Academic promotions in Spain

I am not sure that these findings are surprising, but quantifying these effects is very useful. It also seems worth mentioning that Italy has just introduced a system of involving non-Italians in their academic appointments committees. And that it is probably not surprising that the UK, which has a competitive model, is so successful when it comes to ERC grants and other quantitative measures of academic success.

23 replies on “Academic promotions in Spain”

It doesn’t look like the study didn’t have the extra complication of trying to factor in the effect on candidate selection of a policy among some universities of preferring candidates who could speak largely unused local languages.

It looks like the study didn’t have the extra complication of trying to factor in the effect on candidate selection of a policy among some universities of preferring candidates who could speak largely unused local languages.

Article from El Pais, any article with “rent seeking” in it should interest us. It poses questions that are applicable to us such as why does no political party have a coherent position as to where we stand at this moment.

Google translate does a good job, not too jarring.

Yes but the bigger question is:
Is academia itself failing?
Even though UK universities are attracting grants – where is the proof that they are delivering anything of real benefit to the real economy?
In health care for example there are sweet fa new drugs coming on stream and those that do were developed by industry and not by academia.
I am not convinced that universities are actually any good at research at all.

There is a great deal of unrest in post secondary education in North America. A degree any degree guaranteed success. This has not been the case for over a quarter century. As Gov’ts reduced funding to Colleges and Universities fees have gone up at a greater rate than the CPI. Parents and students are up in arms about the cost and lack of utility of a university education.

Looming large are the initiatives by MIT and Athabasca University as well as Open Learning in the UK and numerous other attempts to cut costs and and increase utility. Even well funded, long established Universities like Queen’s in Kingston, Ontario are seriously looking at the changes underway and in particular how they can get ahead of the herd. Ryerson Technical University in Toronto Ontario is thriving by offering saleable skills. It attracts students who already have a degree that did not lead to a decent living.

Student debt in the USA is the elephant in the room. Academia is under stress and how it responds will determine whether it survives in anything resembling its present form. The student protests in Montreal Quebec resulting from fee increases is the canary in the coal mine. Quebec already has the lowest University fees in North America. Are Quebecers made of sterner stuff or do they fear slipping back to an era when their education system was church dominated and behind the times. I could get into the time wasted on Gaelic in Ireland, most of you are already aware that it is a good way to screen out foreigners.

@ bruanlucey
But academia doesn’t encourage great leaps forward. It’s too staid. It’s very likely that the discovery of penicillin would happen in a university lab today. And if it did it might be suppressed because of some breach in protocol. If the wheel was invented in a modern university academics would spend 100 years competing (and publishing) with each other to describe how round it was before thinking of putting it under something. (That’s silly I know)
These are open questions that I don’t know the answer to but would be grateful for clarification:
What role did academia have in the development of the smartphone?
How effective was academia in predicting the global meltdown?

This cult of peer review is adding a semblance of value to things that are ultimately of uncertain usefulness

That should read unlikely.
And by the way I am not trying to devalue academic institutions. I value them and the work done in them. I also respect researchers professors etc. Im just wondering if the whole of academia needs to think about what it does and how it can make itself better


>What role did academia have in the development of the smartphone?

Academia played a huge role in the development of the smart phone. The smart phone combines computing and communications technology. Universities do lots of research in these areas, and a lot of the technologies in smart phones were developed in universities. Equally, a lot of the technologies underpinninig smart phones were developed in industry, but the people who worked on this stuff in industry were mostly educated in universities, and many of them have research experience from their time in university. You might be able to have opinions about economics without any formal training in the area, but it’s hard to design the components of an iphone without formal technical education.

Predicting the gloabl meltdown is a trickier one. Unfortunately academic economics got lost in ideas of perfect markets around 50 years ago, and have had a very hard time recovering the idea. It’s probably unreasonable to expect anyone to be able to make accurate predictions about very complex systems such as global markets. You can tell that there are huge imbalances that will correct themselves eventually, but it is difficult to say when this will happen or how the correction will take place.

However at least until recently, economists have been particularly hampered by the idea that the current price of of any asset as always the correct one. This has made it more difficult for them to highlight cases where asset prices are obviously crazy, but influential cheerleaders for the bubble are shouting down anyone who has the temerity to say so.

@ Roger
But the guy who really lead on smartphones got very little formal university education at all.

In fact he was taught by his dad and by a school attached to Hewlitt Packard if this is to be believed.

It’s just tricky to figure out what the role of a modern university is. Education and training for sure – but are they actually any good at research and innovation? What kind of culture do they promote – risk taking or playing it safe?


You have some very strange ideas about academia and particularly about research. Government-financed research undertaken within Universities is warranted because research has the characteristics of a public good. Recently there have been moves on both sides of the Atlantic to compel the beneficiaries of research grants to make their results freely and publicly available.

