SPAIN: Universities relocated to new innovation ministry

Universities are to be star performers in Spain's brand new Ministry of Science and Innovation. Responsibility for higher education was moved from the old-style Education Ministry to the new ministry when Spanish premier José Luis Zapatero unveiled his new cabinet last week. The socialist government hopes that putting universities and industry under the same roof will add dynamism and a sharper technological edge to the Spanish economy which has traditionally relied on sectors such as tourism and, more recently, a booming property market to fuel growth.

Cristina Garmendia, a relatively unknown scientist and entrepreneur born in Spain's Basque country, will head the new ministry. A biologist by training, Garmendia taught genetics in Madrid before founding the Genetrix group in 2001. Genetrix specialises in seeking practical applications for advances in biotechnology and stem cell research. Described by colleagues as creative, ambitious and enterprising, the government hopes Garmendia will help bring about a closer synergy between Spanish universities and research centres and the private sector.

Although some Spanish scientists have been making a name for themselves in recent years, the impact on society in terms of practical applications still lags behind. Many analysts point to the lack of involvement of the private sector in research as one of the main barriers to progress. Currently the vast majority of research in Spain is still carried out in the public sector and universities account for 60% of this.

Last week, during her first public appearance since her appointment, Garmendia pledged that her ministry would become "one of the motors of the [Spanish] economy". Her first move was to appoint Marius Rubiralta, rector of the University of Barcelona, as Secretary of State for universities.