Miquel Nicolau was born in La Seu d’Urgell (Spain) in 1962. He graduated from the University of Barcelona (Philosophy department) in 1985. He had continued his education in the Polytechnic University of Catalonia that successfully graduated in 1989 with a specialty in IT engineering. In 1995 he graduated from the Ramon Llull University (Barcelona) where he had received a Master’s degree in Intelligent systems of parallel and distributed environments. The same year he defended his doctoral thesis in Electrical Engineering (Ramon Llull University).
Miquel Nicolau worked as a director of the Center of computer sciences in the Ramon Llull University (1994-2002). His next position was a director of the School of electronic technologies and computer sciences at the same university (1995-2002). He also was a member of the academic board of the Ramon Llull University (1998-2002). Since 2006 till the current time, he has been working at the University of Andorra, including coordination of doctorate programs since 2009. He was elected for the rector’s position of the University of Andorra in May, 2015.
Miquel Nicolau told all–andorra.com about development plans and main goals that the university is facing:
Interview: Alla Sarina
The University of Andorra, what is it like today?
Our university is kind of new: it was established in 1997. Before this moment, since 1988, there were only Higher courses for IT specialists and the School of nursing, instead of the university.
Today we have three educational Centers affiliated with the university: IT and management center, the Higher nursing and obstetrics school and Online studies school. I assume that we are one the first European universities that offered education in an online form in 1997.
The first educational level is a Bachelor degree “Bàtxelor” (3 years). During this program, we provide such academic subjects as business administration, communication, law, liberal arts (philosophy, history, art), computer sciences, Catalan language and also nursing and obstetrics courses. The second level (Master degree) continues for 2 years and provides MBA or Electronic engineering diploma. There is also a PhD program which continues for 3 additional years.
Today, the University of Andorra is a part of Vives system that unites all universities from regions where Catalan language is the main language – Catalonia, Valencia, the Balearic Islands, south of France, Andorra and Sardinia (Italy). 21 university in total.
The University of Andorra is also a member of the European University Association that consists of 850 members from 47 countries. This Association is one of the biggest and powerful organizations managing performance of European universities. And, lastly, our university is a member of the International Association of Universities. The Association was founded in 1950 under the Auspices of UNESCO. It is represented in 120 countries today.
We have 1500 students at the University currently. 1000 of them are those who continue their education as a part of continuing education in such fields as law, economics, real estate, tourism, etc.
You are the head of the University of Andorra since May. What interesting and important has happened during this time?
We offer a new course for masters students – Cultural tourism – starting this academic year. For the purpose of a specialists training, we collaborate with the University of Perpignan, the University “Paris VI” and the University of the Balearic Islands. This project is very ambitious, because it will enable our students to gain three diplomas from three countries: Andorra, Spain and France.
Other interesting news: our university, a company “Andorra Air Service” and the government of Andorra signed an agreement according to which a new commercial pilots training department will be established at the University of Andorra. Aeronautical industry develops very fast, so highly qualified pilots will be always in-demand. Andorra, as known, is located close enough to two big European airports – in Toulouse and Barcelona. Physical proximity to Toulouse – aviation center of France and Europe – makes Andorra a perfect place for this kind of training. We plan to start the course next year.
Since this year we also have started few new courses. In particular, the course of Portuguese language and culture that was organized in association with the Portuguese institute Camões. We also offer a studying course of international financial planning. It has become relevant because of the tax reforms in Andorra that made taxation system of the Principality comparable to taxation systems of the EU member countries. Besides, we have started a new postgraduate course for lawyers specializing in the field of inheritance law. This course is timely one because of a new inheritance law act that will come into operation in Andorra on 1st of January, 2016.
We also provide few new courses as part of an extramural studies.
What is your program for the university development?
We plan to progress in the field of multilingual education. I mean a lot of European languages, but, in the first place, English language. Next year, since the third year of a bachelor degree course, we will begin giving some lessons in English. In such way we plan to attract international students. As a result, teaching at the university will be in Catalan and English languages. As to other languages – French, Spanish, Portuguese – students will be allowed to pass exams in these languages and English after the first year of studying.
Is it the initiative of the University or the Government of Andorra?
How the price for education at the University of Andorra is commensurable to other European universities?
Our university is public, consequently the price is regulated by the government of Andorra. Studying at the university in Andorra is more expensive than in France, but less expensive than in Spain. As for this year, the price for one credit is around 25 euro. I explain, in 48 European countries, diplomas of the higher education are structured according to specialty. Each specialty calculates stated number of credits. Each academic year – 60 credits or 180 credits for the first three years of the first period of studying. In other words, one year in our university costs around 1700€.
Are there any scholarship programs? If a student doesn’t have enough money, is it possible to receive a higher education for him?
Bank loans for studying in higher educational institutions are common in Andorra. There are also scholarships by the government for each particular case.
Do any special educational programs for outstanding students exist?
Not at the present moment, but we consider a possibility of issuing a so-called double-diploma to succeeding students after three years of a bachelor program. This refers to allied subjects, for example “Computer sciences” and “Business-management”.
Are degree certificates of the University of Andorra recognized in other EU countries?
