance of 4 Universities (A4U). As well as research collaboration, the alliance promotes the international mobility of students, researchers and academics. Looking to extend its wider European presence, Pompeu Fabra joined Europaeum in 2012 – an association that promotes academic links and research collaboration -- allowing it to profit from partnerships with nine leading European universities including the University of Oxford.
This combination of local strength with a global outlook serves the university well. Almost a quarter of its faculty, over a third of its master’s students and more than half of its doctoral students are international. Two new undergraduate programmes, Bioinformatics and Global Studies, specifically aimed at international students, are just some examples of Pompeu Fabra becoming increasingly outward looking while remaining inwardly nimble.
Casals believes that a combination of more overseas students and international faculty and partnerships, combined with “moderate” expansion and an increased focus on the quality of its research capacities will keep Pompeu Fabra well on its course for remaining Spain’s leading young university.
Pompeu Fabra will host the 2016 Times Higher Education Young University Summit, and the launch of the THE 100 Under 50 rankings, in Barcelona, 6-7 April 2016. For enquiries, please email THEsummitseries@tesglobal.com