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Spanish companies do not get on with the university: they invest 10% less in R&D contracts than in 2009

El Centro Jerónimo de Ayanz de la Universidad Pública de Navarra, sede de empresas tecnológicas.
The Jerónimo de Ayanz Center of the Public University of Navarra, headquarters of technology companies. UPNA

All experts agree that if Spain does not want to be a country that lives only from the sun and the beach, but to have a knowledge-based economy needs to fit the world of business with that of the university. But in Spain, although the figure has risen modestly from 2016, companies still invest a 10% less in campus R&D contracts than a decade earlier: 646 million euros in 2009, versus the 581 million of 2019, according to the latest data collected by the report The contribution of Spanish universities to development , from the Knowledge and Development Foundation (CYD) presented this Wednesday. The study is based on a survey by the National Institute of Statistics (INE) and the Main Science and Technology Indicators 2019 / 2, published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)

The effort of Spanish companies in R&D (0.7% in relation to GDP) is half that in the Union European (1, 39%), very far from that of the OECD (1, 76%) and light years from Israel (4, 39%), South Korea (3, 73%) or Sweden (2, 44% ). In addition, investment in science by companies has had the same behavior as that of administrations and universities. He lived his best in 2009, suffered a big cut until 2016 and now spending is growing very slowly. Other relevant information: the 18, 1% of researchers worked in companies in 2009 and a decade later they represent just a 15,4%. The most extreme case is that of South Korea, where only 9.6% of researchers are in university.

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The main problem is that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are the 99, 83% of the business fabric in Spain and they have very modest means. The large ones, on the other hand, do open research chairs in public and private universities. That is why the rectors of the four polytechnics (Catalonia, Madrid, Valencia and Cartagena) unsuccessfully proposed in March to the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism to channel the Next Generation research funds of the European Union themselves. The objective was “to create a network of laboratories, teams, professionals, students and R + D + i departments that connect the university with SMEs,” explained then the rectors in EL PAÍS.

Francesc Solé Parellada, vice president of the CYD Foundation, is optimistic: “The capacity for universities to serve society in a porous way is new, as it is our scientific system. If we solve some obstacles, the Spanish university is ready to take the leap and help SMEs ”. Parellada believes that the agreements have to be long-term and that universities have to have people who manage transversality: “If the company asks for something that needs to combine three research groups and the one who receives you does not dominate it, because the project is not successful now. ”

The Public University of Navarra is one of the campuses that contributes the most to the wealth of their region, according to the CYD Foundation. It is a highly industrialized community, which facilitates collaboration, but Patxi Arregui, its vice-rector for Research, believes that his contribution is also due to the fact that “one of the objectives of the university’s strategic plan is a commitment to the environment.” Arregui believes: “We must break a glass ceiling, because our job is not to collaborate with a multinational with a self-sufficient innovation department, but to help SMEs that do not have the means and the knowledge of everything.” To facilitate connection, the UPNA has grouped its researchers into seven institutes organized by theme “to establish synergies and give more visibility”, and each of them has a business unit, “a single window”. In this way, contracts have grown not only with technology-based companies but also with social ones. “What we see is that whoever tries, repeats.”

Equipo del investigador Miguel Holgado en el laboratorio de la Universidad Politécnica de Madrid.
Researcher Miguel Holgado’s team in the laboratory of the Polytechnic University of Madrid.

The strategic plan of the Government of Navarra has also marked UPNA the interests of the region. Looking at the numbers, Arregui was surprised. The 26% of the financing of the entity comes from companies and another 26% of competitive public calls attended by the private sector. But the vice-rector believes that it is necessary to take a step forward and compete more for European funds. “If you only think about the needs of companies, in the long run you burn out. We have to learn things from Europe and that will revert to Navarra ”. The problem is that, on average, Spanish universities get community resources for one of each 03 projects that present “and it is very easy for researchers to accommodate the calls for here they already know. ”

Publications without practical application

Spain is the eleventh in the world in scientific production and the twentieth in patents. That is to say, the enormous production of articles is not reflected later in innovations in the companies. The proof is that, according to the report, the universities only raised 4.1 million euros in this way in 2019. For this reason, the Ministry of Universities has created a salary supplement that rewards the transfer of knowledge, not only in patents, but in services to the community.

At the head of patents is the Polytechnic of Madrid (UPM), which in the last decade has had an average from 37 year. His worst data, 14 patents in 2017, coincided with the investment hack of all sectors. Its vice-rector for Research, Asunción Gómez, clarifies that not only is knowledge transmitted through patents, but also by openly sharing their discoveries. Traditionally, the UPM, says Gómez, sold the entire patent to a company, reached licensing agreements or set up its own technology company, but for four years it has also offered companies priced services in its infrastructures. For example, state-of-the-art greenhouses for plant biotechnology.

In addition, the UPM is now beginning to implement ― all the legislation is up to date – the joint investigation units. Alliances so that university researchers and companies coexist to go together in the search for regional, national and international sources of funding. “Sometimes very expensive infrastructures of two or three million euros are needed and both complement each other”, continues the vice-rector. Gómez is clear that it is necessary to have a solid marketing network to exploit patents and he needs more support from the institutions. The UPM has two or three officials for its patent protection unit and the same for its commercialization unit. An insufficient figure to compete in the global market.

Martí Parellada, coordinator of the CYD report, sees a promising future: “Large companies are promoting entrepreneurship in spin-off and startups. Agreements with other institutions to make progress in specific research aspects. And now what the university has to do is create the conditions. ”

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