Ibero-America and the European Union: common challenges in higher education

The rector of the University of Barcelona, Joan Guàrdia, opened the sessions cel

The rector of the University of Barcelona, Joan Guàrdia, opened the sessions celebrating that such an event like the Ibero-America - European Union Meeting was held at the UB.


As part of the UNESCO World Higher Education Conference 2022, which takes place in Barcelona from May 18 to 20, the University of Barcelona hosted, on May 16 and 17, the Ibero-America - European Union Meeting: A shared look at the future of higher education. The objective was to delve into and strengthen the collaboration between these two spaces of higher education, with universities that present common challenges but also different junctures which must be considered. This was stated in the meeting, organized by the Ibero-American General Secretariat (SEGIB), the Ministry of Universities, the Ibero-american University Council (CUIB) and the University of Barcelona.

The rector of the University of Barcelona, Joan Guàrdia, opened the session celebrating that such an event from the Ibero-American - European Union Meeting was held at the UB. "The relationships between Ibero-America and Spain are intense. Therefore, any initiative aimed at strengthening this collaboration is welcome", he said. The vice-rector for Internationalization Policy, Raúl Ramos, identified three key areas for the future of higher education: digital transformation, sustainability and solidary internationalization. The rector of the Universidad III Carlos de Madrid and current president of CRUE Spanish Universities, Juan Romo, noted the university centres are "powerful vectors of transformation to lead the changes societies need". "Universities —he concluded — are the largest place of opportunities that citizens have for improving their future".

Andrés Allamand, Ibero-American secretary-general, said this region has education as one of its fundamental pillars. "Talking about higher education is talking about inclusion, social justice, equity, development and democracy", he concluded.

Then, the minister for Universities, Joan Subirats, insisted on the idea that Spain should be a "linking nexus" for higher education in Europe and Ibero-America. "We have a language in common. Knowledge has no frontier, it can be shared and it is not a rival good", noted the minister, who asked for the recognition of the existing diversity in these two areas.

Josep Maria Vilalta, executive secretary of the Catalan Association of Public Universities (ACUP), chaired the first table of the meeting, focused on the analysis of the adaptation of universities to societies’ digital transformation. It featured two specific cases of digitalization, and it presented the use of technology to reverse social inequality and as a tool for inclusion. The speakers were Rodrigo Arias, rector of the Distance State University of Costa Rica; Luciano Concheiro, sub-secretary of Higher Education in Mexico; José Escamilla de los Santos, associate director of the Institute for the Future of Education, and the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education; and Cecilia Paredes, rector of the Escuela Superior Politécnica del Litoral in Ecuador.

The following session, on sustainability , treated the importance of the universities as actors of transformation towards "a new way of life", regarding both the training for people who have to manage this change and the distinguished institutions in the environmental field. Participants were Kurt Deketelaere, secretary-general of the League of European Research Universities (LERU); Carlos Greco, rector of the National University of San Martin (Argentina); Míriam Nicado García rector of the University of la Habana (Cuba); and José Manuel Pingarrón Carrazón, secretary-general of Universities of the Spanish Government. The roundtable was chaired by Verónica Figueroa Huencho, sub-secretary of Higher Education in Chile.

Building a strong institutional connection

The next two sessions focused on the topic of solidary internationalization. Among the treated themes were holistic approaches of internationalization and specific projects such as the European university CHARM-EU. The importance of inclusivity, quality policies from an international dimension and the need for funding for cooperation and internationalization are some of the topics that came up. The rector of the UB, Joan Guàrdia, said we need to work to build "a strong and solid connection of cooperative work" that goes beyond individual collaborations. The participants in these sessions on internationalization were Óscar Alpa, secretary of University Policies in Argentina; Meritxell Chaves Sánchez, director of the CHARM-EU alliance; Dolly Montoya, president of the Association of Universities of Latin America and the Caribbean (UDUAL); Antonio Serrano, member of the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education; Patricio Conejero, secretary for International Relations at the University of Buenos Aires; Dámaso López, vice-rector for International Relations and Cooperation at the Complutense University of Madrid; Sergio Muniz, director of International Relations at the International Cooperation Office of the University São Paulo; and Francisco Trigo, from the Autonomous University of México. Josep Maria Garrell Guiu, rector of the Ramon Llull University and member of the Board of the European University Association chaired the sessions.

The conclusions of the meeting were presented by Félix García Lausín, coordinator of the Ibero-American Space of Knowledge of the Ibero-American General Secretariat. He summarized the sessions by talking about the mood these had grasped: "the feeling is that these sessions are another element from a process that goes forward". Other participants were Francesc Pedró, director of UNESCO International Institute for Higher Education in Latin America; Adrián Bonilla, director of EU-LAC Foundation; Franklin García Fermín, minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology of the Dominican Republic; and Óscar Alpa, secretary of University Policies of Argentina, who closed the meeting.

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