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ROUGHLY 3% UNEMPLOYMENT RATE AMONG GRADUATES

Costa Rica 2018 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Henning Jensen, Rector of the Universidad de Costa Rica, on international networking, political criticism, and education in Costa Rica.

What is behind the success of the Universidad de Costa Rica?

In the QS University Rankings published in mid-2017, we made a tremendous leap and moved up approximately 60 positions in the global rankings. This is due to many factors. One is that Universidad de Costa Rica does a great deal of international networking in order to be involved in important scientific and academic endeavors. The university has become extremely competent at research and also works with many universities in the world at the same level. The second factor is that we have made many investments. We are improving and expanding our infrastructure and this will be dedicated not only to conducting more classes, but also improving our laboratories and equipment. This investment will put us at the same level as widely acknowledged universities around the world. These are the key factors that have translated into our excellent reputation.

What efforts is the university making to foster entrepreneurship and leadership?

We have a strong commitment to this. In fact we have an agency called University Agency for the Management of Entrepreneurship (AUGE) that is the leading agency in the country in this field. It gets the highest level of external funding, and we are making a concerted effort to impart both hard and soft skills to our students and faculty members. Some of the projects carried out under AUGE have been extremely successful, and this plays a major role in fostering entrepreneurship. In mid-2017 we had a national meeting on entrepreneurship, specifically in the high-tech field, and there were over 300 participants. This is only one example of what the Universidad de Costa Rica is doing to demonstrate our commitment to new enterprises and endeavors. We are extremely involved in such projects.

Has the university created alliances with the private sector to help ensure its students are employable?

The level of unemployment of our graduates is low. It is about 3%, which is much lower than the national average. Again, this has to do with the university's reputation, which is an important determining factor. It also has to do with the fact we have certain ties with some parts of business and industry. However, we must significantly improve in terms of our formal relations with the outside world. We have a cooperation agenda with the government that covers the five public universities in Costa Rica, including the Universidad de Costa Rica. Through this, we try to have an impact on the country's productive center, both through the efforts of our faculty members, but mostly through our students. They are extremely engaged in community work and this opens the doors to different industries and productive sectors. This is one of the main reasons why our graduates have a low rate of unemployment. However, graduate employment levels do vary according to the different disciplines and professions. For example, in the engineering field we have an unemployment rate of zero, which is impressive.

What are some of the specific relationships the Universidad de Costa Rica has with the private sector?

One well-known sector is the food production industry, where we have a relationship with CINDE. We are greatly engaged with the food industry. We also work together with the government. For example, we just had a meeting with the ministers of agriculture and science to talk about their plans to create what they call added-value centers. It is only possible to add value if we add science and technology, and this is exactly what we do. We add the results of science and technology to the development of added-value products and services in different sectors of the economy.

The university structure is linked to society through its autonomy; how do you support society through the university?

The Universidad de Costa Rica is completely free to choose the kinds of programs that we develop. In that sense, we do what we believe is right for the country and the community. One of our main goals is to work for and preserve the common good. This means the common wellbeing and in doing this we do not care very much about the political evaluation some actors might have. What we worry about is making sure our activities have a positive effect and improve the circumstances of our communities and people. That is the main thought that guides our work and it is possible as a result of our autonomy. There are political consequences for us because we work in that kind of framework and are exposed to political criticism. We discuss ideas and try to develop projects and programs that are guided by this common good aim. We want to provide tools to the community in order to reach the common good. At times, we may be wrong, but common wellbeing is our motivation and it is clearly stated in the university's constitution. Having autonomy is extremely important in this regard because it means ideally we are not exposed to the vicissitudes of political commentary and pressures.

What still needs to be done to improve education in Costa Rica and how can the Universidad de Costa Rica contribute?

A simple and straightforward answer is that everything has to be improved. We cannot exclude any area from our efforts to improve because we are a university and one of the main components of our philosophy is to improve everything. We are always thinking about this and evaluating ourselves in this way. As we are committed to academic excellence, we have to continually strive to reach higher goals. In terms of the most outstanding difficulties I cannot see these separately from the whole education system here. We have deficiencies in our education system that are critical and have an impact on higher education. For example, we would like to see students coming from secondary school level that are more competent and better prepared for higher education. We want them to have better proficiency in mathematics, basic sciences, and also languages, not only Spanish but English as well. This is one negative aspect of the current education system that has an impact on higher education in Costa Rica. Another aspect is the increasing inequality in our country. The Universidad de Costa Rica is engaged in trying to improve the chances of young, underprivileged people in our society accessing higher education. We have special programs for this, for example for indigenous people and those in the poorest regions of the country. We work together with them to improve their opportunities to come to the university. Social inequality is an important challenge. In terms of internal challenges for us at Universidad de Costa Rica, we have to improve our culture of evaluation and our accountability, although we are already committed to this.


 

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