Mar. 16, 2020

Joan Elias I. García


Joan Elias I. García

Rector, University of Barcelona (UB)

Despite limited funding, UB has become one of the leading educational institutions in Spain and Latin America because of its commitment to quality research.


Joan Elias I. García has been Rector of UB since 2016. He is also a professor of mathematics at UB. He has also been editor in chief of the Royal Mathematical Society and member of the publications committee of the European Mathematical Society. In the field of management, he has been dean of the faculty of mathematics and computer science, vice-rector of UB, and general secretary of the University Council of Catalonia.

UB is an emblem of education in the region and ranks highly in the Academic Ranking of World Universities, QS World University Rankings, and Best Global Universities, among others. Can you tell us about the university's origins and evolution?

UB is one of the leading educational institutions in Spain and Latin America. This is a result of the university's strength as an institution and its research capabilities. Of all the scientific publications by Spanish researchers, 11.3% correspond to UB authors and 32.3% to all Catalonian authors. Our position is especially strong in the fields of life sciences, biomedicine, neurosciences, and natural sciences, as well as in scientific areas of humanities such as philosophy, archaeology, and social sciences. The university's commitment to society is not strictly limited to academic training for professionals and experts; our strategic goal has always been to become a research-intensive university. We are one of the pioneers in southern Europe when it comes to evaluating research in all our centers, departments, and units, and introducing systems of indicators and international models that have an impact on management and decision-making. Apart from the general research evaluating processes in Spain, we have our own evaluation system that follows international standards. The synergy between the quality of our researchers and our research policy has always been the differentiating factor. The university is committed to the valuation of its teaching and research staff and the recruitment of top PhD students. We are proud to maintain this position despite having a weak funding system.

UB engages in a considerable number of international projects. How does the university grow its visibility abroad?
One of UB's biggest challenges in Europe is carrying out the coordination and leadership of the alliance with CHARM European University (CHARM-EU). The objective of CHARM-EU is to create a European university with a focus on conflict resolution, the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and the theme 'Reconciling Humanity with the Planet.' The idea is to create an inclusive and diverse university with research-based methodologies. Among the actions we have in mind is the creation of the University Internationalization Hub in collaboration with the European University Foundation (EUF). The hub will promote initiatives aimed at the modernization of the higher education space in Europe, carrying out projects that influence the policies of the new EU Erasmus program. Moreover, within the Erasmus mobility framework outside the EU, we designed a new mobility policy based on UB's commitment to SDGs in countries such as Senegal, India, and Vietnam.

Central to the university's success is its commitment to research, with over EUR133,000 invested in research and technology transfer. How is research and innovation fostered at UB?
The university is strongly committed to research and it is by far the leading university in Spain and possibly in the entire Iberian and Latin American regions. This is particularly remarkable as we are a university that offers a wide range of subjects, from the Sumerian language to microsatellite design. Despite that, we have a number of areas of focus. These areas are biomedicine (including clinical practice), neurosciences, archaeology, digital humanities, pharmacy, nutrition, marine sciences, water and environment, complex systems, physics and astrophysics, bioengineering, and biochemistry. We give priority to sustainability and areas where we can play a leading role. We participate as a partner in several joint institutes, mostly focused on biomedicine. The university has identified some areas which are experiencing a decline, partly due the retirement of key personnel, but also due to insufficient funding. Two such key areas are genetics and materials science and nanoscience. Moving forward, our priority is to promote research in these fields. Notably, given the size and scope of our university, there is much to gain from transversal and truly cross-disciplinary lines of research. So far, we have identified three such areas, namely AI, climate and environment, and science and politics.