September 26, 2020

the controversial and little exploited path that Minister Castells points to


Welcome all the extra money used to finance universities, also if it comes from private companies, as long as it does not compromise the autonomy of academic institutions. This financing route, outlined in recent days by the Minister of Universities, Manuel Castells, has been flying over campuses for years. The rectors see it favorably, but it has never been developed, caught between the misgivings it arouses in a part of the teaching staff and students and the little R&D culture of the Spanish business fabric.

Manuel Castells, the most unpredictable minister facing the most difficult university course

Manuel Castells, the most unpredictable minister facing the most difficult university course

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“One of the great problems of the Spanish university is that companies do not help to finance it,” Castells lamented in an interview in Raw Meat. Before him, ministers of other political colors such as Pedro Duque or Íñigo Méndez de Vigo defended increasing private contributions, through patronage, without finishing specifying any model. Donations exist, often in the form of sponsorships and research support agreements, but they rarely reach 1% of university budgets.

Castells, who defends the United States university system as the most advanced in the world, has put the example of the University of California Berkeley on more than one occasion, where he taught from 1979 to 2003. You don’t have to go to the big houses private companies such as Harvard or Stanford, which raise more than 1,000 million dollars a year in donations: that Californian public university obtained a total of 634 million dollars in 2019 with contributions from private parties, something similar to the entire budget of the Complutense University of Madrid.

North American campuses, especially private ones, devote enormous resources to the call fundraising, fundraising. In the case of Berkeley, 60% come from companies and foundations, but up to 25% are from alumni, among whom this tradition exists, especially in the most prestigious campuses.

In Spain, universities have been exploring this path for years, but far from those figures. “Patronage in Spain is not a frequent practice neither in individuals nor in institutions, so this funding is still residual”, sums up Julio Abalde, rector of the University of Coruña and head of the management sector of the Conference of Rectors of the Spanish Universities (CRUE).

A review of article 47 of the budgets of large universities, such as the Polytechnic of Catalonia (UPC), the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB) and the Autonomous University of Madrid (UAM), allows us to observe how transfers from private companies represent between 1 and 2 million euros, below 1%. In the first, of the two million, 1.8 corresponds to Banco Santander and business chairs. At the UAB, its manager, Jaume Tintoré, also acknowledges that a large part of the 1.3 million they collect corresponds to the financial institution.

Santander is one of the great donors to universities not only in Spain, but in dozens of countries. The Complutense, one of the companies that collectively receives the most donations (5.5 million of this item, about 1%), has an agreement with Patricia Botín’s entity of four and a half million euros per year for scholarships and the sponsorship of summer school, mainly.

Maintain autonomy and public funding

In his statements on the route of private funds, Castells has put two red lines: do not compromise the independence of academic institutions and do not move the university system away from mostly public funding.

These are the same conditions established by unions and students when it comes to compromising with the minister. “We are not opposed, but we understand that there must be sufficient public funding, and not the policy of cuts in recent years,” says Encina González, CCOO Secretary General for Universities. They are expressed along the same lines from the Council of Student Representatives of Public Universities (CREUP). According to a report from the Observatory of the University System (OSU), public funding for campuses plummeted 27% between 2008 and 2015.

At that time of crisis, in fact, the hole in income was compensated with a greater contribution from students (the ‘tax’ of Minister José Ignacio Wert), but not with contributions from companies. “Nobody counted on company funds to be able to compensate for it. The economic and business fabric of this country is clearly more deficient in innovation than that of other countries, we are focused on the tertiary sector”, assesses Vera Sacristán, professor of Applied Mathematics at the UPC and a member of the USO.

Regarding the ability to interfere in the autonomy of the campuses, this already generates more debate. “The question is to what extent absolute independence is feasible here. Companies must be accountable to shareholders and demonstrate benefits from their investments, whether direct or indirect,” says Sacristán. Juan Hernández, an expert in university financing and manager of the University of Jaén for 15 years, expresses himself in a similar line: “The normal thing is that in collaboration agreements an endowment and a purpose are established, it is not that the university can use the money for whatever you want. ”

An example of this are business chairs, research units within universities that are the result of collaboration with firms that contribute money in exchange for promoting research in a specific field. Companies do not usually decide who investigates exactly what, but they do propose the generic theme and even participate in the election of their director (in the case of the UPV, for example).

“The activities that are developed may benefit the company because it has an interest in this area, but the regulations depend on the university. We stipulate what the role of this chair is,” argues Juan Salvador Pérez Villanueva, head of Patronage and Sponsorship of the Jaume I University (UJI), the public one that raises the most funds in percentage of all Spain (2.5 out of 90 million budget).

Pérez Villanueva defends that companies benefit to the extent that more knowledge and better professionals in their field are generated. Also, as in any sponsorship, they have a return in terms of their image, since the name of the company is linked to the studies. At the UJI, they range from the BP Chair of Industrial Environment (with the oil company BP Oil Spain) to the Vilarreal FC Chair of Sports, through the GMI Dental Science Chair or the Medtronic Chair of Training and Surgical Research.

Tintoré, manager of the UAB, also defends that company chairs do not imply interference and that they are complementary activities that, due to their reduced economic weight, do not compromise the autonomy of the university.

The supporters of making these contributions grow, however, regret not only the little business tradition, but the even fewer facilities that the Administration provides for private individuals to make their donations. In more evident are the tax deductions, which in Spain are around 30%, below other European countries.

More internships in private companies

The election of Castells by the ‘comuns’ of Ada Colau aroused much praise due to her recognized academic career around the world and for her support in Spain for social movements such as 15M, but some sectors of the left also viewed with suspicion a new minister who identifies with the American higher education model, with a lower percentage of civil servants, greater competition between campuses and less participation of the student body in the election of the governing bodies of the universities.

Among its measures, students and professors have celebrated the extension of scholarships and the reduction of fees, two of their great historical demands since the cuts of the PP, but at the other extreme, the unions came upon them with a draft of real decree of ordination of the official teachings of the university system, which opened the door to a model of a dual degree and master’s degree model – similar to that of FP – according to which students could obtain the degree with up to 50% of practices in the private sector. After the teachers’ complaints, the project was put away in a drawer and there it remains.

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