hat added value offers the last generation smartphone we carry in our pocket? Is it the unit price of its material components or is it the technological research behind the services of our phone provider? The world as a whole is now moving towards knowledge technology whereby the key to business progress and social prosperity lies increasingly on corporate R+D departments, college rooms and research centre labs.
Within this framework, Catalonia starts off from a privileged position on account of its current status as a benchmark knowledge hub in the south of Europe. The Catalan impact on dynamic economy connected to the rest of the world (1.6% of its GDP and 1.9% of EU exports with 1.5% of EU population) is accompanied by a system of excellence in terms of knowledge, on account of its 12 universities, 61 research centres, 22 science parks, 26,402 researchers and 46,000 people dedicated to R+D+I.
Top-notch universities and internationalized research centres have resulted in undisputed institutional success indicators and scientific production: with 0.1% of the worldwide population, Catalonia produces 1.3% of scientific papers, 39% of which of a Q1 top-rated scientific impact; three Catalan universities are internationally top-ranked among the 50 best worldwide universities of less than 50 years; Catalan research centres occupy leading worldwide positions in their respective fields, like CRG, ICIQ or ICFO; and they attract 2.7% from European funds within the framework of H2020 competitive programmes, to name just a few. This represents a fully-fledged Catalan knowledge model in line with EU proposals on open science, internationalized research and open innovation, with active participation of all the actors involved including businesses.
One of the most successful instruments that enable interaction between industry and academia lies on the Plan of Industrial Doctorates
In the words of the General Director of Research from the Generalitat, Joan Gómez Pallarès, “Catalonia is, undoubtedly, one of the main benchmark research centres in Europe; we have universities, excellent centres and researchers complying with international standards and endowed with a high capacity of attracting worldwide talent. But, as a country, we need to make a step forward to transfer this knowledge to society and the production network in order to render this quality research into cutting-edge businesses and quality employment”. The Catalan government is deploying knowledge- and technology-transfer policies based on training people who may contribute to boost knowledge, facilitate the irruption of knowledge on the market and legally promote the process of transfer of knowledge to businesses. A strategy based on smart specialization that reinforces networking between agents of the R+D+I system in those areas where Catalonia is most competitive.
One of the most successful instruments that enable interaction between industry and academia lies on the Plan of Industrial Doctorates, an initiative from the government to improve competitiveness of Catalan industry by providing a gateway for future doctors to be able to develop R+D+I project in a company. Industrial doctors build up bridges of knowledge transfer between the industrial framework of Catalonia and its universities and research centres. From the moment the 2013 programme became operational, there have been 437 doctorate projects in 269 businesses and institutions from all sectors, which have amounted to public-private investment of over 60 million euros.
Simultaneously, the Knowledge Industry Programme has proved its worth by favouring the development of new scientifically-based businesses (i.e. spin-offs) deriving from research carried out at universities and research centres. Within the research and innovation strategy of smart specialization of Catalonia (RIS3CAT), the plan leverages 30 million euros from financial and non-financial funds into nearly 300 research-based business projects by assisting them from their prototyping stage to their eventual launching into the market.
The Catalan government also promotes knowledge transfer by means of the Programa Operatiu FEDER de Catalunya 2014-2020, which determines the basic guidelines for programming and executing FEDER funds in Catalonia. This programme invests funds on cooperative projects for purchasing scientific equipment and assessing and transferring units’ projects from Catalan universities or research results transfer offices, from several calls for applications amounting to 132 million euros within different programmes and activities in this field.
NATIONAL PACT FOR THE KNOWLEDGE SOCIETY
The prospect of consolidating the transition of Catalonia towards a knowledge-based society involves establishing innovation as its main backbone, as spelled out in the National Pact of Knowledge Society (PNSC), the framework for designing future policies in the field of universities, research and innovation launched in this term of office by the Catalan government. This cross-cutting and consensus-based endeavour aims to integrate and give voice to each and every agent involved in generating, transmitting and applying knowledge, i.e. the higher education system, the research and innovation system and, obviously, social and business agents.
The underlying spirit of PNSC is certainly ambitious: thinking about the future of Catalonia. On this issue, there is room for improvement. Within a future tightly linked to innovation, it is necessary for R+D investment to increase progressively to accomplish the strategic target of investing as much as 3% of the country’s GDP. This will act as the decisive catalyst that will guarantee the integration of our country into the European elite of economic, cultural and social development. This ambitious goal involves virtually doubling current investment, a joint public and private effort that requires the involvement of businesses: while public investment needs to rise by 0.2% to be on a par with excellence standards from prosperous regions, businesses need to increase by as many as 1.2% percentage points. This means that the private sector needs to be encouraged on account of its twin role as an innovation receiver and supplier.