TBY talks to Dr. José Barbosa Corbacho, Rector-Chancellor of Universidad Técnica Particular de Loja (UTPL), on pioneering distance learning, local economic development, and raising academic standards to international levels.

Dr. José Barbosa Corbacho
José Barbosa Corbacho was born in 1952. He earned a Doctorate PhD Cum Laude in Philosophy and Teaching from Universidad Autónoma de Madrid and has been Doctor Honoris Causa from Universidad Católica Los Ángeles Chimbote in Peru since 2012. He has been Director, Deputy Director, and frequent contributor of various literary publications and is co-author of Ética Para Todos. He has fostered, organized, and participated in numerous congresses and conferences. From 2012 to 2014 he was Regional Councilor of the Inter-American University Organization (OUI). Before becoming the Rector in 2010, he was Vice-Chancellor of Universidad Técnica Particular de Loja from 2003. José Barbosa is also member of the board of Directors of ISTEC, the Iberoamerican Science and Technology Education Consortium.

What role does Universidad Técnica Particular de Loja (UTPL) play in Ecuador's education system?

The main role has been to democratize teaching through distance education. Our university has been a pioneer in distance education in Latin America for more than 30 years. We began providing distance education in 1976 with the aim of training teachers, as in those days many of them did not hold a university degree or a higher qualification.

How has UTPL's focus on distance education transformed the education system in Ecuador?

Actually the UTPL boasts more than 26,000 students, many of whom have studied through its distance education program. Our focus has been on providing education for people who live in rural areas, for instance, where it is difficult to access higher education facilities. This has meant that many Ecuadoreans have been able to obtain a degree while doing their normal job. As a result, this has enabled many students to progress in their professional careers. We have also contributed to improving the lives of a vast number of Ecuadorean migrants, especially those who moved abroad for economic reasons. Many of these migrants have been able to complete their studies with us via our distance education courses. This has changed the way many employers view Ecuadorean migrants abroad. We have also received international recognition from international accrediting bodies for our work in this area.

How has UTPL contributed to local development in Loja?

Since it was originally founded, UTPL has played an important role in developing the local economy. An essential part of the university's mission is to provide outreach to society. In this regard, we have a number of university-led projects that aim to develop the local economy. Essentially, the aim is to provide work experience for our students who take undergraduate programs in related fields such as business administration, hospitality management, and so on. In this sense, we have made a significant impact on local development. It is largely thanks to these initiatives that Loja now has hotels and restaurants of an international standard. There is also UTPL's Technology Valley, which serves as a hub for business incubators and business start-ups for the southern region of Ecuador.

Are there more challenges for entrepreneurs in Ecuador who are not based in or near Quito and Guayaquil?

There are certainly more challenges for local entrepreneurs, and those challenges are more complicated. One of the major challenges is the lack of formality within the local economy. In Zamora province, for example, a significant proportion of the economy is focused on artisanal or small-scale mining. In the most recent census, it was calculated that there were 91,000 inhabitants in that particular province. Interestingly, the number of people actually registered with the tax authorities as having formal jobs was only 159, and they all came from the public sector. Notwithstanding, there are major mining companies now moving into this field, all seeking a stake in the market. As a university, we are working hard on providing training for both professionals and workers in this field so that they can become more actively involved in the decision making process.

Would you say there has been a change in the international perception of higher education in Ecuador?

Yes, because the Ecuadorean government is making a major effort to transform our higher education system, specifically through the use of scholarships that promote international mobility programs for students and professors. Unfortunately, there are some key aspects that still require improvement. Arguably Ecuador has had limited opportunities for doctoral level studies compared with other counties in the region, which has made it much harder for the younger generation of professors to obtain their PhDs here in Ecuador, and to have those doctorates recognized internationally.