Rector: free Latin American universities from ‘hyper-regulation’

Institutional agility in pandemic shows why heavy-handed regulation is a mistake, says Ecuadorean university president

November 18, 2020
Folk dancers at the parade, Cuenca, Ecuador
Source: iStock

The rapid changes introduced by Latin American universities during the coronavirus pandemic have exposed the folly of “hyper-regulation” which has led to many institutions becoming “stagnant and stale”, a university president has argued.

Carlos Montúfar, rector of the University of San Francisco, Quito, a private liberal arts institution in Ecuador’s capital city, said he believed the Covid-19 crisis would eventually have a “positive outcome” for Latin American universities given “many of the different things that have happened” during the pandemic, despite the significant disruption caused since March.

Speaking at an online conference hosted by Madrid’s IE University and Rome’s LUISS University, Professor Montúfar said the pandemic had highlighted, in particular, the misguided approach to regulation and accreditation found in Latin American countries, where rules were often onerous.

“The majority of students in Latin America attend public universities which are…[for] the majority stagnant, stale, hyper-regulated and controlled” by government rules, Professor Montúfar told the Reinventing Higher Education event.

“The most important thing and the lesson, I hope, our institutions in Ecuador learn [from the pandemic] is that government and regulators realise that they have to stop hyper-regulating us,” he explained, adding that universities have “moved faster than the government in reacting to the pandemic.

“That will enable us, both public and private universities, to provide a better university system for Ecuadorians and also students in Latin America,” continued Professor Montúfar.

“Accreditation has to change,” added Professor Montúfar, who insisted the “whole government machinery” on upholding standards was “based on rules and sanctions” to penalise institutions rather than a system that sought to “basically promote and help universities go through the pandemic”.

Professor Montúfar argued that the world was “halfway” through the pandemic, noting that many countries began to introduce social distancing measures in and around Friday 13 March and November had also seen a Friday 13th – an unlucky day, according to superstition.

In these seven months, universities had undergone a “fast-forward” in their development – a process that would continue until, at least, the next Friday 13th, which falls in August 2021.

During this period, universities, schools and students in Latin America had become “savvier about technology”, while the public had begun to “realise the importance of science” much more than before, said Professor Montúfar.

“This is a time that Latin America has to wake up to science and research…[it] has a lot of solutions when joined with the humanities,” he concluded.

jack.grove@timeshighereducation.com

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