Research in Spain: current situation and emerging trends

Currently, we find ourselves in a period of change due to the global economic crisis of the last decades, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine War. Despite these economic challenges and budgetary constraints, Spain has managed to grow in the research sector compared to previous years. According to the Regional Competitiveness Report in Spain (1), the resources allocated to Research and Technological Development in Spain represented 1.44% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2022. However, this figure still falls below the average of countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which is 2.3% (2).  

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Further, there has been an increase in the number of professionals in R&D. A total of 263,407 individuals in full-time contracts in 2022, representing 12.9 per thousand of the total employed population and a 5.6% increase compared to 2021 (3). There was also a growing presence of women – 40.8% of the personnel in internal R&D in full-time equivalent were women (3), although their representation in the public administration is nearly twice that in private enterprises and non-profit institutions.

Regarding Spanish scientific production, there was a growth of 30.54% during the period 2016-2020 compared to the previous five years. Despite this growth, Spain descends to the 12th position globally compared to the previous report, according to the Conocimiento y Desarrollo (CYD) (4). In this report the institutional sectors (universities) remain the main generator of scientific publications, representing 59.9% of the total production.

Emerging Trends

During this period, we can highlight the following emerging trends in the following fields: 

  1. Research in Sustainable Technologies; With a growing focus on sustainability, research in green technologies has taken center stage in Spain. From renewable energy to waste management and sustainable agricultural practices, Spanish researchers are at the forefront of seeking solutions that benefit both the environment and society (5, 6).
  2. Artificial Intelligence and Technological Innovation. Research in artificial intelligence, big data, and cybersecurity has experienced a significant surge. Government initiatives and collaboration with technology companies are driving innovation in this field. Further, the National Artificial Intelligence Strategy (ENIA) focuses on boosting scientific research, talent development, data platforms, and integrating AI into value chains (7). 
  3. Health Sciences Research. The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the importance of research in health sciences in both public and private sector Spain. IN 2021, R&D investment surpassed pre-pandemic levels. After the drop in 2020 as a result of the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, R&D investment picked up steam again in 2021 among biotechnology companies. This recovery meant a 16% increase, one of the highest growth rates in recent years, surpassed only by the 22% jump seen in 2019 (8).

These emerging trends in research serve as evidence of alignment with national, regional, and international public policies aimed at enhancing the transformation of the Spanish economy towards a knowledge-based economy. In this context, the European Union, through the Next Generation EU program, wants to make the economies of its member countries more resilient, competitive, and sustainable (9). This could be achieved through digital empowerment, decarbonization, modernization in governance, and social and geographical inclusion.

Unique Scientific and Technological Infrastructure (ICTS) in Spain

In this context, research centers and Scientific and Technological Singular Infrastructure play a crucial role in improving competitiveness and transitioning towards a knowledge-based economy through training, knowledge transfer, and the provision of high-level scientific and technical services that can contribute to the European Union’s policies of making the economies of member countries, particularly those located in the ultra-peripheral areas of Europe, more resilient, competitive, and sustainable through R&D, digital transformation, decarbonization, governance modernization, and social and geographical inclusion (10).

The Oceanic Platform of the Canary Islands (PLOCAN) is one of the 29 ICTS located throughout Spanish territory, totaling 64 infrastructures. 

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Spanish Unique Scientific and Technological Infrastructures map (ICTS) map (11)

PLOCAN facilitates access to and efficient utilization of the ocean environment. It offers scientific laboratories, autonomous vehicles, and other technical capabilities located in the marine environment. Additionally, PLOCAN, through its various research lines, aims to address not only climatic challenges, ocean observation and preservation, and FAIR data management but also to improve open science and enhance career research pathways.

Challenges and Opportunities 

While Spain has made notable advances in research, it faces persistent challenges such as: 

  • Limited funding: Despite efforts, investment in research and development (R&D) in Spain remains below the European average. Limited resources hinder researchers’ ability to undertake ambitious and competitive projects.
  • Brain drai: Talented researchers often emigrate to other countries in search of better opportunities and working conditions. That affects the continuity and quality of research in Spain.
  • Gap Between Academia and Industry: There exists a disconnect between academic research and industry needs. Promoting collaboration and knowledge transfer is essential to drive innovation and competitiveness (8).
  • Bureaucracy and Administrative Rigidity: Administrative processes can be slow and complex, impeding the efficient execution of research projects.

However, the country also presents exciting opportunities to strengthen the connection between research and industry, as well as to foster international collaboration on cutting-edge projects and improve research career pathways. 

  • European Funding Programs: Spain can leverage available funds through programs like Horizon Europe to boost research in strategic areas such as artificial intelligence, health, clean energy, and sustainability (9).
  • International Collaboration: Cooperation with other countries and research networks allows access to shared resources, knowledge exchange, and participation in large-scale projects (8).
  • Startup Ecosystem and Entrepreneurship: The growing community of technological startups and innovative companies offers opportunities for collaboration between researchers and the private sector (8).


Research in Spain stands at an exciting crossroads, with a solid foundation for growth and innovation. As the country moves forward, the ability to adapt to global trends and continued investment in research and development will be the key to consolidating its position on the international stage.

The ICTS, such as PLOCAN, play a crucial role by providing advanced tools and resources for research, innovation, and multidisciplinary collaboration in critical areas to address climate change issues and promote the use of alternative and more sustainable energy sources.


1. Empresa, C. y. (s/f). INFORME DE LA COMPETITIVIDAD REGIONAL EN ESPAÑA 20233. Recuperado el 19 de febrero de 2024, de

2.INE(2024).,a%20402%20euros%20por%20habitante.(accesed (31January 2024).

3. Anguera M. La investigación en España: aumenta el gasto y la producción científica, pero con recursos inferiores a países de su entorno [Internet]. Fundacion CYD. 2023 [citado el 31 de enero de 2024]. Disponible en:

4. Braga, D., Candina, J., Eceiza, J., Esgalhado, B., Fernández, D. G., & Marcos, I. (2022). Net-zero Spain: Europe’s decarbonization hub. McKinsey & Company.

5.Spanish Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy 2021-2027.

6. National Artificial Intelligence Strategy (ENIA), 2020. Recuperado el 15 de febrero de 2024, de

7. Informe Asebio (Spanish Association of Bioindutry), 2022(S/f-b).

8. Horizonte Europa: nuevo Programa Marco de la UE. (s/f) Recuperado el 15 de febrero de 2024, de

9. European research infrastructures. (s/f). Research and Innovation. Recuperado el 15 de febrero de 2024, de

10. Unique Scientific and Technical Infraestructures (ICTS). Recuperado el 14 de febrero de 2024, de