Gabriel Ferraté, rector of the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya and entrepreneur, dies at 91 | Culture


The rector Gabriel Ferraté, in 2019.
The rector Gabriel Ferraté, in 2019.EUROPA PRESS

Dr. Gabriel Ferraté, who died last Sunday at the age of 91 in Barcelona, ​​belonged to a decisive generation of rectors, whose mandates during the Democratic Transition and consolidation led to the expansion and modernization of the Catalan and, by extension, Spanish university network. . An example of the first was his management at the head of the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC) between 1972 and 1976 and between 1978 and 1994. The UPC had been created in 1971 as “of Barcelona” from the union of different higher technical schools. , and definitively renamed in 1983, thus recognizing its territorial deployment.

The second was witnessed by the creation of the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC), where he served as rector-founder between 1995 and 2005. After obtaining free control from the Generalitat, he imagined a new pedagogical model, with a flexible structure and a project original that could crystallize thanks to the then nascent internet. Thus the first university emerged on-line of the world to, in his words, “break the barriers of space and time through new technologies”, capable of opening up to the world from Barcelona.

An exponent of the rich and cultured humus of the industrial-commercial bourgeoisie of Reus, where he was born in 1932 (his first cousins ​​were the eponymous poet Gabriel and the critic Joan), he benefited from an eclectic training by attending school in France during the Civil War, knowing England as a delegate of the family business and obtain the titles of industrial engineer and agricultural expert in Barcelona. Quickly, he oriented his research and teaching towards automation and robotics, being a pioneer in both fields. Thus, as an entrepreneur, he founded one of the first companies specialized in automated traffic light regulation systems. Since these were practically non-existent in Spain at that time, he focused on the international market, with milestones as curious as the installation of the first traffic light in Moscow’s Red Square. Furthermore, in 1968 he won the first chair of Automation in the country at the then Technical School of Industrial Engineers of Barcelona, ​​of whose center he was director between 1969 and 1972, and from where he promoted the first studies in telecommunications engineering.

During his brief parenthesis outside the UPC, in January 1976, he accepted the General Directorate of Universities and Scientific Policy of the first Government after the death of the dictator and, shortly after, he also joined the —finally unsuccessful— Commission for the study of a special regime of the four Catalan provinces. His time in the post-Franco power structures was not easy, as the initial visit of a commissioner reminded him, warning him: “Look, nothing has changed here because if anything had changed, they would have changed me.” Three months later, Ferraté took advantage of the division of his powers into two new organizations to remain in charge of the General Directorate of Scientific Policy. Victim of rising conflict and a government with little commitment to change, at the end of the year he abandoned all responsibility to return to his university. Beyond good words and some projects later discarded, he was able to achieve official recognition from the Institut d’Estudis Catalans.

Exceptionally gifted for creativity, original thinking and disobedience with respect to the given path or objective limitations, he combined his obsession, since childhood, with technology with a great multiplicity of interests. In his private home, the visitor was overwhelmed by collections of automatons, archaeological pieces, (deactivated) bombs from the Civil War, samples of stationery from the various positions held or films from all times. Some of these groups linked him to their universities, such as the multitudinous repertoire of frogs – due to the supposed homophony of their song with the acronym UOC – or his impressive collection of poetry donated to the library of the North Campus of the UPC, which bears his name. . Since January 2023, his personal and institutional documentation has been preserved in the UOC historical archive.

Married since 1966 and father of three children, he was also president of the Institut Cerdà and Caixa Tarragona (1995-2010), among many other positions. In addition, he accumulated various national and international awards and honors in the field of science and knowledge. As his successor, Rector Àngels Fitó, has stated, Ferraté “leaves a legacy that constitutes—especially for the UOC community—a precious, living, challenging incentive.”

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