Latinos to foster fair trade area

June 8, 2001

Latin American academics are keen to foster international links, but not at any price, despite a increasing enthusiasm for regional networks and developing ties with European universities.

Ari Plonski, coordinator of university cooperation at Brazil's São Paulo University, drew a distinction between "fair networks" and "fakes". "Sometimes you feel that a university is just establishing a network to get access to funding," he said, stressing how important it is for members to have an equal say in decision-making.

Globalisation and foreign investment in Latin America are pushing universities to internationalise their courses, according to Raul Diaz-Sanhuesa, postgraduate director at Diego Portales University in Santiago, Chile. There has been an explosion in the demand for MBAs.

"The MBA has become an essential qualification for people who wish to occupy top posts in Latin American companies," he said.

Together with universities from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay - Diego Portales and Spain's Pompeu Fabre University are planning to launch an MBA on business opportunities in Latin America.

Latin American academics are aware that many foreign universities see their region as a good business opportunity. There is great demand for education at all levels.

Many academics have noted a significant increase in the number of foreign institutions that have opened Latin American campuses in recent years. But while they are keen to boost links with institutions abroad, they envisage a cooperative rather than a purely commercial approach.

"We are not interested in just having products sold to us, we want to produce together, learn together and evaluate the quality together," said Jeanette Vélez, dean of continuing education at Colombia's Del Rosario University and president of Recla, a network of 45 Latin American and Caribbean universities founded in 1998.

Recla aims to promote innovation and research in continuing education. At a national level, Colombian universities are cooperating on several projects, including a course to give judges management skills and so reduce legal congestion and delay.

It is hoped that economic and political developments such as Mercosur, the South American free-trade area, may internationalise Latin American higher education in the same way the EU has in Europe.

Until recently, Latin American universities have had few international links, and resources are still a problem. The Montevideo network of universities, for instance, is a good example of a regional network in Latin America, but it has no money specifically for networking activities.

"You may complain all you like about the delays and the bureaucracy in Brussels," Professor Plonski said. "But there is funding for cooperation."

Geography and transport links are also obstacles.

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