The motive for locating the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (UAM) on a campus outside the city centre was to keep potentially revolutionary students away from the heart of the capital. That, however, was in response to the global student unrest of 1968. As it happens, UAM’s students have managed to embed themselves in Madrid’s culture: not by storming the barricades, but through the quality of their undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, their research projects – and now the level of international study mobility that they enjoy.
Ranked ninth in the 2015 QS World University Rankings Top 50 Under 50 universities, UAM is building on its reputation with innovative new degree courses that are attracting the brightest students from Spain and further afield. In doing so, the university is forging fresh academic alliances and adding dynamic connections with major universities worldwide.
“In 2013, we launched a four-year Philosophy, Politics and Economics degree in partnership with the Alliance 4 Universities,” says Amaya Mendikoetxea Pelayo, Vice Rector of International Relations at UAM. “Students spend the first year in Barcelona, the second in Madrid, one year overseas and then they choose to complete their studies in Madrid or Barcelona. It’s a completely new degree system for Spain.” UAM also offers a five-year Political Science degree with Sciences Po Bordeaux – one of 13 international “double degree” programmes – where students obtain both a UAM degree and a Bordeaux diploma, which is equivalent to a master’s degree.
As the name “Autónoma” (autonomous) suggests, UAM produces independent thinkers whose study equips them for global careers. The university has impressive arts, humanities and social science programmes, but there is also a strong focus on sciences, with the UAM Cantoblanco campus being home to the Madrid Science Park. Created in 2001 in collaboration with the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, the facility promotes research, development and knowledge transfer. “The park involves around 30 big companies,” says Amaya. “The main technological fields are biosciences, IT, new materials and nanotechnology, the environment and renewable energies. The campus is located just north of Madrid, one of the most active regions in Spain for research and development, which affords us the chance for quality corporate sponsorship.”
UAM’s science courses put practice over theory. “Students can plan and execute experiments from beginning to end,” says Amaya, “rather than having a set number of practical hours per course.” For the master’s in biomedicine, for instance, students work with researchers and clinical practitioners in hospitals and health-research centres in Madrid.
Internships are also a key part of UAM’s programme. “What is crucial for us is that students work and learn,” says Amaya. Each student’s objectives are set out at the beginning of an internship, during which they are supported to achieve those goals. “In 2011/12, 70 per cent of the graduates we surveyed undertook an internship arranged by UAM,” she adds. “In the academic year 2013/14, we signed more than 600 new agreements for internships with corporations, private businesses and public institutions such as museums.”
Having asserted its academic presence in Madrid, UAM has gained international recognition for the quality of its teaching and research facilities. To this end, it has been invited to join the Harvard/MIT initiative edX, continues to work with around 500 universities worldwide and is establishing exciting new connections in South America and Asia. The revolutionary spirit at UAM is clearly alive and well, but is today channelled into a rising of innovation, learning and academic relationships.