Studies of good practices in Knowledge Regions: Málaga (Spain)

Studying other knowledge regions enables us to identify good practices in other regions. In this issue we introduce Malaga as interesting innovation example from Spain

In this section, we look at areas of Europe that have evolved into knowledge regions in recent years. We analyse the general aspects of one of these regions to help us identify the strategic model that Southern Catalonia needs to adopt if it is to become a knowledge region. The article also introduces certain concepts and variables about knowledge regions.

In the previous issue we introduced the region of Twente because of its configuration as a region of knowledge and, more specifically, because of the characteristics of its system of regional governance. In this issue we introduce Malaga as an interesting example from Spain.

Economic and sectoral considerations

The region of Malaga (an NUTS3 region according to the European Union’s classification system) is 7,308 square kilometres and has 1,453,000 inhabitants. Of these, 569,000 live in the provincial capital, although this rises to 1,218,000 for the whole metropolitan area, which is the fifth largest in Spain and contains 74.76% of the regional population.

Malaga accounts for 3.12% of the national population and represents 2.27% of the national GDP. The tertiary sector plays an important role in the area (more than 80% of GDP comes from the services sector).

University education system

The main institution is the Universidad de Málaga (UMA), which has 35,000 students, 65% of whom are from the province of Malaga, 14% from the rest of Andalusia (mainly Cordoba), 16% from the rest of Spain and 5% from other countries. The university system is complemented by a series of higher education centres, which are not affiliated with UMA, to specializing in tourism (Escuela Superior de Turismo Costa del Sol), marketing (ESIC) and audio-visuals (SchoolTraining) and by the American College de Marbella, where students can complete their university studies in the United States.

The Strategic Plan of the University of Malaga 2013-2016 commits the institution to excellence in education, research and knowledge transfer, commitment to human capital, sustainability, social and economic development and social responsibility. The University’s specialities are the aerospace sector, biotechnology for a healthy society, communications and mobility, energy and environment, tourism and territorial development, and transport.

The UMA is not only based in the urban area of Malaga; it also has two associated university schools (Nursing in Ronda and Teaching in Antequera) and research centres in Churriana (Environment) and Campanillas (Biotechnology).

The active participation of the university in society is also reflected in the Plaza.UMA (Ciencia para la Sociedad), where, in collaboration with the Diputación de Málaga, the UMA has established a dialogue with society in order to determine how its knowledge can be put to the service of society and the territory.

A key element in the knowledge system of Malaga is the Campus of International Excellence Andalucía Tech (CEI), which is a collaboration structure between the UMA, the Universidad de Sevilla (US) and the business sector. The project is structured on the principles of aggregation, specialization and internationalization. Of particular note are the 150 organisations that have joined the project (public organizations, technological centres and parks and companies), the six specialised teaching and research areas and the attraction of international talent.

Figure 1. Governance structure of Campus of International Excellence (CEI) Andalucía Tech.

Source: Campus of International Excellence (CEI) Andalucía Tech.
Research, Development and Innovation (R&D&i)

The research, development and innovation system in Malaga has different nodes within a clearly linked structure based on knowledge-based strategies. The UMA, with its I Plan Propio de Investigación y Transferencia, created the Oficina de Transferencia de los Resultados de la Investigación (OTRI) as an essential instrument to develop knowledge transfer to the business and society of the province.

In addition to the business dimension, there are also various technological centres carrying out research or technology transference, such as Habitec and the Centro Andaluz de Innovación y Tecnologías de la Información y las Comunicaciones (CITIC).

One of the main elements of the R&D&i system is the Parque Tecnológico de Andalucía (PTA), developed by the city council and the Andalusian Government. It is a place managed by representatives from National Government, city council, Andalusian Government, UMA and Unicaja, where SMEs and companies with a strong R&D&i component are located. It has received €790.5 million since its creation in 1992, with €613 million coming from private companies. The PTA’s importance is also reflected in other figures, such as the 600 companies established there (32.37% of which are linked to the ITC), the 16,774 employees and the turnover of €1.625 million euros in 2016.

One of the most important R&D&i projects is the smart city strategy of Malaga, based on the application of technology to the public sector, energy sustainability and the management of mobility and public spaces, among others.

Ultimately, the focus on entrepreneurship is reflected in the multiple support structures in place, such as the various business incubators and the Open for Business Malaga project (oriented towards internationalisation).

All of these elements have made Malaga a national leader in technological innovation.


The governance system of Malaga covers the entire province and consists of a network of different cooperating entities with no official leader.

One of the main entities is the Diputación de Málaga, which implements the main territorial policies and strategies in collaboration with other organisations. At the regional level, there is the Fundación MADECA, which consists of representatives from the regional council, the city council, the Andalusian Government, the UMA, the PTA, the Chamber of Commerce of Malaga, the Malaga Confederation of Businesses, CCOO, local action groups (Gudalteba, Antequera) and rural development groups (Axarquía, Serranía de Ronda, Valle del Guadalhorce and Sierra de las Nieves) among others.

MADECA is responsible for designing, managing and promoting initiatives for the socio-economic development of the region of Malaga, all of which form part of the Málaga Estrategia Territorial Avanzada (META) programme. Its main strategic lines are sustainability, innovation and entrepreneurship, economic growth and production, education and society.

The City Council’s involvement is also reflected in the Fundación CIEDES, which also contains representatives from the regional council, the Andalusian Government, the UMA, the PTA, the Chamber of Commerce of Malaga, the Malaga Confederation of Businesses, CCOO and the port, among others. CIEDES is responsible for strategic planning in the metropolitan area within the Plan Estratégico de Málaga.

Promálaga is a company created by Malaga City Council which manages and promotes business and publishes documents relating to the territory such as Málaga para invertir.

The Malaga Valley Club is a group of presidents and leaders from the information society sector. They have more than 200 members, including representatives from Telefónica, Endesa, Oracle, Orange, Vodafone, Microsoft, Vocento, Nokia and IBM. Its objective is to design policies and lines of action in order to transform Malaga into a European leader in technology and talent attraction. The club is supported by the city council and focuses mainly on giving support and publicising the technological developments that take place in the province.

Comparison with Southern Catalonia

Malaga’s university system has elements in common with South Catalonia, such as the regional role played by their respective universities and the fact that both are campuses of international excellence.

Malaga and Southern Catalonia also have important tertiary sectors (particularly in coastal tourism) and predominantly rural and agricultural inland areas. Both regions also have good travel infrastructure in the form of a port, an airport, high-speed rail links, and a coastal road corridor).

In terms of R&D&i, both regions have knowledge-based and regional development strategies, technology transfer offices and research centres working in their respective specialised sectors.

Both regions have a similar system of governance in the form of regional councils with fairly similar competences.

However, we can observe some interesting differences, such as the fact that the campus of excellence, Andalucia Tech, is composed by UMA and US. Both institutions promote a more diversified study offer, joint degrees and are focused to strength their knowledge and innovation ecosystem.

There are also certain differences in the area of governance. For example, there are two foundations in Malaga (CIEDES and MADECA) that bring together public and private entities to promote provincial and metropolitan strategies. Both regions are fostering the transition to a knowledge-based economy and society. Southern Catalonia does not have any entity playing an equal role.

Another difference is Malaga’s desire to attract talent through strategies to market the territory internationally (again with the collaboration of the business sector).

In conclusion, Malaga has plenty of interest for Southern Catalonia in terms of R&D&i, internationalisation, aggregation, governance and urban and territorial strategy, all of which are common and important elements on the way to becoming a knowledge region.

Antonio Calero López and Josep Maria Piñol Alabart

Members of support group of the Chair for University and Knowledge Region

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