COLOMBIA - Health & Education
President, Corporación Universitaria Minuto de Dios (UNIMINUTO)
Harold Castilla Devoz is an Eudist who served as lecturer and dean at UNIMINUTO before becoming its academic vice rector and president. He studied philosophy at the Juan XXIII Major Seminary and Santo Tomas University, and theology at the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana. He is a specialist in social ethics and social doctrine of the church, having studied at the Gregorian University in Rome. Devoz holds a doctorate in education from Nova Southeastern University in the US.
What will be the role of higher education in the integration of people affected by the conflict?
The role of education is extremely important in this. The goal is for Colombia’s various territories to participate in the country’s development in order to help the regions and cities that could not develop due to war. The Territorially Focused Development Programs (PDET) are aimed at former guerrillas who have rejoined society and are in need of education. When we talk about rural education and post-conflict, UNIMINUTO participated in promoting the National Ministry of Education’s efforts in 2018. We are present in regions such as Cantagallo, Istmina Chocó, Tibú, Catatumbo, and Nariño. Former governments, as well as the current one, have supported our presence in those regions. UNIMINUTO is a rural impact institution with a large territorial approach; we work in more than 70 places located deep into Colombia, representing the commitment of the institution. Our mission is to make those places reachable and help to educate the uneducated.
Where does UNIMINUTO stand in Colombia’s educational landscape?
At 110,000 students, UNIMINUTO is the largest institution in Colombia in terms of the number of students. According to the Observatorio de Universidades, we are the largest university after the National Learning Service (SENA). We have 26 departments out of the 32 present in Colombia. We are currently working a project that aims to incorporate the base of the pyramid into the educational system, giving people access to social mobility and the possibility of inclusion in an unequal society. UNIMINUTO makes up 5% of the total number of students enrolled in higher education in Colombia, according to the National Higher Education Information System (SNIES), the statistical agency of the Ministry of National Education. Though we have provided higher education to large masses of Colombians, we make these admissions with quality, and that makes UNIMINUTO a commendable institution. Around 65% of our student population comprises women, and many of them are the head of their families. We also have people with disabilities. We give everyone an opportunity, and no one is left outside, which is part of the missionary commitment of the institution. We seek to maintain the training of our students and help them to position themselves in the market and be competitive and productive. We create social mobility, and that is our mission coherence.
What is the importance of inclusion in higher education for the Colombian economy and its competitiveness?
Colombia is a diverse country with different contexts and possibilities of development for different regions. We can talk about the possibilities of inclusion as we train people in these regions; the people we train go on to contribute to their territories and encourage development. The National Development Plan has a perspective of equity with a regional approach. Inclusion will not be possible if the regions are not empowered in their internal logic of development through knowledge and appropriate training. It is a challenge for Colombia to ensure that these regions have the human talent and the appropriate knowledge to cover their specific needs.
How have the regional or departmental governments articulated these efforts with UNIMINUTO to achieve the goal of educational inclusion?
We collaborate extensively; UNIMINUTO is a university of alliances. We would not have been able to do what we have achieved thus far without our alliances with both the public and private sectors. We have been able to do many projects thanks to the partnerships with the government of those regions. They support us, and we bring our educational project, training models, and desire to serve. We try our best to ensure that the work we do is synergistic in nature because that has been a part of the UNIMINUTO culture since its foundation.