Spain's smart strategy

On 3 June, member universities of the Catalan Association of Public Universities (ACUP) gathered in Barcelona to discuss the role of universities in regional smart specialisation strategies in Europe.

Universities play an increasingly important role in the economic, social, technological and cultural development of regions, while the EU’s new Cohesion Policy framework puts specialisation strategies (RIS3) at the core of regional development.

In this context, universities and regions have a unique opportunity to form partnerships with the business sector, to maximize the use of Structural and European Investment Funds (ESIF) and to contribute to regional development.

The main objective of the Barcelona meeting was to analyse the role of universities in the RIS3 implementation and to know first-hand cases of European regions in which the participation of universities is a key success factor in regional development.

Claudi Alsina, secretary general of the Inter-University Council of Catalonia, said “Our universities are the main innovative agent of the system and so it is crucial to empower them.” However, regional governments have not yet fully understood the importance of universities for their territories said John Goddard, emeritus professor of Regional Development Studies at Newcastle University.

Goddard also emphasised the importance of “uniting companies, universities, governments and civil society in a single strategy”.  One might thing this cross-sectorial collaboration is unlikely as some universities are locked in an ivory tower and refuse to collaborate with industry.

However, José Carlos Gómez Sal, Rector of the Universidad de Cantabria, says this is not true. “[Universities] keep an eye on companies and society” he said. In general, “the Spanish universities are anxious to see the regional government’s proposals on RIS3,” Gómez Sal added. 

“The Catalan government should seek the involvement of Catalan universities to establish the RIS3 strategy,” said Francesc Xavier Grau, academic director of the Global University Network for Innovation (GUNi).

Besides their newfound eagerness to collaborate with industry, universities can persuade civil society to engage more in social innovation processes, said Marcelino Cabrera, technical project manager of the Smart Specialisation Platform, at European Commission’s Joint Research Centre.

Universities have “a unique position to involve civil society in the RIS3 and it is a prominent actor of social innovation," said Cabrera. 

The meeting was organised by the Knowledge, Territory and Innovation Platform (CTI), a strategic project aimed at strengthening the economic and social development of Catalonia, and followed the high level conference organised by the Smart Specialisation Platform (S3P) and the European University Association (EUA), in June 2014 in Brussels.

The CTI Platform is supported by the member universities of ACUP, Foment del Treball Nacional and Petita i Mitjana y Empresa de Catalunya (PIMEC), Obra Social “la Caixa”, the Catalan Government and a group of Catalan institutions and companies based in Catalonia.

This article was first published by Science Business, republished with permission.

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