Conversations with... Salvador Carmona, Rector of IE University
Almería-native Salvador Carmona has been the Rector of IE University since 2011. He’s traveled the world, always with a good book under his arm, and visited a number of universities before landing at the doorstep of IE University, back when the institution was solely a business school.
That’s when this “man of numbers” embarked on a new chapter in his life. He became involved in the creation of a new university—a process he feels fortunate to have been a part of. Assuming a range of roles, he helped shape the university into what it is today: “under his leadership, IE University has positioned itself as one of the best European universities, as is evident by its position in various international rankings.”
Today, IE University is located in both Madrid and Segovia, catering to over 3,000 students across undergraduate, graduate and PhD programs. The university is home to 500 distinguished professors who impart their wisdom to students from 131 different countries, through 11 degrees and five dual degrees. Segovia also boasts a new initiative which is being launched this year. Known as “Area 31,” this venture is aimed at budding entrepreneurs who want to expand their skill set and professional network.
He talks to us about the history, future and day-to-day running of IE University.
Tell us a little about your professional journey before becoming Rector of IE University?
I studied a BA in Economics and Business followed by a doctorate at the University of Seville, before continuing my education at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden. I visited various universities in the US, Canada and China (to name a few) in an attempt to gain as much international experience as possible. I feel very grateful for all the experiences I’ve had as well as the constant support from a range of people, including some very prestigious professors at the University of Gothenburg.
While studying at the University of Seville, they offered me the opportunity to go the University Carlos III of Madrid when it was just getting started. I joined the first intake of teachers at the world-renowned university, and remained there throughout the 90s until early 2002, when I came to IE—which was the IE Business School at the time.
The business school was similar to many others around the world, like INSEAD. I served as director of Accounting and Management Control (my field) and later as Vice-Rector of Faculty. That’s when we started the IE University project, which we’d been mulling over since 2005.
I was very excited to get involved in the project from the very beginning. Ever since IE became part of the university, I’ve held different positions: firstly, as Vice-Rector of Faculty then as coordinating Vice-Rector. I became the Rector in 2011, and the whole experience has been extraordinary.
Setting up a university is something that happens only once in a lifetime for a handful of people, and so I feel very fortunate. It has also allowed me to work with world-leading academics.
As one of the university’s founders, what do you think differentiates IE University from other institutions?
This university is defined by very unique qualities. The first is its international character. Both its faculty and students are very diverse. Right now, over 50% of our permanent staff and 76% of this year’s new intake are international.
Diversity is very important for both teachers and students because students not only learn from their teachers in class, but also from their peers. Classrooms bring people from different cultures and their different ways of thinking together, which forms an essential part of the university experience nowadays.
Another of IE University’s distinctive values, related with the theme of internationality and diversity, is entrepreneurship. We try to instill in our students the idea of bringing creativity to the workplace. Whether they work in public administration or in another field, they must try to provide support, to think outside the box, to not always worry about conforming to the rules all the time. Obviously rules must be applied, but there is always room for improvement.
A third, very important, element which shapes the IE University experience is the humanities. We want to offer students an education that’s not only limited to technical training, but is more personal, enabling them to develop as individuals. The humanities are essential to cultivate a holistic understanding of life.
Technology plays a fundamental role in the world we live in, which is why students at IE University have all the latest technology at hand. Another one of our values is sustainability, which is equally important to us. All of our future-forward degree programs have been designed in line with the values I have just mentioned, including sustainability.
These are fundamental elements and some universities use them as a basis for outlining their strategy and mission. However, to have such an impressive portfolio of values—I think that’s what makes this university unique.
How would you describe the state of universities today?
Honestly, I think Spanish universities are doing well. We have general data, rankings… and Spanish universities are well positioned. Between university rectors, there’s an issue that is often discussed: the tendency academics have to be hypercritical regarding what we’re doing. And I don’t think this is a good thing. Even though we don’t mean to, we convey an idea that doesn’t correspond to reality.
There are various research groups in Spain, which are focused on world-class knowledge generation. I think we are very good in terms of knowledge generation, and in terms of transmitting this knowledge we are also extraordinarily good.
To give an example, this is demonstrated by the extremely high percentage of students that come here and to other Spanish universities. While I’d prefer not to name names, they consist of both modern and traditional universities that are excellent in terms of internationalization.
Do you ever envision there being a crisis at IE University?
The fact we have so many international students effectively tempers a crisis at any given moment, but we cannot just sit idly by waiting for international students to arrive. As the Red Queen says in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, “it takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place.”
