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University leaders from Europe and Latin America gather in Colombia for second major bi-regional university association conference

17 December 2013

Approximately 120 university leaders and members of national university associations from 32 countries gathered in Cartagena, Colombia, from 2 to 4 December for the second major bi-regional conference of the ALFA PUENTES project entitled “A Europe-Latin America Partnership for Innovative, Responsive and Sustainable Universities”.

© Asociación Colombiana de Universidades (ASCUN)/Ómar Bravo MerlanoThe conference was an occasion to take forward the conclusions of the first major bi-regional conference that took place in São Paulo in November 2012 and showcase the outcomes of ALFA PUENTES, which has supported three concrete initiatives for convergence of the higher education systems in three Latin American sub-regions (Mercosur, the Andean Community and Central America). In particular, this has focused on the establishment of a collaborative quality assurance approach for undergraduate degree programmes in the Andean Community, the development of a qualifications framework in Central America, the launch of a mobility strategy for Mercosur countries, and the interrelation of these initiatives.

The event was split into four main sessions focusing on: data in higher education institutions and at system level; responding to knowledge and learning needs of today’s and tomorrow’s societies; international frameworks and instruments for diverse higher education systems; and internationalisation strategies and actions, all of which have been identified as themes of transversal importance to both regions.

To introduce the session on data and set the stage for the different themes, the conference opened with a presentation of the main finding of TRESAL (Transformations in Latin America Higher Education), a comprehensive study of university perceptions regarding higher education change in Latin America.

Responses were received from 150 institutions in 14 countries, including 1 500 students and 7 500 professors, on a variety of themes: teaching and learning reform; quality assurance; internationalisation; regionalisation; employability; access and equity. In particular, it was stressed that quality assurance (QA) has dominated the university agenda in the past five years, and would continue to be a priority in the next years as different internal and external QA processes are consolidated. In the next five years, however, internationalisation, growing research capacity and cooperation with industry will increasingly top the list of priorities.

The survey was also the first of its kind to distinguish sub-regional trends (Mercosur, Andean Community, Mexico and Central America) and to compare the responses of private and public institutions as well. When it comes to teaching and learning and regional convergence, Mexican and Central American universities in particular place a high focus on reforming curricula and further developing learning outcomes.

Most Latin American universities see the advantages in implementing a common credit system (and a proposal for one has been developed), however, in the lapse of a political impetus for such a process, this may take time.  Regardless, a high interest in improving recognition of studies between systems was expressed as well as a general priority for attracting more students both globally and from within the Latin American region. Europe remains a top priority for cooperation for Andean and Mercosur universities while Central America and Mexico express a slightly greater preference for North America. Asia, Australia and Africa will grow their strategic interest in the eyes of Latin American universities in the coming five years.

The conference concluded with a summary of the main discussions and the project activities and outlined future perspectives for EU-Latin America university collaboration. The general rapporteur, Howard Davies, Senior Adviser to EUA, commented how the ALFA PUENTES project in general had mapped the outline of the Latin American Higher Education Area and produced solid outcomes: proof of the quality of bi-regional cooperation; better communication between sub-regions; deeper understanding of the range of realities at institutional level. It had also helped consolidate the platform for future action in the framework of the EU–Latin American accords on a joint higher education space and had shown how knowledge can be generated by associations of universities for associations of universities.

ALFA PUENTES, a European Union co-financed project, is coordinated by the European University Association (EUA) in partnership with over 20 university associations from Latin America (LA) and Europe. It aims to boost regional development of higher education in Latin America and enhance EU-Latin America university partnership. A particular focus has been the role of university associations from both continents in supporting higher education modernisation and internationalisation. More information about the event is available on this website.

TRESAL will be officially published in January 2014 and an executive summary in English will be made available on the EUA website.

Photo: © Asociación Colombiana de Universidades (ASCUN)/Ómar Bravo Merlano

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