October 2016


Celebrating 20 years of AQU Catalunya

Josep Joan Moreso - President

I’d firstly like to thank you all for coming. Today is a day of celebration as we commemorate twenty years of the Agency’s existence, of AQU Catalunya. An important initiative by those who at the time were responsible for the universities in Catalonia, minister Trias and commissioner Albaigés, and who convinced President Pujol to encourage the Government of Catalonia’s Executive Council (Govern de Catalunya) to set up this institution to improve and enhance the university system in Catalonia.

I'll start with an anecdote. A few years ago, when I was still rector of the Pompeu Fabra University, I was visiting Italy and had a connection at Rome's Fiumicino airport. At the airport I encountered the Abbot of Montserrat, Josep M. Soler and his secretary, who were also waiting for a connection to Sardinia. I knew the abbot because two years previously we had signed an agreement for one of our researchers, a specialist in papyrology, to catalogue and digitalise the valuable papyrus documents in the abbey’s important collection that had been inaugurated by father Bonaventura Ubach, the mastermind behind the translation of the Bible into modern Catalan. The abbot had invited us to have lunch in the Abbey Refectory, and we ate in silence, listening to the diaphanous voice and recitation of the novice who was now his secretary and who, as chance would have it, had been a student of mine in the Faculty of Law at the University of Girona, while various monks – which that day included Father Hilari Raguer, who has made such a great contribution to our understanding of the contemporary history of Catalonia – served the meal and removed our plates. At Fiumicino we again had lunch together, a pasta dish, in the airport. While we were waiting for our planes I asked them where they were headed for and what they would be doing in Sardinia. He said they were going to a Benedictine abbey in Sicily and, if I remember rightly, a religious celebration in Alghero (Sardinia). Intrigued, I asked them about their visit and he told me that the Benedictine order has an established system of canonical visitations to ensure that their abbeys are run according to their inherent functions. The abbeys know beforehand that they will be visited, they produce a preliminary report in which they assess their work, which includes work on the grounds and estate, workshops, monastic life, the abbey’s economic situation and also studies being undertaken by certain monks. Discussions are held with the abbot and all of the monks. With all of this information, a series of recommendations are drawn up and then referred to those in charge of the order’s general chapter.

As you can imagine, it made me think of quality assurance and QA agencies and the things they have in common. Nothing new has been discovered with this practice that we today believe to be modern-day, and it goes back very far in fact, to the 13th century, when it was established and applied on a regular basis in the Council of the Lateran and later re-established by the Council of Trent. Afterwards I remembered that in Umberto Eco’s well-known novel, The Name of the Rose, the Benedictine abbey, which plays a central role in the novel, receives an apostolic visitation from several Dominican monks – a site visit – on orders from the Pope, in the midst of murders, heresy and other unfortunate incidents. A version of this same thing, but closer to home was Friar Tomás Gómez, a visitor from Castile in the 17th century, who wrote about his visit to the most important Benedictine monastery at that time in Valencia, the Monastery of Santa María de la Valldigna, which was fairly recently published by the University of Valencia. He wrote about certain matters that sound quite familiar to us today, including the Castilians’ incomprehension of certain practices that were different under the Crown of Aragon, just like when reviewers today who are from outside Catalonia fail to understand that professorat agregat (non-tenured teaching staff) in Catalonia are actually professors permanents (permanent staff), for example.

  • This all comes to mind because the functions of these canonical visitations are the same as those entrusted to AQU Catalunya:
  • the validation and accreditation of degrees that lead up to an institutional review;
  • the accreditation of candidates to positions of academic staff;

Plus one should not overlook knowledge generation, such as the present-day survey once every three years on the professional employment outcomes of graduates.

Through its undertaking of quality assurance right from the very beginning of AQU Catalunya’s existence, when there was no legal obligation to do so, I would like to think that the Agency has fundamentally contributed in three ways to improving and enhancing the university system and higher education in Catalonia:

The first is by introducing sound mechanisms for each university to autonomously establish and decide its own strategy for offering a range of courses that are both attractive and functional for the needs of society. And also by clarifying the minimum required standards for university teaching staff. My opinion is that this has been done, in spite of certain difficulties, in a way that gives credibility to the system and through the establishment of a broad-based consensus.

The second and highly important way is that the Agency has helped to generate a true university environment that serves Catalonia, that has its own profile and also garners increasing recognition at international level. It has always been clear to the Agency that the central role in this entire process has been the twelve Catalan universities that, led by their rectors and governing bodies, have always found the way to work together. And the Government of Catalonia has always been there to help as a result of its understanding of the importance, over and above legitimate party politics, of the continuity that is required of university policy and for the Agency as well. From the beginning with the Pujol government, minister Trias and commissioners Albaigés and Mas-Colell, who then became minister; with the Maragall government, minister Solà and, very briefly, minister Balcells, minister Del Pozo and secretary Prats; with the Montilla government, minister Huguet and secretaries Palmada and Majó; with the Mas government, again minister Mas-Colell and secretaries Castellà and Jofre; and today with the Puigdemont government, minister Baiget, who will bring the proceedings today to a close, and secretary Navarro.

I’d particularly like to highlight the work of Mas-Colell who, for twenty years, was in a position of political responsibility for the longest period of time during which he helped lay the foundations of the system of higher education, universities and research in Catalonia and formalised AQU Catalunya as a QA agency, first as a result of the Catalan Universities Act, passed by the Catalan Parliament in 2003, and later on with specific legislation dealing with the Agency (AQU Catalunya Act) in 2015. His work subsequently paved the way for the wisdom and sensitivity of my predecessors as presidents of the Agency, Serra Ramoneda and Prats, together with the vision and vast amount of work by the Agency’s directors, Serrat, Rauret, Barà, Ferrer, and my dear friend, the current director Casadesús, to help make AQU Catalunya what it is today.