The idea of a crisis does indeed affect public universities in Spain, mostly in relation to research. We ourselves do not receive state subsidies; we have agreements, but if we make no efforts with regard to internationalization, it stagnates.
We have to always be a step ahead and be constantly feeding into and developing communication channels in international schools and get across what exactly our university project is. We also have to transmit this message to our students here in order to spread the message by word of mouth. It is essential that they are conscious of what they receive here because, if the parents of our students come to the university and speak with their children who say, this or that doesn’t work well, then it’s over. We have to look at both verticals, the internal and the external.
I can’t imagine that the students complain too much…
No. To reiterate the point, what we do is put into practice the Looking-Glass metaphor.
Our evaluations of both our teachers and programs show a very high level of satisfaction, but they give us room for improvement. We cannot remain content with what we have; otherwise we’d start to slip. We have to always stay at the cutting-edge.
I think that the locations are complementary. Segovia is where the student life is akin to that found in universities in the countryside or small towns outside of large urban centers. Students can stay there all day because there’s such a selection of activities to take part in. They have everything they need around them.
In contrast, the advantage of having an urban center like the one in Madrid is that it gives us lots of opportunities to interact with the industry in terms of professional practices and so on. It’s on your doorstep, and you don’t have to go out and look for it. What’s more, in terms of connection and communication, it’s very convenient. As I said, I think both complement each other.
I was wondering if you could tell me when the famous Madrid Tower—which is set to become the next “vertical” campus—will be completed?
It’s expected that the tower will become operational the first of September 2020, and it’s there we intend to begin using it the next academic year. So far 30 out of the 35 floors have been built, but this is just the framework. Now all the tradesmen start to come in: the carpenters, painters, etc. We hope to have all the floors of the tower constructed by mid-November, 2019. The normal rate of construction has been a floor per week, and so there are five weeks left. But you can rest assured that the launch of the tower will in no way affect the Segovia campus.
Not long to go…
Yes, it’s not long to go—but the transition to the tower won’t be as fast. That has to be carried out very carefully and with a great deal of precision.
How do you think others perceive IE University?
I think that IE University is known as an institution of knowledge generation. It’s a very important value for us. Within university bodies, normally there is a split between teaching and research universities. Professors don’t just come here, teach and leave, or stay to do more classes in the case of full-time professors.
At IE University, our professors also try to bring new ideas and information to the table, and not just repeat what other professors at other institutions have said, or what is already published in a textbook. They are in fact in control of the textbook, because they bring new concepts and information from their own research. This happens both with full-time professors who deal with the theoretical side of their field, as well as with associate professors who focus on the latest innovation practices.
This is very beneficial for students, because they realize that the person stood at the front of the classroom is at the helm of new knowledge. It’s also something that’s recognized by other universities.
As we are talking, I see an emerging theme that IE University is not content with staying where it is, but is constantly striving to go further and further.
Exactly. A university normally has a very important societal function: to pass knowledge down from generation to generation. When we talk of finance, political science, etc., these are not concepts that emerged today but ideas that have been built upon by the whole of humanity for generations. On the other hand, we also have to supply this body of work with new information so that the next generation has something new to work with.
We have a scholarship program with the Segovia council, which is open to local students in the province. All together, these scholarships have an approximate value of a million euros a year.
They are aimed at Segovian students and are managed by the council, an institution that has very generously entrusted us with the Convent of Santa Cruz. This is where the university is located, which forms part of our agreement.
In addition, the IE Foundation has its own range of scholarships on offer, which all students can apply for.
How many degrees are offered at the university?
It’s difficult to give an exact number, as new ones are being developed all the time. For instance, last year we commenced Bachelor in Data and Business Analytics. This responds to a very significant need nowadays when it comes to business management, such as how to organize and order financial market data. What’s more, we’ve just launched the Bachelor in Economics here in Segovia, which was a very important addition to us.
What does the university’s future look like?
It mainly consists of trying to adapt ourselves to society’s needs, continuing to build knowledge and, in terms of branching into new areas; sustainability is also a really significant topic to us. In short, maintain what we already have, perfect it, and work on sustainability.
Socially, I think the university must respond to this issue by conducting more research and offering degrees. We need to carry out more and more research in IE University’s five major subject areas and try to implement more programs. We are going to propose this within the new outline for degrees we are negotiating with the Castile and León government. We’ll see if they accept it.
Written by: Pilar de Miguel
Source: Adelantado de Segovia