On the new government, universities and research

This weekend I read Andreu Mas-Colell twice. First, I started reading his book Turbulències i tribulacions on the years of austerity, a copy he was kind enough to give me on the day of its presentation. In the prologue I read how Mas-Colell justified the Catalan Minister for Economy’s choice of senior officials on the basis of professional and political trust during the 2011-2015 term of office. I must admit I fully agree.

I then read an article in the newspaper Ara by Mas-Colell titled “Restitution”. Here he defends restoring the Catalan Government dissolved by Clause 155 in the new Catalan Government currently being formed, but he goes off script by regretting there is no Ministry of Universities and Research in the new organisation chart, remarking how Spain has done well in establishing the new Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities. He adds that there is still time to demand a Commission for Universities and Research. He also says that people who did well in the last government in putting up with Clause 155 should remain in place.

I was thinking about this… and some of the arguments seem contradictory to me. It is true that many of us would like to see a Ministry of Universities and Research, otherwise termed “Knowledge”. But I believe we have this in the new Catalan Government. In the same way as we were pioneers in Catalonia by creating the Ministry of Universities, Research and the Information Society (DURSI), which also included the Information Society, we now have Busines and Knowledge! I believe is very much in line with the idea of the knowledge economy that many of us want to see as the backbone of Catalonia, based on high-tech industry and high labour productivity. So I have the feeling that we are heading in the right direction. And this ministry, I think, is in no way inferior to the new government structure in Spain headed by a media-friendly astronaut, who is also an engineer, but who does not have a CV of a career in science.

In Catalonia, the Catalan Government has already appointed Minister Àngels Chacón to lead and organise Business and Knowledge. As Mas-Colell states, she must be able to decide who she trusts politically and professionally to lead the Catalan Government’s actions, regardless of whether this is through a directorate general, a secretariat or a commission (possibly the most important thing will be the people rather than the structures). I believe this is the criterion to follow, rather than possible continuity or otherwise in certain positions of responsibility, although it is worth saying that the two are not incompatible. Thus, those who have done good work, but who have also been politically loyal and consistent, would be eligible.

Whatever the case, we will have to facilitate the work of the new minister to ensure her full involvement in our sector, so we can do what for many years we have never been able to: effectively combine knowledge, innovation and business. And we must let her decide on the organisation chart and programme, based on her own good judgement, without pressure or third-party interests. Everyone realises that the country is staking much of its prestige and future success on these decisions. Perhaps the most important thing is to be very clear about the need to avoid making decisions based on conflicts of interest at the expense of the quality of professionals.

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Lluís Rovira

Biòleg. Doctor per la Universitat de Barcelona (1998) i Màster MDAE de l’IBEI (2015). Director de la I-CERCA des de 2011. — Biologist. PhD from the University of Barcelona (1998) and MDAE Master from the IBEI (2015). Director of Institució CERCA since 2011.

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