Since 2011, the former Secretary of State for Research, Development and Innovation of the Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness —now Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities— has been granting “Severo Ochoa” and “Maria de Maeztu” Units of Excellence accreditations. This acknowledgment, found within the framework of the Subprogram for Institutional Reinforcement of the National Program for Fostering Excellence in Scientific and Technical Research, aims to provide support to those entities that have stood out thanks to their “scientific impact and leadership at the international level” and their “active collaboration with the social and business communities.”
The accreditation of the centers and units has a validity of four years, with the aim of providing these institutions with a million euros annually for the former, and five hundred thousand euros for the latter category. Among other benefits of this acknowledgment, according to the former Secretary of State of Research for Research, Development and Innovation, Carmen Vela, are higher financing, priority access to other R&D+i fostering projects and enhanced reputation of the organizations that earn this seal of excellence in Spain, which enjoy preferential visibility to secure other forms of patronage support.
Both the Severo Ochoa Centers of Excellence and the María de Maeztu Units of Excellence are considered “organizational structures that have forerunning, highly competitive research programs,” that are among the best in the world in their respective scientific areas. This is accredited by the international committee of prestigious researchers who carry out the selection every year.
Promote the research done in Spain
Accredited organizations are also classified by their scientific discipline. Especially noteworthy is the area of Life Sciences, in which the Severo Ochoa status has been conferred on such entities as the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG), the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC), the Centre for Research in Agricultural Genomics, the Institute of Biomedical Research (IRB) or the Spanish National Cancer Research Center, among others. In this field, the María de Maeztu Units include several departments of Pompeu Fabra University (UPF), the CSIC or the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB). The program also includes other disciplines such as Social Sciences and Humanities, Mathematics, Experimental Sciences and Engineering.
Recently, the 25 centers and 16 research units of excellence launched the Severo Ochoa-María de Maeztu Alliance (SOMMa), whose main goal is to internationally promote and strengthen the organizations accredited with this distinction, in addition to giving their activities a higher profile. The director of the Centre for Genomic Regulation, Luis Serrano, will head the alliance over the next two years, while the director of the Barcelona Graduate School of Economics, Teresa García-Milà, will be its vice-president.
“In science, alliances are always positive. Joining forces at all levels enriches the R&D+i ecosystem,” said Serrano during the presentation, where he also expressed his will for the initiative to be useful in attracting talent and fostering science in Spain. Carmen Vela, former Secretary of State for Research, who chaired SOMMa’s founding session, ensured listeners that the future of R&D is “in the convergence of technologies, methodologies and disciplines capable of carrying out ambitious projects that are the result of cooperation among centers, units and teams of different institutions.” In her view, the alliance will help strengthen the bonds between the different entities accredited as centers and units of excellence.
SOMMa (www.somma.es) will be made up of a number of working teams that will join forces to improve the visibility, cooperation, scientific policy, dissemination or sustainability of the various projects. Another of its missions will be to organize future editions of the 100xCiencia conferences, the first running of which was held in La Palma in 2015. The second one took place several weeks ago in Alicante. And the third one will take place in Madrid in November 2018 (details of the meeting will be published at www.somma.es/events).
In short, the initiative seeks to boost the national and international visibility of the research performed in Spain, promote the exchange of knowledge, technology—including the dissemination of technological cores—and best practices among its members and the rest of the scientific community, collaborate with other R&D centers in Spain and participate in scientific policy at the domestic and European levels.