Brazil’s new Latin American and global integration universities launched

As 2009 drew to a close, Brazil’s Senate granted official authorization for the establishment of a new, very different kind of university in Brazil – the Federal University for Latin America Integration, otherwise known as UNILA.

Unanimously passed on December 16th 2009, the Bill now enables UNILA to formally announce itself as a university, instead of a fledging project under the banner of the Institute for Advanced Studies, with oversight by the University of Parana, in the Brazilian state of Parana.

UNILA is one of three regional integration universities launched by Brazil’s President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in 2006 to advance Brazil’s interests within the region and globally. The other two university projects are UNILAB – the Afro-Brazilian University of Integration, and UNIAM – the University of Amazonian Integration.

These Brazilian initiatives were the latest addition to a rapidly changing higher education landscape around the globe, and one that is set to continue in 2010 (as implied in a recent NY Times report about the implications of the collapse of Dubai’s overheated economy for branch campuses such as Michigan State University and Rochester Institute of Technology).

Dubai’s spectacular meltdown in December was matched by a stunning $61m launch party for Saudi Arabia’s ‘House of Wisdom’ – the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, or KAUST which Kimberly Coulter covered for GlobalHigherEd.

As Kris Olds wrote in his introduction to Coulter’s entry:

KAUST is a unique experiment in how to organize an institution to facilitate innovation in scientific knowledge production, a secure and efficient compound (hence Saudi Aramco’s involvement), a defacto sovereign wealth fund, a demonstration effect for new approaches to higher education in Saudi Arabia, and many other things (depending on standpoint).

So what do these initiatives have in common? Money aside (KAUST has an endowment of around US$11bn), but like KAUST, Brazil’s three new universities reflect a shared ambition: to use international higher education networks to advance cultural, political and economic projects.

However while KAUST is aimed at developing a world class national university in Saudi Arabia via the recruitment of global talent (academics and students), state of the art buildings and cutting edge development projects, UNILA, UNILAB and UNIAM are aimed at creating a ‘supranational’, ‘global’ and ‘regional’  university respectively, drawing upon staff and students from within the wider region, or from across south-south networks (UNILAB) – though each,  as I will show below, have distinctive visions and territorial reaches with UNILAB the most global.

In August of 2009, I had the privilege of attending the official launch of UNILA.  Close to the fabulous Iguacu Falls,  in Foz, Parana, UNILA is being developed on a 43 hectare site granted by Itaipu Binacional, the bi-national energy company running the huge hydro-electric dam providing energy to Paraguay and the southern cone of Brazil.

The objectives of UNILA are to pursue inter-regional trans-disciplinary research and teaching in areas of joint interest of the MERCOSUL member countries (Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, Uruguay) focusing, for example, upon use of natural resources, trans-border biodiversity, social sciences and linguistic research, international relations as well as relevant disciplines for strategic development.

Unlike KAUST, however, whose model is US-oriented (in becoming the MIT of the East, the ‘Stanford by the Seashore’), UNILA’s mission and approach to knowledge is shaped by a distinctive Latin American commitment. Each course has a Patron and a Founder.

The first Patrons have been chosen for being Latin American names who have left relevant academic-scientific contributions associated to a field of knowledge , while course founders have been appointed for the high academic prestige in their respective fields of knowledge as well as renowned international competence in their specialities.

10 Professorial Chairs have been appointed to UNILA. Each Chair has a mandate to develop courses in ways that are inspired by, and advance, the intellectual legacy of the Patron. For instance, in the area of science, technology and innovation,  founding Chair, Hebe Vessuri, will draw inspiration from the patron Amilcar Herrerra (1920-1995) – an Argentinean geologist who valued inter-disciplinary knowledge and who have argued that the solution to problems lay not with science as progress, but in the interface with policy and politics.

These patrons are clearly not the organic intellectuals of the ruling classes. Many of these patrons, such as the Chilean writer Francisco Bilbao (1823-65), and Paraguay’s Augusto Roa Bastos (1917-2005), have spent years in exile.

