EXCELLENCE FROM SCRATCH

Costa Rica 2017 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Fernando Ocampo, Dean of Lead University, on kick-starting world-class academic programs, PPPs, and innovation.

Fernando Ocampo
BIOGRAPHY
Fernando Ocampo has a graduate law degree in public law and a master's in international economic policy from the London School of Economics. An international consultant on foreign trade and integration, he is a university professor, has lectured in more than fifteen countries, and has published several articles on issues related to foreign trade. Spending part of his career in the Ministry of Foreign Trade of Costa Rica, Ocampo was Director General of Foreign Trade from 2001-2005, during which time he was in charge of coordinating and leading various topics in process negotiations with the US, CARICOM, and other partners.

The university was opened in October 2015 with the goal of becoming one of the top universities in Latin America. How is this process developing, and how has the university evolved in this beginning period?

A group of academics and businesspeople started this idea in the middle of 2014. Although Costa Rica has been attracting a lot of FDI, there was a sense that the current academic system was not providing the talent or human capital that we need in order to keep this FDI growing. New companies coming to the country always ask whether Costa Rica will be able to provide enough of the right people if they decide to grow their business in two or three years. The reality is that we do not know, because it is difficult to adapt the public university programs quickly enough to meet evolving business needs, as has been the case in the services industry and the IT sector. We, therefore, felt that there was a gap between what companies need now or in the near future and the offers that we currently have in Costa Rica.

Are you creating any partnerships with international institutions?

We are trying to maintain our level of adherence to international standards here at Lead University. Part of our plan of action is to attain certification in the US within the next five years so that we may secure agreements with various universities abroad. We have a relationship with INCAE Business School, but nothing else beyond that yet, as at this point we have only been operating for two months. In 2015, we received a delegation from the National University of Singapore (NUS), and we are discussing with them the possibilities for developing some exchange programs.

How would you assess the current level of education in Costa Rica and how can potential investors benefit from this?

Costa Rica is well known in the region for its high-quality education; having said that, there is a lot of room for improvement. The main challenge for higher education here at the moment is aligning the offerings with demand. Costa Rica has 54 private universities, and the level of quality varies between them. Over the next few years, some universities will solidify their position in the education system, and a lot of others will have trouble remaining in the market. There are media campaigns going on constantly advising students to look carefully for certified programs and check that universities have at least a certain level of minimal infrastructure.

What are the main goals you would like to achieve in 2017 at Lead University?

We want to consolidate Lead University as a higher education center of excellence. We also want to consolidate our vision to extend our preparation beyond just technical education. We want to provide a holistic education experience that covers technical skills and knowledge, but also other types of competencies. Even if graduates have an excellent background in economics, there will ultimately be problems if they cannot interact well with others. Our third goal for 2017 is to be the type of university that is always innovating with regard to our technical programs; therefore, we are bringing in new programs for data mining, engineering productivity, corporate law, software engineering, and business economics. We are also working in the area of cyber security and want to get into the franchising area as well. We want to be one of the best universities in Central America; we prefer quality than quantity.