Yes, because we are the part of the unified system of European higher education. Educational attainment in our University is absolutely equivalent to levels in universities of other European countries. For example, if Andorran student received a bachelor’s degree, he/she could continue education on Master level in any university of 48 European countries.
Is it hard to find a good job with a degree certificate by the University of Andorra in other European countries?
It depends on your professional occupation. For example, degree in nursing is identic in all Europe. In France, it is as easy to find a job with a degree from the University of Andorra as with a French educational institution degree. If we talk about Spain, it is always depends on a medical institution, nevertheless degree certificate from our university is recognized.
There are some fields, for example computer sciences, where demand is higher than supply, therefore it is easy to find a working position with such a degree in European company.
Do you have any suggestions considering educational system reform in general and at the University in particular for the government of Andorra?
I think that the main higher educational system reform has been already done when Andorra became a part of the unified system of European higher education. As a university, we acceded to the system in 2000. As a country, Andorra became a part of it in 2003. The law about the higher education was changed cardinally and adapted completely to the legal system of those countries where the unified system of European higher education operates.
What are advantages of the higher educational system of the University of Andorra comparing to, for example, universities in Barcelona (excluding the price that you have mentioned already)?
From the academic viewpoint, the main advantage of our system is an individual approach. We have maximum 30 students in each group. Number of students is much higher in universities of other countries.
A very important advantage of studying in Andorra is also the fact that our country is safe, with almost a zero crime rate. Andorra is a very peaceful place that is perfect for a combination of studying and sports-oriented lifestyle.
Is it hard to enroll to the University of Andorra?
We have high enrolment competition at some faculties. When it is necessary, students take enrollment examinations (in June). Enrolment is open till the mid of March.
And what about statistics? How many students from neighboring countries (Spain, Portugal and France) are studying at the university?
60% of our students are from Andorra, 20% – from Spain, 8% – from Portugal and 2-3% – from France; the rest is from other countries.
What are the main directions of international cooperation between the University of Andorra, EU universities and other countries universities within a framework of development of higher education and professionals training program?
Apart of the fact that we are the member of Vives, EUA and IAU associations, we also participate fully as a part of the European program – POCTEFA (Spain-France-Andorra Program for Territorial Cooperation). POCTEFA 2014-2020 is a cooperation program that encourages a progress of these neighboring territories, its economic and social integration. We cooperate with universities of Toulouse, Perpignan, Montpelier, Po, Barcelona, Lleida, Saragossa and higher education institutions of Basque country.
We also participate in international program for doctoral degree promotion. There are also four research teams working in the fields of education, health, philology and economics at the University. We associate actively with international experts in this regard.
What faculties are the most complicated considering enrolment process?
The most popular faculty is a business management faculty. We have a lot of students who study at this faculty extramural. Most of them are, usually, older than students from full-time education programs. Furthermore, we have a special program for older students.
Most of our students are successful. There is a very low possibility to stay unemployed with a diploma from the University of Andorra.
What is an amount of study bursary for University of Andorra students?
This question needs to be addressed to the Government of Andorra. Our doctoral students receive fixed bursary monthly during all three years of their program. If bachelor’s or master’s students need financial support, they make a request to the government. Each time it is an individual basis case.
What is the level of state financing of the University? Tell us about last five years dynamics.
I hope that the economic crisis is over. The financing of the University has been consistent during last six years, however the number of students has tripled during last ten years. It caused some financial problems, but, importantly, the financing was constant. Our annual budget – 2 800 000€ where 80% are direct financing of the university and 20% are different scholarships and costs associated with our co-projects with other European universities.
What are financing plans for 2016?
Our budget will stay the same.
Andorra has opened its borders to foreign investors lately. How does this fact affect the Government of Andorra and the University of Andorra plans in the context of higher education development program?
The government of Andorra continues negotiation process considering an agreement about association with the European Union. This agreement is the key to success and important not only for the university, but even more as a way for our students to participate in European research projects for different scientific fields. Amount of the financial help is vast for such projects and reckons up to tens of thousands euros. That is why the agreement with the European Union is important on a national scale.
The number of companies with international capital is increasing higher and higher in Andorra, consequently highly qualified professionals, particularly in financial industry, are becoming more in-demand. What is the university’s evolvement plan regarding the situation? With what companies from other industries does the university collaborates in the matter of professional training?
We actively collaborate with Andorran companies. Most of our students do an internships and gain working experience as part of our cooperation. As I have already said, we have a big amount of different postgraduate courses is such fields of expertise as international taxation, banking, international law, etc. If there is a demand for some specialty in Andorra, we try to organize courses. As it was with international financial planning courses and courses for lawyers, specializing in the field of inheritance law, this year.
Please, tell us about academic stuff of the university. What is the level of their proficiency?
Our university is not a big one. 22 faculty members work full-time. Some of them have a doctoral degree. Special ongoing training program for faculty members is provided at the university. Beyond that around of 200 of our visiting scholars have an academic degree from other universities or work at different companies as at the international financial planning courses. I think that the balance between theorists and skilled professionals is a guaranty of the highest quality education. Big number of our professors has a degree from universities of France or Spain.
Would you, please, name a few of the most famous students with a diploma of the University of Andorra?
There are a lot of our alumnus who holds a public positions or is a famous businessmen. And this is not only about our students. Some of our professors are the awardees of the most prestigious awards in different fields.