Nova is a young university, but with research collaborations with top institutions like Oxford, Cambridge, and Imperial College, it seems like it has cracked the code to success.

João Sàágua
João Sàágua is the Rector of Nova University. With a PhD in contemporary philosophy, he is a professor at the faculty of social sciences and humanities. Sàágua has been teaching at Nova since 1980, accumulating experience at all levels—undergraduate, masters, and doctoral—in Portugal and abroad. In addition to intensive teaching and research activities, he has held several management positions, notably as director of Nova’s Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities between 2005 and 2013, and as President of the Scientific Council between 2009 and 2013. From 2014 to 2017, he also held the post of Vice-Rector for Nova’s academic and international relations areas.

Can you describe the main achievements and milestones of the institution?

Although the university was established shortly before the revolution, it started operating properly after the revolution. This is important, because the founding fathers and mothers were Portuguese academics who had been working mainly in Europe and the US, bringing their experience to Nova University. This is reflected in the university's international standing; soon after its foundation, international conferences and meetings started taking place in the university, and various joint cooperation agreements were signed with other international institutions. Another important differentiator of Nova University is the close proximity between students and faculty members. One of the university's milestone is shifting from a public university to a public foundation. Being a public foundation requires us to raise 50% of the required budget through private means, which gives an idea of the university's relationship with the business community and competitive research money. This status means that many laws that apply to public universities do not apply to us. Therefore, we can hire an academic and offer a private contract, which means we can differentiate salaries and offer different clauses concerning teaching and research roles. Equally important, this allows Nova University to take advantage of its revenues and use it to hire talented international faculty. At present, there are only five such universities in Portugal.

What are some of your main partnerships with the private sector, and how have these evolved over the years?

We have institutional relations and protocols with almost every corporation that matters at the national level. Similarly, we have formed interesting relationships with several international corporations. Nova University is a comprehensive university with a business school, law school, medical school, a science and technology school. Different companies collaborate with different schools in several areas of joint interests. Interestingly, we recently started to develop an idea for collaborative laboratories. These labs are created with the goal of alleviating sustainable development bottlenecks within corporations. In order to overcome these bottlenecks, firms can either hire more people and do it in-house or partner with universities and create collaborative labs. These labs have an agenda set by corporations, and the solutions are collaboratively developed with academics. In Portugal, there are 11 collaborative labs, and we participate in nine. The idea is to allow these collaborative labs to help the development of regions that are not under the direct influence of the big cities. One of our labs is focused on agriculture, the Mediterranean diet, plant diseases, and plagues.

Which educational factors are contributing to the falling unemployment in Portugal, and how do you help graduates find jobs in their fields?

There are several factors that influence the decline in the unemployment rate. Some of it has to do with the level of education of young Portuguese people. In terms of helping graduates find jobs, all our schools have a student placement office with highly skilled non-academic staff that helps students find jobs. Moreover, the university prepares students to have contact with the labor market long before they graduate. This is part of how we reformed the university based on the Bologna process. Additionally, we have people from corporations participating in our regular courses at all levels. Furthermore, since Nova University enjoys international recognition, we have also had a great deal of success placing students at an international level. Our students travel through exchange programs for instance, and we make sure that our partner universities abroad can provide connections with local universities.

What are Nova University's goals and priorities?

We are a young university, but we have several research groups connecting with international research groups and overseeing substantial projects. We have research partnerships with top-ranked institutions such as Oxford, Cambridge, and Imperial College. Between 2003 and 2018, 50.4% of our research was in collaboration with other universities. This is a huge percentage, and it is more indicative of our international profile than many of our other statistics.