The target student population for UNILA is 10,000 students enrolled in undergraduate and post-graduate programmes leading to MA and PhD degrees. Entrants will be required to sit a university entry examination that will be offered in two versions: one with a Portuguese language requirement for Brazilian citizens and a Spanish Language for the foreign candidates of eligible member countries. Lectures will be offered in both Portuguese and Spanish, as it is expected that half of the teaching staff will be from the regional member countries.

By way of contrast with UNILA, UNILAB is the most global in ambition. This unilateral Portuguese-speaking Afro-Brazilian University of Integration will have  campuses in various  Portuguese speaking countries (Brazil, Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Portugal, Sâo Tomé and Príncipe, and East Timor). Expected to open for enrolment in the beginning of   2010, UNILAB is hailed as a political-pedagogic innovation project (see here for information on UNILAB developments).

The principal aim of UNILAB is to encourage and strengthen co-operation, partnerships, and cultural, educational and scientific exchanges between Brazil an member states of   the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries (CPLP) listed above. UNILAB will also focus on collaboration with the African countries of the CPLP,  aiming to contribute to these nations’ socio-economic development, including reducing ‘brain drain’ problems currently experienced by African countries.

UNILAB is intended to become an integrated multi-campus institution with campuses in all the   African member countries of the CPLP. Each of these campuses will also be integrated within the regions where they are located. Its main campus will be established in the city of Redenção in Brazil’s North-Eastern state of Ceará, approximately 60 kilometres from the city of Fortaleza. Redenção has been selected to host the main campus because it was the first municipality that had abolished slavery in Brazil, and because the region currently does not yet host a university. The main campus is also expected to function as an instrument for the strategic social-economic development of the North-East of Brazil.

In a report carried by the Observatory for Borderless Higher Education on these initiatives, Brazil’s Minister of Education, Fernando Haddad, commented:

We will not offer traditional programmes, but instead we will construct a common identity between the countries, that makes it possible to contribute to the social-economic development of each of the countries involved.

The third, more regional, initiative, Universidade Federal da Integração Amazônica, or UNIAM, will be established as a public multi-campus university, with a main campus in the Brazilian city of Santarém, and three satellite campuses in the cities Itaituba, Monte Alegre and Oriximiná, all located in Brazil’s state of Pará.

The main aim of UNIAM will be to encourage social-economic integration of the Amazon region, which includes not only parts of Brazil, but also areas of eight surrounding countries.

UNIAM’s  main campus will be established in the Brazilian city of Santarém, and three satellite campuses in the cities Itaituba, Monte Alegre and Oriximiná, all located in Brazil’s state of Pará. The aim of the new institution will be to encourage social-economic integration of the Amazon region, which includes not only parts of Brazil, but also areas of eight surrounding countries.

While it is unclear at the moment when the new university will open for enrolment, by 2013 UNIAM is expected to offer 41 programmes at Bachelor’s, Master’s and doctoral levels.  The Brazilian government will reportedly cover the US$107 million budget that will be needed to pay for the establishment and personnel costs of the new university until 2012.

Described by the Brazilian Ministry of Education as particular ‘political-pedagogic innovation projects’, these three new universities are intended to enhance national, regional and global integration, and demonstrate to the world that it may be possible to unite different countries through education.

These are fascinating initiatives likely to liven up the global higher education landscape in 2010. They reflect not only emerging regionalisms, but potential shifts in the sites and stakes of global and regional knowledge production and power.

Susan Robertson

Anne Corbett on the “Six to be reckoned with at the Bologna conference” in Leuven this week

Catch Anne Corbett’s interesting reflections published in the Guardian on this week’s big European higher education event in Leuven, Belgium: the 6th Bologna Ministerial Conference, 28-29th April, 2009.  Let’s see what events unfold once the Conference Communique is put into action.

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Anne Corbett is Visiting Fellow, European Institute, London School of Economics, and former journalist. Anne  has recently contributed to GlobalHigherEd reflecting upon Clifford Adelman’s report The Bologna Process with U.S. Eyes: Relearning Higher Education in the Age of Convergence.

