The latest report of the Catalan Association of Public Universities (ACUP, December 2012) “Research and Innovation Indicators of Catalan Public Universities” reveals the repercussion of the Catalan university system on the country’s society and economy and – despite having notably lower funding – puts it on a par with the systems of the most advanced countries of Europe.
The report points out that in the last decade the Catalan public university system has achieved sufficient “maturity and excellence” to obtain and generate knowledge in an “efficient and effective” manner. Therefore, at a time when some sections of the media appear to want to question the role of the public university as a creator of knowledge and guarantor of social welfare, it should be recalled that the university’s first commitment is that the education of its students and the research of its researchers should contribute decisively to improving the material wellbeing and to enriching the social and cultural fabric of the society to which we belong.
As universities we are training institutions in a fully inclusive sense: we provide scientific, humanistic and technical but also cultural and civic knowledge. As part of our teaching mission, in universities we also educate in values, trying to encourage the free participation of citizens, committed to the principles of democratic societies, and with a firm commitment to our country, language and culture.
At the same time, we perform our function as a social ladder, converting Catalonia into the OECD region with the highest proportion of university students who have improved their level of education in relation to that of their parents. The UPF has moreover done this while maintaining a fairly high level of entry into the labour market, above all if we take into account the high levels of unemployment among the young. According to the latest study published by AQU Catalonia, 87% of graduates are in employment and, according to a recent internal study, the figure for UPF PhDs would be 96%.
We do all this with a public subsidy which has been falling since 2010, with public expenditure on scholarships and aid considerably lower than the average of the OECD. In Catalonia, this lack of investment means that, until recently, 80% of young Catalans were pursuing their studies without any scholarship (and I say until recently because, faced with the economic scenarios on the horizon, I fear that this situation may worsen in the coming years).
Therefore, without wanting to conclude this article by setting out, once again, the economic situation being suffered by public universities, I believe that it is necessary to emphasise that it is essential for us to correct this situation, all together. This is because to the extent that, as universities, we are capable of continuing with our mission, not only will we train better professionals, therefore improving our economic system, but also we will train more capable citizens, with a greater capacity for deliberation, more committed to freedom and to equality for all.
In a system in crisis on all levels, the public university is not the problem; it forms part of the solution.
Rector of the Pompeu Fabra University