This is in complete contrast to the activities of commercial firms (for example in pharmaceuticals) where patent protection is the rule. The reasons for this state of affairs is well known. So your statement that “In health care for example there are sweet fa new drugs coming on stream and those that do were developed by industry and not by academia.” seems to indicate that your knowledge of the basic economics of public goods and of research is somewhat lacking.

As for your other question: “How effective was academia in predicting the global meltdown?”, maybe you should acquaint yourself with the writings of Morgan Kelly, Nouriel Roubini, Colm McCarthy, and I daresay several others.

@ John
You misinterpret me. I’m not doubting that there is some value but I wonder if there are also not very serious problems in academia.
I think that the universities themselves should lend the money to their students (a real incentive to get them employed). I also think that links with industry should be more transparent. I also think that research should be coupled with development

@ Eureka:

Of course there are problems in academia, but not developing new drugs and not forecasting the banking crisis are not two of them. One of the biggest problems is the one which started this thread: that of devising good promotion systems.

As for your suggestion that Univeristies lend money to their students (presumably to finance their tuition and other expenses), that’s all very well, but Universities don’t have the financial wherewithall to do this, at least on a meaningful scale.

@ John
Here are the choices:
1: Promote people on the basis of publications
2: Promote people on the basis of grants won

Both of these are peer reviewed things. There is a lack of external validity.

How about
3: Promote people on the basis of numbers who pay up front for their courses?
4: Numbers who can repay loans after completing their courses?
5: Successful monetization of research?
6: Patents arising from research?
7: successful application of theories arising from their research?

3 : great, if you want to be a small elite university full of rich kids. Or if you have a functioning capital market that allows people to borrow and repay the cost
4: over how long?
5/6 : bad news for poets. Or indeed anyone working in an area not patentable
7 : over how long?


The Harvards, Cambridges and LSEs of this world overwhelmingly use publications as a promotion criterion. Grants won are a measure of input, not output, quite apart from the probable effect of eliminating the Arts and Humanities.

Peer review may not always be perfect; but like democracy the alternatives are far worse.

What the Harvards don’t do, however, is base promotion on the sheer number of publications or the “rank” of the journals they appear in. A single book can get you hired/promoted at Harvard, provided it’s an important book (“importance,” of course, being a qualitative and not quantitative assessment best made by experts).

Altogether aside from the debate about the non-commercial benefits of universities (e.g. economic research on the effectiveness of policies is very valuable to the world, but essentially no private market for it exists) I think you’re overlooking comparative advantages.

It is unlikely that the sort of people who are best at discovering mathematical results are also the best people to turn these ideas into patentable products.

@ Ernie Ball:

I couldn’t agree more: the likes of Harvard are not afraind of making informed qualitative judgements. I wish I could say the same for some Irish institutions.

@ John Sheehan

As you know, knowledge advances with the aid of many players with an important role for universities.

The problem in Ireland is that foolish politicians aided and abetted by university chiefs eager for funding to support their aspirations to become ‘world class’ universities, bought the notion that research could be commercialised to create a jobs engine.

Commercialisation is incidental to university research and spinouts rarely have significant success.

Technology licensing income is generally at low single digits as a percentage of research spending even for the world’s top universities.

For example, in 2007, Stanford University ranked 10th among US universities in licensing income, at $50 million from 986 active licenses. Stanford’s research expenditures in 2007 were $700 million and its total budget for 2007-2008 was $3.8 billion, excluding the capital budget and the budget for hospital and clinical services. Thus, in 2007, licensing income was 1.3 percent of the budget. Similarly, MIT’s licensing income was 2.8 percent of its budget and the University of Washington’s licensing income was 2.3 percent of its budget.

‘Managing University Intellectual Property in the Public Interest’ (2010)

It’s crazy that the lion’s share of the State’s enterprise budget would go towards university research.

There should be public spending on basic science research but how much should a small bankrupt country with no obvious jobs engine, allocate to it?

@ Michael Hennigan

I agree with most of what you say in you last post, but disagree with the last 2 paragraphs.

First, it seems wrong to use the Enterprise budget as the support vehicle for University Research: this will almost inevitably lead to basic research being neglected. University research councils should be under the wing of the Dept of Education and/or the HEA.

Second, if you say that as a small bankrupt country we cannot afford the luxury of funding basic research, then you really give up on any hope of producing well-qualified postgrads, and with it ultimately a lot of our high-tech industrial ambitions.

Basic research has many of the characteristics of a pure public good and is difficult to finance other than via philantropy or the public purse. Maybe we need another Chuck Feeney.

I suspect that part of the problem is that we have picked research areas which are extremely expensive (biological sciences etc) and where we cannot afford to match the big guys.

And we continue to handicap the promotion prospects of people in the Arts, Humanities and the Social Sciences, because they can never bring in big-buck research grants because they don’t require them.

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