SPAIN: Universities race for excellence

Fifteen public and three private universities have made it through the first round of the race to become Spain's super campuses of the future. This is the first result of a government competition called Campus of International Excellence, which was launched last July and aims to inspire universities to improve quality through the promise of extra funding and a new brand of excellence.

The project, the brainchild of the Spanish ministries of education and science and innovation, hopes to turn a select group of institutions into centres of excellence by 2015, with the ultimate aim of boosting Spain's showing among the world's top 100 universities.

"This is not a league table of universities but of projects," Màrius Rubiralta, Secretary General of Universities, told the Spanish daily El País. "It is based on four big domains; teaching, research, innovation and integration with the surrounding area."

Winning projects include Cantabria University's joint proposal with Menéndez Pelayo to channel the region's resources into building a 'knowledge region', Cordoba University's drive to create a campus of excellence in agro-industries involving four other Andalusian universities, Valencia University's plan to involve all faculties in a project entitled health and sustainability, and the Autonomous University of Barcelona's aim to integrate the 23 research centres which share its Bellaterra campus on the outskirts of the city.

Projects from Madrid and Barcelona have taken the lion's share of places, accounting for four and three of the short-listed projects respectively.

Barcelona University, the only one to present two projects, has seen plans for a Knowledge Portal at its Diagonal campus among the first 15. The project includes rationalising and upgrading university services and facilities in a new landmark building, new accommodation and a drive to open up the institution's services to the community, including new museums on geology, biology and the Middle Ages.

"This is the way to give new momentum to our aim to make the university more responsive to society and more geared to practical applications," says Joaquin Gutiérrez, project co-ordinator at Barcelona University. "The lack of cooperation between universities, society and business has been a chronic problem of the Spanish model. This contest aims to improve technology transfer and bring more people to our university and to our research groups."

Universities now have until November to develop their projects further and on 30 November the names of the final winners will be announced.

The public universities selected will share total funding of just under EUR200 million (US$291 million) until 2011. This will be made up of a mix of EUR50 million in grants from central government and soft loans of around EUR150 million from regional governments. Private universities are eligible to compete, but can only qualify for the campus of excellence brand, not the funding.

A further 13 projects were singled out for special mention and will receive EUR50,000 funding each to prepare for next year's competition.

Participation in the contest has been high - 43 public and eight private universities from a total of 77 took part. While the competition aims to promote strategic alliances between universities and with other organisations, with the exception of Cantabria, Cordoba and two Madrid universities, most opted to compete alone. The government's response has been to recommend that two projects from major universities in Catalonia and Valencia which were not selected should be integrated into projects of neighbouring institutions who were.

Universities selected in the first round: Autonomous University of Barcelona, Autonomous University of Madrid, Barcelona University, Carlos III University of Madrid, Complutense University of Madrid, Cordoba University, Deusto University, Granada University, Navarra University, Oviedo University, Ramon Llull University, Rovira i Virgili University of Tarragona, Santiago de Compostela University, Seville University, Technical University of Madrid and Valencia University.