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Science in Barcelona: by people and for people

Science in Barcelona: by people and for people

Jordi Alba

Academic Project Manager Officer at Universitat Internacional de Catalunya (UIC)

Angela Wang

Lawyer (cross-border M&A and PE) at Cuatrecasas

The university and research ecosystem in Barcelona: high quality facilities, people and stories that reveal the importance of investing in science education.


Thanks to the major influx of funds into research in Catalonia since 2000, the university and research system in Catalonia now has 12 universities (7 public, 4 non-profit, and 1 online); 39 research centers linked to the Generalitat de Catalunya through the Institució CERCA (and more to come); 20 national research centers linked to the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC); 2 large infrastructures (the ALBA Synchrotron and the Barcelona Supercomputing Center BSC-CNS); and 1750 research groups recognized by the Generalitat de Catalunya in all fields of knowledge involving more than 30,000 researchers. The public system as a whole represents an investment of 0.59% of GDP.

But to quantify the research system as a whole the private sector must also be taken into account: with 8,600 pioneering companies, 300 spin-offs, and more than 45,000 people (1.5% of the employed population) working in the field of R&D&I, it ensures that the city is well-positioned globally. The private sector accounts for an investment of 0.94% of GDP.

The public and private R&D investment system as a whole thus represents 1.52% of GDP, still well short of the European target of 3%, the objective of the main countries in our European environment and world leaders like United States, China, Japan and Germany.

However, the overall figures only hint at the major economic impact of science research. According to a recent study on the public R&D&I system, for every €100 in public investment there is a return of more than €1,000 in different areas (economic activity, salaries, and taxes, etc.), while for every €100,000 invested, 5 jobs are generated.


A major center for science and research

The Greater Barcelona metropolitan area is home to a large number of science and educational facilities in Catalonia, making the city one of the main research hubs in southern Europe.

Although Barcelona is blessed with a privileged location (with excellent sea, air and land links) and an enviable quality of life, it could not be maintained as a science hub if it were not also for the effervescent research ecosystem (with top quality centers and a wide range of projects) that attracts researchers to the city.

However, what can the city do to maintain, or even improve, its current situation?


Future challenges

Those in the scientific community all agree that education, science and innovation need to be seen as a strategic, medium-term national policy that is divorced from short-term electoral processes and the whims of those in power. There must be a genuine national agreement to provide the university and research system with sufficient human and economic resources to help solve the challenges that society is due to face in the coming years.

This strategic policy should address a range of issues. These include the funding of the system, which is currently insufficient; academic career paths—particularly the temporary nature of contracts, a system that generates considerable uncertainty amongst research staff; the funding of projects throughout their entire life cycle; the attraction and retention of talent; and the streamlining of access to the system.

In short, a strategic policy is needed that gives the same importance to science and innovation as occurs in other European countries, as there is no doubt about the tangible and intangible benefits for society in the medium term.


From research lab to everyday life

One last aspect, the impact of science on our daily lives, needs to be highlighted. Two projects being run in the city deserve a special mention:

- After more than 20 years of research with her pioneering team, Dr. Laura Soucek, researcher at the Vall d'Hebron Institute of Oncology (VHIO) and founder and CEO of Peptomyc, will begin clinical trials of a drug that inhibits the MYC protein, a key gene in the development of cancer.

- Together with his research team, Dr. Felipe García, a physician at the Hospital Clinic and researcher at IDIBAPS, is carrying out a study on a new vaccine against COVID-19 which will benefit from rapid development and low manufacturing cost.

These are just two examples of how science can make a major impact on all our daily lives, regardless of where we might be, since science can and should be for all.


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