Joan Guàrdia i Olmos: teaching at the heart of Europe

Awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Montpellier, Joan Guàrdia i Olmo is Professor of Methodology of Behavioural Sciences at the Faculty of Psychology of the University of Barcelona (UB). Since 2020, he has also been its rector. It is committed to defending a Europe of education and research based on shared values.

Each ceremony for the award of the title of Doctor Honoris Causa is unique. The case concerning Joan Guàrdia i Olmo, the rector of the University of Barcelona, is no exception to the rule. If only because the Catalan researcher's godfather is none other than Philippe Augé, the president of the University of Montpellier. In the prestigious setting of the Salle des Actes of the historic building of the Faculty of Medicine, he declared that this distinction, as symbolic as it was meaningful, was awarded to his Spanish counterpart "as an academic, a visionary, an institution leader with such a singular vision of openness to other European countries but also to the world".

An Eminent Researcher

As an academic, Joan Guàrdia i Olmo has built up over the years an impressive academic background dedicated to understanding the complexity of the human mind. A native of Barcelona, he graduated with distinction from the University of Barcelona in 1985 with a degree in philosophy and educational sciences (psychology section) before obtaining a doctorate in the same field the following year. In 1987, he began teaching as a professor of methodology of behavioural sciences at the Faculty of Psychology as well as in various faculties of the University of Barcelona, and gave lectures around the world on topics ranging from neuroscience research to psychosocial risk analysis.

"You have had a remarkable career as a researcher, with more than 30 books published and more than 250 articles to your credit. You have led more than 25 excellent research projects, both nationally and internationally, and have contributed to more than 40 knowledge transfer and innovation agreements," said Philippe Augé in his eulogy. A member of two major research institutes at the University of Barcelona, the Institute of Neuroscience (UBneuro) and the Institute of Complex Systems (UBICS), Joan Guàrdia supervises numerous doctoral theses and leads a research group on quantitative psychology. "Your contributions to systems of structural equations in psychology have marked a significant turning point in our understanding of models for predicting social anxiety ," adds the President of the University of Montpellier.

Close links between Montpellier and Barcelona

At the same time, the Catalan researcher has been strongly involved in the management of the University of Barcelona. As Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters, before being elected Rector in December 2020, and then recently re-elected on December 5, 2023 for a six-year term. This responsibility at the head of the University of Barcelona has made him a privileged partner of the University of Montpellier, the two cities having close ties for many years, in particular due to a twinning dating back to 1963. The fruitful relationship between the two higher education institutions is rich in collaborations. François Pierrot, Vice-President for International Relations at the University of Montpellier, highlights common points, including a commitment to "excellent research that contributes enormously to their international visibility" and a concern for "the impact of their work on sustainable development issues on a global scale".

A rich academic collaboration marked by flagship agreements such as the inter-university framework agreement signed between the University of Barcelona, the University of Montpellier and the Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3 University in 2015, or the institutional framework agreement on the perimeter of the I-site signed in 2017, officially renewed at the end of the honorary doctorate ceremony. A double master's degree in water sciences was also launched in 2023.

An opening to Europe

But one of the major joint projects carried out by the University of Barcelona and the University of Montpellier remains the CHARM-EU consortium, in which Joan Guàrdia has shown himself to be a fundamental driving force. "Through your strategic vision, your unparalleled leadership and your ability to rally the other eminent leaders of the alliance's member institutions, you have been able to provide powerful political momentum at the highest level and initiate fundamental change ," notes Philippe Augé.

Gilles Subra, CHARM-EU project manager at the University of Montpellier, points out this aspect: "Working with five nationalities, and now eight, is not easy. But the UB's style is first and foremost a great deal of transparency, respect for everyone's word and the desire to always reach compromise through discussion. I believe that this way of doing things is perfectly embodied by its president Joan Guardia."

A shared academic future

In a speech delivered entirely in French, the Rector of the University of Barcelona spoke about the problems of a Europe of teaching and research, and the need to build a common university future despite the many obstacles to be overcome. "The design of an academic Europe inevitably involves change, shared pathways, coordination over individual strategy and honest collaboration," he says. While acknowledging the progress made: "During these eight years of work in relation to the European alliances, an indisputable reality has been built. Proof that a wind of Mediterranean fraternity with the scents of Europe continues to blow over Montpellier.

CHARM-EU: building the university of tomorrow together

The CHARM-EU alliance of European universities was initiated in 2019 under the impetus of the University of Barcelona under the presidency of its then rector, Joan Elias Garcia, in order to respond to the first Erasmus+ call for projects of European Universities. In June 2019, the CHARM-EU project was one of the 17 winners, bringing together five partners under the coordination of the University of Barcelona, including the University of Montpellier, the University of Utrecht (Germany), Trinity College Dublin (Ireland), the Eötvös Loránd University of Budapest (Hungary). Five European universities have joined the CHARM-EU alliance: Åbo Akademi University (Finland), University of Würzburg (Germany), Entrepreneurship (Germany) and University of Bergen (Norway). "We can welcome the bold choice made by the University of Barcelona as coordinator to choose to work on a global dimension linking the teaching part and the research part and involving all the missions of the university from the beginning in order to really create a sustainable strategic alliance," notes Gilles Subra, CHARM-EU project manager at the University of Montpellier.

To fully experiment with this way of conceiving a transnational alliance of higher education institutions, a co-constructed joint master's degree was launched in 2021. Entitled Global Challenges for Sustainable Development, this transdisciplinary research-based course is based on the resolution of field challenges in line with the problems of society. The projects of the CHARM-EU alliance are numerous: a common catalogue of international courses, the implementation of microcredits, the development of a team-based PhD concept, etc. Today, only 10% of the universities of the 27 member states of the European Union participate in an alliance, and yet already about fifty alliances of European universities have already been created, in which more than 40 French universities participate.