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Federico Restrepo

COLOMBIA - Health & Education

Federico Restrepo & John Jairo Arboleda

Rector, Universidad de Medellí­n


To make a bigger difference in Colombia and bring opportunities to all, universities in Colombia are looking inward to design better courses and extending access across the entire country.

What does the university seek to accomplish?

FEDERICO RESTREPO We face many challenges in the university; it has developed a complicated corporate reputation as a result of questioned actions by the former administration. One of our most important challenges is restoring its reputation and brand to what it was before: one of the best universities in Colombia and the region. Right now, we are working on a development plan for the next five years, which we must follow to reach our goals in terms of excellence, revenue, and educating our students in the best way possible so they can overcome the challenges that society presents. We have to open new, attractive programs and make adjustments in the classroom to make learning more appealing and flexible to new students.

JOHN JAIRO ARBOLEDA The role of public universities in Colombia is extremely important because of the country’s inequalities. Public universities cater to people from low incomes and offer them a real opportunity to complete higher education. Universidad de Antioquia is focused on extending education access geographically to all corners of Antioquia. The department is more than 66,000sqkm and is socioeconomically heterogeneous; Medellín is extremely different from other regions in the same department. To this extent, we built a campus in each region of Antioquia, and now 6,000 students from remote locations have access to higher education. Bringing opportunities to rural areas has been an important ambition of the UdeA for over 25 years.

How does Universidad de Medellín want to contribute to national planning and sustainability?

FR The main question we are facing right now during this turbulent period is what country are we preparing our students to live in? We have some concern about that. We see people on the streets demanding many things, such as employment opportunities, because after several years of tremendous effort to achieve a professional development there are no opportunities. It means we have to make changes in the curriculum and teaching methods. We should shorten the length of the programs and focus on the areas society is demanding right now. We have to make changes to our curriculum to accomplish that. We need to identify the needs of the country. One of the ways to do it is by developing our students and giving them the knowledge in different areas, as well as working on research to solve problems. Academia has to be more active in solving society’s problems. In polls conducted recently, one of the industries with the highest confidence index is academia, and respondents want academia to be more active and supportive. All universities have the best researchers in all areas to solve problems, and it is time to put all that top-quality taskforce knowledge at the service of society. We know the problems, and we have to provide solutions through research.

With an eye to the future, what should be the country’s goals in terms of higher education?

JJA Higher education must be made more accessible. Rates of higher education enrollment in Colombia sit around the 45% mark. There are many Colombians who do not have the opportunity to access a university education, and that is a huge challenge. There must also be a strategy to reduce dropout rates, which are around 48%. In Colombia, technical training is not well recognized by society; it is considered second class or undesirable. From a cultural point of view, that is a huge disadvantage for the betterment of our society. Technical studies expedite the path to the labor market and have lower risks of dropout. The other great ambition for higher education in Colombia should be to reach more of the Colombian territory. Coverage in rural areas of our country can be as low as 6%, figures comparable to sub-Saharan Africa. There are regions where higher education is not in the minds and plans of the people. There must a conscious effort to improve the quality and reach of Colombian higher education programs. Better financing allows universities to grow and increase the number of programs, professors, and students. Above all, it expands the presence of universities throughout the Colombian territory. Economic development is hindered when education focuses on a single city, and the municipalities that make up that territory are forgotten.



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