SIGCIS 2012 Workshop, Parallel Sessions I: Works in Progress

Name: Jordi Fornes
Institutional Affiliation: UPC, UAB
E-mail address:
Paper Type: Work in Progress
Paper Title: Computing in Transition: The Origins of Barcelona’s School of Informatics, 1976-1984
Paper Abstract: Amid a climate of political upheaval, a very strong economic crisis and a tense relationship between the Ministry of Education and Science and professional associations, the first computer science university studies started in Catalonia in 1976. This paper provides an analysis of the establishment of the school based on an oral history project and the examination of the school’s archives. It shows the efforts to develop a computer science studies taking into account Industry needs, scientific agendas and the political tensions associated to the transition to democracy in Spain.
To begin, we take into account the precedents of computing training in Spain. Until the establishment of studies at universities, studies had generally been carried by computer manufacturers. By 1969, an Institute of Informatics (Instituto de Informática) was established in Madrid to provide official titles to the growing community of professionals, which by 1975 counted almost 50,000 members -plus 55,000 punch card workers- in Spain.

Catalonia, a major industrial region, counted with an office of the Institute of Informatics -placed at the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB), and connected to Madrid by means of an UNIVAC terminal- and two computer laboratories running with IBM support in the other two Catalan Universities (the University of Barcelona and the Polytechnic University) that formed students in scientific computing. Indeed, it was the stronghold of the ATI, a powerful association of technicians in Informatics (ATI) that pushed government and academy for formal studies inside University.
Barcelona’s School of Informatics (FIB) developed from this context, and implies an important break with the customs of Spanish university. It was not a natural continuation of the studies at the Institute of Informatics, but a new centre at the UPC; it developed as new school instead of a specialty within the School of Industrial Engineering; it did not counted with a traditional curriculum, driven by the establishment of specific chairs, but with a very open curriculum based on credits and designed by a small team of professionals related to the ATI and with long experience in electronic data processing.
The first years of the FIB were also peculiar for the blend of lecturers coming from both industry and academia, and mature students coming from other university schools and faculties instead of high schools. The rebellious spirit of the time was also reflected in the choice of hardware. Instead of the IBM or an UNIVAC computers typical of early laboratories, the first computer chosen to serve researchers, students and staff was a DEC PDP-11, even if the company was still not established in Spain.

This innovative model started to decline in early 1980s. With a very important increase of students –now coming from high schools- and the stagnation in resources, the School began to reproduce patterns of other Spanish universities, and full-time academic lecturers push the old part-time professionals away.