Susan Robertson

Global higher education: what alternative models for emerging higher education systems?

ghefposterHigher education systems in Asia, Latin America and Africa bear prominent similarities to those in Europe.  Historically, Latin America, Asia particularly Southeast Asia, and Africa had adopted the systems of their respective colonizers who also provided the major part of the funding mechanism, teaching staff, and ideologies on higher education at one time in history.  The very obvious imposition by the colonizers is the language with a large part of Latin America using Spanish, Asia using English and Africa using French.  The American higher education system became more influential after the early twentieth century with the stress on research as the main activity of universities.  Apart from that, the American system was the first to introduce massification of education which had been adopted by many countries around the world.  Higher education institutions of today emphasize on mass higher education which results in increasing access to tertiary education.

Arguably, emerging countries are in dire need of a forum to deliberate on possible models for higher education for countries of the South, in particular the Commonwealth countries where a majority of the bottom billions resides.  Countries from the South, particularly Asian countries have been adapting models from Europe and US for decades, be they sprung from voluntary adoption or influenced by external factors.  Instead of borrowing from western models and putting them to test by going through the whole process of adaptation, evaluation and experimentation, the same amount of time and effort can be utilized to examine the prospect of identifying a model in a South-South context.  This model will be made up of elements of locality, taking into consideration of the persisting cultural and scholarly values. Globalization and internationalization of higher education should not be adopted at the expense of local knowledge.

Notably, the effort to break away from the clutches of the dominating Western model is not new as evidenced by the implementation of national language in post-secondary education by Malaysia and Indonesia. However, fundamental models practiced in Asian countries remain biased towards European/American model. This factor has contributed to the peripheral status of Asian higher education institutions and with the rapid globalisation, the so-called central higher education institutions in Europe/America would remain dominant, more striking in the context of higher education internationalization. Indeed, lately Malaysia has once again beginning to embrace the English language after so many years experimenting with the Malay language as the medium of instruction in public higher education institutions. Whither Asia/indigenous models of higher education development?

The Asia models that we have in mind is deeply entrenched in the belief that even within the context of the globalization process that every country is unique; this provides ample reason to relook or reassess the higher education systems which are very much inclined towards the European/American models.  The present higher education models adopted by many countries in the South, characterized by the Western ideologies may have been tailored to suit local needs, but the extent to which the adaptation serves the emerging need to strengthen the standing of each country demands a rethinking.  There has never been a time when higher education in the South faces more opportunities and challenges than in this current global economic downturn.  We are in urgent need of models that can handle Asia’s peculiar situation with respect to quality and accountability as well as funding mechanism with shrinking public funding.  To this date, the responses to these challenges are typically European/American in character: corporatisation/privatisation of higher education, management of higher education based on entrepreneurial approach, competition within the higher education sector and the evident rise of higher education as a commodity.  Major issues mentioned above may come under the same umbrella across the world higher education systems, nonetheless a more thorough inspection would indicate varied issues faced by different regions which are subject to social, political, economic and national pressures.

The appropriateness of the growth trajectories of existing higher education systems, dominated by European/American models poses the challenge of how far the present models are justified in a South-South context, one with much greater diversity from those of the North.  In essence one may want to view that the world ranking system of universities and the notion of world class universities as proposed by the North more as concepts or attempts at standardizing universities rather than appreciating the distinct elements of each university within its national socio-political context.

ghef20091The Second Global Higher Education Forum (GHEF2009) to be held in Penang, Malaysia from 13 to 16 December 2009 will serve as a platform for debates and discussions on higher education that recognise the different characteristics of higher education institutions and systems in different regions.  It will encompass topics ranging from the current trends to the future perspectives of higher education with the present global economic downturn as the main backdrop.  GHEF2009 will consider and examine the possible effects and offer alternate avenues for mitigating the global financial and economic effects, particularly for countries of the South.  Furthermore, the current and future challenges faced by the nations in the South require different models for the development of higher education institutions and systems. There is also an urge to attempt exploration of the possibilities as well as opportunities for regional harmonisation of higher education. Apart from that, discussions will also explore how the North and South will be able to have bilateral collaboration to weather global issues with the emphasis on serving and promoting sustainable development for the cause of humanity.

Morshidi Sirat and Ooi Poh Ling