PABLO VANEGAS PERALTA

Ecuador 2020 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

An innovative health center and growing collaboration with private and government entities will make the University of Cuenca a research-producing hub for years to come.

Pablo Vanegas Peralta
BIOGRAPHY

Pablo Vanegas Peralta is the Rector of the University of Cuenca. He graduated with a degree in systems engineering from the same university. He has been a professor of computer science at the University of Cuenca for 14 years. He also has a master's in artificial intelligence sciences and a PhD in engineering from Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium.

What is the current size of the university and its current focuses?

Currently, the University of Cuenca has 16,000 students, 1,200 professors, 800 employees, and 12 schools covering all areas of knowledge. Our graduate programs are constantly changing as we adapt to market demand, national necessities, and people's interest. We are increasing the number of our doctoral programs as we invest more resources in research and commit to improving our academic offer. Furthermore, our focus is on finishing the new campus and emphasizing innovation in all activities.

How much importance has innovation and research had in the university's recent operation?

Historically, the University of Cuenca has excelled at training human capital for a workforce that rises to important positions due to their high-quality education in professional studies. Especially since the new Law of Higher Education was passed, the University of Cuenca has focused on strengthening research efforts and enhancing academic output. We rethought and restructured our previous professional arrangement to better understand the necessary practices to create a proper research department. This included identifying areas of study that translate into practical benefits for our country or hold academic significance. We have found that sustainability, medicine, technology, and industrial productivity are areas of study where we could partner with private institutions to obtain funding for areas that could, in turn, increase their productivity through effective research-based initiatives. We have included the participation of the Chambers of Commerce and Industry and the Municipality of Cuenca in our institutional strategy to create a networking platform to enhance existing synergies. While we recognize the importance of the private sector in our research and academic curricula planning, we have also invested our own resources in the creation of a public enterprise for life sciences called the Health Innovation Center. This space connects multiple health and biology-related professionals, ultimately generating knowledge to improve our health sector. We want to find alternative or complimentary treatments for conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, breast cancer, and many other conditions. We are supported by the Ecuadorian Social Security Institute (IESS), with whom we are joining efforts and resources to better treat our patients and translate our research into social progress. In the long run, we want to treat patients in our own hospital at the Health Innovation Center.

Which sectors have the most potential for development with the support of academic institutions such as the University of Cuenca?

For years, the ceramic industry has been gaining more exposure in Cuenca, with the multiplying effect of industry-related stakeholders setting up operations in Cuenca. The dairy industry also has a large presence, along with other cattle-related businesses like meat and leather. In general, there are several manufacturing activities supported by our graduates. However, we have not produced enough academic results for these industries yet, and there is a lot of room to grow through collaboration. Ideally, we want to reduce our dependence on foreign research and be the knowledge generators boosting our local economy. We need to create an industrial complex to make space for different institutions, public and private, and companies to collaborate and seize the potential of working toward the same goal in the same space. Strengthening our local economy and growing our national productive output are keys to creating sustainable economic growth. Yet, to achieve full resiliency and turn economic growth into social progress, we need to work on closing social inequalities and income gaps. Our increased productivity must be translated into better working and living conditions for our less-favored citizens. We need to support development routes through which the next generations born to low-income families can have access to higher education and top-class healthcare. So, whilst working on improving our productive output, helping our local companies achieve better results, and improving our trade balance, we also need to create policies that reduce our socioeconomic gap and support citizens by guaranteeing access to social services.