IN THE JUNGLE, BOOKS

Costa Rica 2017 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Prof. Dr. Henning Jensen Pennington, Rector of Universidad de Costa Rica, on the social and historic role of the university, biodiversity, and international cooperation.

Prof. Dr. Henning Jensen Pennington
BIOGRAPHY
Prof. Dr. Henning Jensen Pennington studied psychology and philosophy in Costa Rica and Germany. He has been Director of the Institute of Psychological Research, Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences, Director of Doctorate Studies of Society and Culture, and Vice-Rector of Research at the University of Costa Rica. He has also been a consultant for the Pan American Health Organization and President of the College of Psychologists of Costa Rica. From 2004 to 2011, he presided over the Foundation of the University of Costa Rica for Research. He has published numerous scientific articles and is currently the Rector of the University of Costa Rica for the periods 2012-2016 and 2016-2020.

How has Universidad de Costa Rica evolved to become one of the country's main institutions?

As the largest and oldest university in Costa Rica, Universidad de Costa Rica is the country's main institution of higher learning. The university has had over the last 76 years a major contribution to the development of this country in almost every aspect. Its prestige is the highest of any institution in the country, even more so than that of the executive of the judiciary power or the Catholic Church. A recent survey in Costa Rica reaffirmed this reputation, with our university listed in the first position as the most prestigious institution in the country. That gives us a strong position in the country and makes us influential. It has contributed in a big way to social mobility, the infrastructure of the country, and the health system, as we are one of the main bricks of the health system thanks to our training of the majority of physicians and specialists in all different specializations of medicine. In engineering, we have been the most important university over the decades, training engineers of all kinds.

Universidad de Costa Rica offers a wide educational portfolio. Is there any particular discipline in which the university specializes?

The University of Costa Rica is a comprehensive institution. We have disciplines consisting of music, agricultural science, food technology, engineering, philosophy, linguistics, and neurosciences; we have almost everything. The areas that stand out most are engineering, specifically civil engineering. We have built this country; we are in a seismically active region, and the University of Costa Rica has developed the seismic code for building. We have had major seismic events like in Chile and Japan, and this country is still standing thanks in large part to our university. Engineering is now moving away from traditional lines of teaching and orientations and toward robotics, mechatronics, and new development fields. In the field of robotics, we are strong, and as a matter of fact next year the world robotic conference is going to take place at our university. In the 1950s and 1960s, Costa Rica became the most efficient country in the world in production of bananas and coffee. We supervise the building of roads, but what we say is not compulsory so the government does not have to adjust to our criteria. We provide technological services to Costa Rican society. These are some of the main aspects of our university. Another important aspect to our institution is biodiversity.

With which foreign universities and educational institutions do you collaborate?

We have more than 300 different cooperation agreements with many universities around the world, and we currently have three international chairs. These are important to us, as they are one of the main platforms we have to foster international cooperation with other universities. One of these is the chair for Korean and South Asian studies. This was organized and built by myself three years ago, and now we have a strong scientific and academic cooperation with South Korea, which is strong and productive. I recently had a meeting where I received about 20 different rectors from China, as they have become important partners. Another chair that we have is co-financed with the German exchange service, and that is a home-built chair dedicated to promoting academic exchange with Germany; however, it has become a European chair. The last one is the chair for African and Afro Caribbean studies. Apart from these three chairs, we have had close relations and academic exchange programs over the decades with Germany, which has been perhaps the most important for us; many of us including myself have been trained in Germany.