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The Director General for Universities brings the International Seminar on Industrial Doctorates to a close

On Tuesday, 23 September, the International Seminar on Industrial Doctorates was held in the Catalan Art Nouveau building of Hospital de Sant Pau, in Barcelona. The event, promoted by the Catalan Association of Public Universities (ACUP) of the Ministry of Economy and Knowledge, attracted around 100 attendees. The Catalan Government’s Director General for Universities, Lluís Jofre, also attended and took part.

The event provided a platform to debate the current status of this initiative in Catalonia and present initial experiences from the point of view of the universities, business and government. At the same time, thanks to the participation of experts in the field of industrial doctorates from other European countries, the seminar was an opportunity to learn about other similar initiatives.

The event was opened by Ferran Sancho, Secretary of the ACUP, who noted that industrial doctorates are a key element in improving relations between universities and the business world, enabling businesspeople to obtain PhDs and PhD students to become businesspeople. Next, Josep M. Vilalta, Executive Secretary of the ACUP, explained the objectives of the seminar: to learn about other similar experiences in Europe and the development of the Plan so far in Catalonia.

Lídia Borrell, Director of Research and Innovation at the European University Association (EUA) in Belgium, started her talk by congratulating the Catalan universities for their involvement at the European level. She then explained how the structures of doctorate programmes with companies throughout Europe had been studied and what their strengths and weaknesses were. Finally, she rounded off by saying that, ‘these programmes do not just benefit the company, but also the university and, in the end, society as a whole’.

Clarisse Angelier, Director of Conventions Industrielles de Formation par la Recherche (CIFRE) of the Association Nationale de la Recherche et de la Technologie (ANRT) in France, explained their country’s lengthy experience in the field of industrial doctorates, which began in 1981, and the different variants that have been developed over this time, such as a specific defence programme and a collaboration programme with Brazil. According to Angelier, 75% of industrial doctorands find work in less than three months and 25% end up working in academia; hence, as she explained, studying an industrial doctorate is no handicap to becoming a university teacher, as one might initially think.

Palle Høy Jakobsen, director of R&D Academic Relations at the Danish company Novo Nordisk, ended the first debate, explaining that companies who take on industrial doctorates register more patents, obtain a higher gross profit and contract more workers that those that do not take part. He also added that 50% of doctoral students who take part in projects at their company end up working there. Finally, he reviewed his company’s participation in collaboration projects with universities and research centres worldwide.

In the second debate, based on the experience of the industrial doctorates in Catalonia, Antonio Huerta, Academic Director of the Industrial Doctorates Plan of the Government of Catalonia, gave a brief introduction on the research and innovation situation in Catalonia. According to Huerta, ‘2,000 students take doctorate courses a year, but only 15% work in companies, and of these, only 25% do research’. Antonio Huerta added that ‘we have a business fabric that works and a strong research sector, but we still need to strengthen the transfer of knowledge from universities to this business fabric, and this is precisely the goal for which the Industrial Doctorates Plan was created’. Finally, after analysing the various opportunities and challenges, he noted that despite the current economic crisis and the short time the project has been running, ‘we are pioneers in Spain and have the political commitment to ensure continuity of the Plan’.

The second speaker was Enric Isidre Canela Campos, director of the University of Barcelona Doctorate School, who highlighted the need for the programme to have continuity and also underlined that although experience so far is limited, its conception is adequate and positive.

Next, Esther Martínez, thesis director of the industrial doctorates programme at the University of Girona, stated that, ‘there is little tradition in companies of incorporating doctorates in the field of social sciences’. According to Esther Martínez, a match has to be found between the rhythm of business, which requires short-term results, and the preparation of a doctoral thesis. Despite this, she confirmed, they are resolving this satisfactorily. 

The next speaker was Ramón López, Coordinator of the Agbar Group doctorates programme, who stated that, ‘companies need to change their mentality; they have to understand that these are not only workers joining them, but students as well’. He then listed the reasons for his interest in the Industrial Doctorates Plan, highlighting the fact that they allow them to get closer to universities, understand how they work and reinforce this relationship. He also explained that, in his opinion, it is very important for future students to make a serious commitment to research. Finally, he stressed that the experience had been extremely positive for his business group. 

The second and last debate was closed by Anna Cuscó, a doctorand at the Agbar Group and the Autonomous University of Barcelona, who explained her experience as an industrial doctorate student. According to Cuscó, the programme’s main advantage is its dual nature, enabling students to obtain a PhD while gaining experience in the private sector. Among the positive elements, she also highlighted business-oriented training and the mobility bank, which provide the opportunity to attend national and international congresses. She also stressed the fact that if the research line is consolidated, it could represent a work opportunity in the same company. With respect to more problematic elements, she pointed out the 3-year limit, the need for a high degree of coordination between the university and the company, and the fact that, in some cases, publishing articles can prove more complicated. Despite this, she added, in her case these aspects were well handled thanks to the work of everyone involved.

Finally, the event was closed by the Director General for Universities, Lluís Jofre, who stressed that ‘the industrial doctorates are part of one of the government’s most important goals, which is the transfer of knowledge from the academic world to business’. After ensuring its future continuity, thanks to the complete unanimity of the parliamentary groups on the subject, he added that, ‘it is now no longer a government programme, but a programme for everyone’.

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