The PIE: Tell us about your work at AMPEI.
César Eduardo Gutiérrez: Well, I’m Cesar, and right now I’m the head of the International Education Association in Mexico. I am from the Autonomous University of Chihuahua, in the northwest of Mexico. It’s a middle size public university with 30,000-35,000 students, covering most disciplines, from the health sciences, accounting, business, liberal arts, STEM areas to all of the engineering areas.
In March last year, I started in my position as president of the AMPEI. I just got the position and then boom. Everything changed. We took those challenges and we starting to be creative, hosting webinars and different activities. We’re trying to be this lobbying actor, to put back the international education in a national agenda for education, at least in public policy.
The PIE: I think the British Council said a few years ago that the Mexican government was one of the least supportive governments around the world of the international education sector.
CEG: You’re totally right, and that’s something that we want to change. Actually, it’s really interesting that you touch on that particular topic because right now something happened when the pandemic started, at least in the Western Hemisphere and in America.
Prominent associations in the region, such as FAUBAI in Brazil, such as RCI-ASCUN in Colombia, REDI- PERU in Peru, Learn Chile in Chile, FIESA and Red CIUN in Argentina and AMPEI in México, got to together to support international engagement in this really difficult pandemic scenario. Led by RCI-ASCUN, we said, ‘well, together we can be stronger’.
We initiated what we have called INILAT (Latin American Initiative for the Internationalization of Higher Education), which is a permanent initiative for working in regards to internationalisation in higher education in this region, to promote constant communication in a network that may develop some topics to make our associations, affiliations stronger.
Through that call, we started working in a series of webinars with the participation of rectors and presidents of our universities from each one of these countries, and established six themes that we wanted to lead through each association.
For instance, FAUBAI is promoting a collaborative network for collaborative online international learning. Learn Chile is working in virtual mobility. The association in Argentina is working in another project about how to get international funding for internationalisation in higher education.
“Usually we have been stigmatised as this office for international mobility”
In Mexico, for AMPEI, the theme that we’re leading [is] how to develop comparative research about public policy in regard to internationalisation of higher education in Latin America. So we are researching an instrument on how to measure these things.
The PIE: In Mexico, when people think about international education, what do they think about? Is it about outbound mobility? Is it internationalisation at home?
CEG: What I have learned in these last years is that usually we have been stigmatised as this office for international mobility. I think most people not within this realm of expertise, they usually think about internationalisation or international affairs offices as offices of international mobility or academic tourism.
International mobility for students, for faculty, is really important to support the international dimensions at our institutions, but agendas in international offices [are] beginning to change.
This pandemic may function as a catalyser to move forward because faculty, students and the general population are realising that we can do different activities to promote international education, [for example] internationalisation at home or of curriculum.
Even though different platforms and technologies for virtual or hybrid or distance learning processes have been in place for about 15 years, usually there was a lot of rejection of this means because people, particularly in academia in Mexico, always used to follow the traditional means.
The PIE: What do Mexican institutions need to do for digitalisation to be effective?
CEG: Higher education leaders are realising that they do have a real opportunity now, to put an important budget for these technologies in place, to develop an strategic plan.
To give you an example at my institution, we have had these unique structure of our colleges that are really within a particular discipline e.g. the School of Medicine or the School of Liberal Arts. We have right now 15 different colleges.
And we’re moving to a new academic model and a structure where we’re going to have only five areas which are going to be transdisciplinary. They’re going to focus in one challenge, one opportunity area that we have to solve for our community, based on the Sustainable Development Goals.
We have to think differently in order to push this agenda. And then we have to be really aware that we cannot do this through the traditional means, we need to include all of the digital tools that we may have available.
Through the renovation of our university’s model, we have established partnerships with institutions in the borderland, with the University of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas. We also work with partners in France, in Brazil. We can promote these partnerships virtually, and we don’t have to invest that much in the physical mobility.
Another point in regards to the digitalisation of higher education has to be with the COIL. And here in Mexico, through AMPEI, we are developing a joint venture with a grant that we received from the US embassy in Mexico and Santander University, [who] have put together some resources to promote international education.
With the permission of the State University of New York [where the methodology was created], we’re developing our own program, taking COIL as a concept.
We developed our own code… and we have a program for internationalisation of the curriculum in the US and Mexico – US-Mexico. But eventually we want to move forward to have Mex-Europe or Mex-Latin America. I mean, we are never going to replace the physical component, but I think we can still work together internationally through these means. Eventually when the pandemic is over, we can move to a hybrid process.
AMPEI is also sending out a call for participation in a book about how Covid has pushed us to think outside the box to reconfigure higher education, if any of your readers are interested in participating.
The PIE: It sounds like you work a lot with US institutions, but you also have that firm desire to work with Europe, but who are your main partners?
CEG: We have a strong partnership with a US institution because of the neighbourhood that we have with them. But particularly Mexico, I’ve seen that there are strong ties with institutions in Latin America, Brazil and Colombia, [in addition] to relationships with Argentina, Chile, Peru.
And in Europe, basically all the Latin American countries work with Spain, because it’s the mother land or whatever, but besides Spain, the UK is one of the main partners, France and in Germany.
And another important partner [that has] risen strongly in the last decade is Asia – basically China, Japan, South Korea.
In Mexico, we have five Confucius Institutes – at the National University of Mexico, the University of Yucatan, Universidad Nuevo León, one in Mexico City with a cultural office. And then the fifth one is within my university, the University of Chihuahua.
Chinese partners have been really aggressive in how they are promoting collaboration, culture and their language, and we have a held this partnership with them for over 15 years now. Each time we attend international conferences, they’re getting stronger and are pushing the agenda forward.
“Chinese partners have been really aggressive in how they are promoting collaboration, culture and their language”
They are becoming a really strong partner because they do promote exchange of students, young researchers.
And another actor that is being really aggressive in that regard too is the Republic of South Korea. They have, here Mexico, the Korea Foundation for Latin America, and they are promoting classes or courses, with a structure really similar to what we host in our universities about the development of South East Asia. They have different courses regarding Korea as a country brand, economic development of Asia, religion and politics of Asia with professors and experts, doctors in the field.
And they have a particular program that is called the Korea Global Media School for Latin America, where we created optative classes, they get accredited and they don’t charge us anything – if the rate of our students, if the grades are good and we get a grant from the government of Korea. The Asia international education sector is really active.
The PIE: They’re obviously putting quite a lot of money into that.
CEG: I think a big difference between the main actors in this realm, is that [these countries] are putting resources. Most of the international actors don’t do that. I think basically they do a lot of recruitment. They approach the national research or scientific agencies in other countries to say, ‘hey, you know what, we’re really good. Our universities are in the Ivy League and have high quality standards. So what we can do is establish a program where you can send your students to get their masters or PhDs’. It’s usually like that. And this different approach with Asia is saying we want to work together. It’s a different [offer]. I think that they are getting really smart about these issues.