“Only science and solidarity will help us come out of the present crisis,” says the President of the University of Navarra

“University reform requires agreement on the basics,” argues Alfonso Sánchez-Tabernero

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El rector de la Universidad, Alfonso Sánchez-Tabernero. FOTO: Manuel Castells
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María Iraburu, vicerrectora de Profesorado. FOTO: Manuel Castells
04/03/21 18:35 María Salanova

“We were not prepared for a pandemic. No one was. We have learned from this experience that only science and solidarity can help us out of a crisis like this one – and out of the next one,” said Alfonso Sánchez-Tabernero, President of the University of Navarra, during the presentation of the 2025 Strategy to the national media, a road map for the next five years.  The plan focuses on sustainability and is structured on three axes: Transformative education, Focused research that makes an impact, and Interdisciplinarity.

According to the President, the lesson for the University in a time of crisis is that we must focus on what is important: a sense of commitment and purpose; an attitude of learning and listening; and effective communication. “We have aimed to share pro-vaccine data, messages of solidarity, well-founded information that invalidates rumors and fake news,” he noted.

In relation to possible future legislation and other reforms of the university sector, Sánchez-Tabernero commented that “university reform requires a shared agreement on the basics,” among which is the principle that a degree program ought to be of appropriate length and broad in its scope. “We are in favor of four-year degrees, because highly specialized education may involve certain risks”. He also talked about linking part of public finding to results achieved and an increase in incentives for research. “There are many areas where a parliamentary majority might agree on measures to enhance the university sector. We should also look to what is being done in countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom, where the best universities in the world are based”.

The President also spoke of the need for commitment, a sense of purpose and a spirit of cooperation. "Institutions need friends. A collaborative approach is key," he said.

A year of the pandemic

The President took stock of the year of the pandemic at the University of Navarra. “We had three clear ideas on which there was no room for failure: protect the health of our students and employees; continue with our teaching, research and healthcare provision; and act in solidarity with those most affected," he said.  The University of Navarra implemented 40 measures in health, teaching and scholarship funding (an investment of almost €4 million).

“We weren’t sure how to safeguard the health of so many students and professors, so on 13 March 2020, the decision was taken for everyone to stay at home. From there, our goal was to meet our students’ needs and expectations, and in one weekend we put in place a system that enabled the teaching online of 1,884 subjects. Third, our response to the crisis had to be collaborative and that that's why, for example, we immediately made our Clinic available to the public health authorities".

Nevertheless, Sánchez-Tabernero noted that the response to the pandemic had to evolve over time. “Technology offers extraordinary potential, but face-to-face, on-campus experience is a key value. We found that we were able to guarantee the health of employees and students and offer in-person teaching. And on 1 September 2020 we started classes in our lecture halls and other classrooms. We have registered 907 positive test results, but none have occurred in class settings. Our strategy was to detect positive results quickly, we carried out 30,484 diagnostic tests and have ensured nearly 100% face-to-face classes and exams," he said.

Finally, he explained the framework of the 2025 Strategy, which will shape the university’s plans over the next five years. “In the last 20 years, global developments in economics, science and technology have been unprecedented … but they have not been balanced, leading to collateral damage. We have not looked after people or the environment,” stressed the President. “For this reason, in our 2025 Strategy we want to make a significant contribution to sustainability in a threefold way: the environment, the economy and society”.

The Museum of Natural Sciences: a gateway linking science to society

“The pandemic has deepened our conviction to make a commitment to sustainability” explained María Iraburu, Vice President for Professors. “There is consensus in society about a sustainable development model and, at the University, we have the opportunity to address it across various fields and with people from different generations (professors, students, etc.)”

This strategy is articulated on three axes: transformative education, focused research and interdisciplinarity. In relation to the first, the Vice President insisted on the education of graduates, "future leaders who can change the world”. Among other initiatives she highlighted the quality of ongoing education and training offered not only for students but also for professionals who are over 35 years old.

In research, the University aims to focus on personalized medicine in the field of oncology (where there are currently 129 research projects and 171 clinical trials underway), rare diseases and palliative care. “The practice of medicine in which the highest professional and ethical standards will be upheld,” emphasized Professor Iraburu. There will also be a focus on sustainability research in its threefold dimension: the environment, economics and society. 

The third axis – interdisciplinarity – includes a key project: the Museum of Natural Sciences, to be housed in a new 11,000m2 building at an investment of €22 million.  “This is our stand-out project. It is not going to be a conventional museum but an interactive space, a meeting point for professors and students, the university and the city, and society as a whole. An amplifier to communicate further what is done in relation to sustainability at the University of Navarra,” said Maria Iraburu. “Science needs gateways that connect it to society,” she added. 

The Museum has one million specimens and items belonging to more than 10,000 different species and 15,700 pieces donated from different collections. The new building will also host the Institute of Environment and Biodiversity (BIOMA), comprising 72 researchers from different fields: economics, science, communication, geography and law.

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