Gemma Rauret, now a university professor, was the Agency’s director for more than eight years and skilfully set in place the foundations and soul of the Agency and will later be giving a talk on Twenty years with quality in the spotlight.

AQU Catalunya is today a recognised QA agency not only in Spain but also internationally, as demonstrated by the presence here today of Susanna Karakhanyan, the president of INQAAHE, the world association of QA agencies, for which AQU Catalunya has been hosting the organisation’s secretariat since 2013. Ms Karakhanyan will also give a talk, entitled Agenda for Quality Assurance in a Context of Change: Relevance, Efficiency and Meaningful Impact.

The third contribution made by AQU Catalunya is that related to the preservation and enhancement of quality. Again, twenty years ago, when I was awarded the Chair at the University of Girona, at the inauguration ceremony of the first academic year that I was about to attend, Rector Nadal, whose speeches were rhetorically impeccable although somewhat long, in his speech left the question “What is the fire that soothes one’s heart?” hanging in the air as a form of rhetorical motto until he finished by answering, “The fire that soothes one’s heart is the students”. So the meaning of quality enhancement is really we do it all for the students!

None of all this would have been possible without our magnificent vice-rectors and quality technicians at the universities around Catalonia, together with the quality technicians at the Secretariat for Universities and Research. Many thanks to everyone for your support during these twenty years and for everybody working together.

What has so far been achieved has relied on the cooperation of experts and reviewers from here as well as from outside Catalonia and abroad, and their work has been excellent. We are grateful to them for their sound judgment and know-how. And this gratitude should be extended to the chairs of the QA commissions and committees, more specifically, the chairpersons of the Commissions dealing with teaching staff assessment, research assessment and tenure-track and collaborating teaching staff (the CAR and CLIC as we refer to them), professor Rodés and now professor Torner, and professors Garcia-Milà and Hernanz, and professor Nogué. And in the case of degree programmes, the chairs of the Quality Assurance Commissions, who have been the directors of the Agency.

I’d now like to pay special tribute to the group of enthusiastic individuals who make up the team of staff that is the Agency, who this year are dealing with more than five hundred different programme reviews, more than two thousand teaching staff assessments, as well as making the preparations for the graduate employment outcome surveys and managing numerous international projects. During these years, led by professor Martí Casadesús’ institutional intelligence and his Empordanese cunning, the staff at AQU Catalunya have made my work both highly agreeable and full of rewards. For this reason I’d like to name them all personally.

 Within the context of validation and accreditation, ensuring compliance with the quality of study programmes and that universities punctually receive our visits: Josep Manel Torres, Carme Edo, Cati Cazalla, Albert Basart, Esther Adot, Eva Benito, Anna Garcia, Carlota Manzanares, Marta Cañizares, Anna Garriga and Beátrice Joanny.

Forging an understanding of the university system in Catalonia from the data and figures from the surveys on the employment outcomes and satisfaction of graduates, Anna Prades and Lorena Bernáldez.

At international level, those managing projects and exporting AQU to the world, Josep Grifoll, Esther Huertas, M. Àngels González and Roger Roca.

Those working to make teaching staff assessment a simple process: Esteve Arboix, Núria Márquez, Maria Àngels Hernández, Rocío Torres, Gloria Zurita, Griselda Rivilla, Noèlia Grifo and Georgina Carbó.

Providing support to UNEIX, one of the main instruments that underpin the wealth of information on the university system in Catalonia, Carina Alvárez and Raquel Barandalla.

Ensuring that computer systems and IT are always upgraded and running at best performance: David Gassiot, Oriol Sala, Maribel Quirós, Albert Sanjuan and Albert Palau.

In Administration, for ensuring that the numbers add up: Carme Pérez, Sònia Parellada, Erica Sereno, Òscar Vives and interns Estefania and Adrià.

For publicising and disseminating everything we do and how we do it, in Communication, Concepción Herruzo and Àgata Segura.

For legal counselling, so that no files get lost, Jordi Escolar, Sílvia Maldonado and Bianca, an intern.

For getting all the machinery of the system for quality assurance and information security to work smoothly, Núria Comet with intern Hamzà.

For supporting, in both senses of the word, the work of management, Maria Giné, Carme Torrente and Montse Blanco.

And lastly, the important work of AQU’s collaborators, Joan Bravo, Sebastián Rodríguez, Miquel Vidal, Salvador Gascón and Maria Jesús Guardiola.

Each one of you, you are all AQU Catalunya, the fabric of the Agency. As the poet Miquel Martí i Pol said, ‘Who, if not all, and each one in addition?’ Without all of these individuals we wouldn’t have made it these twenty years. And you work away, from one day to the next, striving to do your work yet often encumbered by the constraints of regulations that make it difficult or impossible to do so.

A few days ago, the Swedish Academy awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature to the singer Bob Dylan. I should point out that I read a lot of poetry and, in spite of the controversy, I thinks it’s great that Dylan won the award. Anyway, one verse of a song of his goes:

To live outside the law, you must be honest.

This describes something that happens to us all too often. And although Dylan doesn’t go on to say anything about it, there is also something that we constantly strive for that is possibly more difficult, yet something that is of greater merit:

To live inside the law, you must be honest.

Thank you.

Celebració 20 anys  Celebració 20 anys Celebració 20 anys 

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