Purpose ‐ The growing interest regarding intangibles and intellectual capital (IC) has extended from firms to public institutions such as universities and research centres during the last decade. Since universities are considered critical institutional actors in national
innovation systems, European higher education and research institutions are going through an important transformation process with the aim of making them more comparable, flexible, transparent and competitive. The objective of the paper is two-fold. On the one hand, its aim is to address the
importance of measuring and managing IC in universities to improve research management and contribute to comparative analysis in European universities, and on the other hand, to highlight some methodological and conceptual considerations in relation to the analytical framework developed within
an ongoing experience ‐ the Observatory of European Universities (OEU). Design/methodology/approach ‐ The paper analyses a specific case within the OEU: the Autonomous University of Madrid (UAM) in Spain. The problems and difficulties within the process of applying the
OEU analytical framework are examined. Findings ‐ This analysis provides some insight into the utility of the framework. From a conceptual point of view, we find some similarities between IC approaches and the OEU, but a different terminology is identified. Originality/value
‐ This paper argues that important benefits can be achieved when adapting the Observatory's framework to the IC approach and terminology, regarding the increasing impact of IC approaches at firm and political level.