The Business Year

Jaime Leal

COLOMBIA - Health & Education

Jaime Leal

Rector, Universidad Nacional Abierta y a Distancia (UNAD)

Bio

Jaime Leal has more than three decades of experience in the education and higher education sectors. In his position as university president, he has been recognized as one of the leaders that has contributed the most to open, distance, and virtual education at a national and international level. He is currently a member and co-founder of important associations of open and distance education in Colombia and Latin America, such as the Network of Distance Education Universities of Latin America (RECLEAD), the Inter-American Distance Education Consortium (CREAD), and the Ibero-American Educational and Cultural Television Association (ATEI), as well as president of the Colombian Association of Higher Education Institutions (ACESAD) and the Ibero-American Association of Distance Higher Education (AIESAD).

UNAD's focus has been to ensure access to the university for everyone, with a broad social sense and with a clear development and appropriation of the technologies of information and communication.

UNAD has been at the forefront of online education in the country. How has the drive to be pioneers in distance education in Colombia become part of your DNA?

A concerted use of technology is the best way to expand access to higher education and democratize learning. UNAD had realized the power of distance learning before the pandemic and has been providing opportunities for Colombians to improve their lives since its inception. Distance education requires building a new educational model based on learning. We have been committed to internationalization, inclusion, equality, and the quality of education. Education services need to be for young people, and we must contribute to those regions that need support and opportunities. That is the mission of this university. Utilizing remote learning tools is the best way to have an impact despite geographical barriers. UNAD has more than 165,000 students, which was achieved through the acceptance of innovative technology services by Colombian society. This is a modern university that has the best technology in the market, and we are an important player to help Colombians improve their lives via education.

What is UNAD’s contribution for the future of Colombia and Colombians?

Colombia has extremely valuable resources, the most important of which are Colombians. That human talent can allow us to become competitive at a global level. The country can set an example for all Latin America for the education sector. Today, UNAD has more than 117,000 students in Colombia alone, and we have taken important steps to provide them with education services. We have students on every continent. We have to be a ray of hope for quality education options for many individuals who do not see any options for the future. That is what UNAD provides for Colombia and Colombians, which is why we have experienced that dramatic growth.

In 2020, the university experienced a record year in terms of admissions and the trend continued into 2021. How are you handling this surge in demand?

Offering online education courses is not just about getting a computer to attend a lesson. Online education is more complex, and has its own processes. We are witnessing a deep change in the education system in order to become highly efficient. The roles that students and professors play are being changed by the growing digital model. The pandemic has showed the lack of capacity of legacy models to respond to situations like the ones we are experiencing. We have left that traditional model of an orthodox public university behind to become a social institution that enables to unlock all the potential of rural communities. Everything that has happened with COVID-19 has demonstrated the virtual skills of this university. We are the university that has increased its new admissions and student retention rates the most. Colombia still faces high levels of education and social exclusion, and the country could close those gaps if it implements the most advanced technologies in those areas. Innovation in this area could create many opportunities for people.

UNAD is extremely committed to social cooperation issues. What main initiatives have you taken in this area?

UNAD understands its role as a leader in this area to help institutions transform themselves. We have to be a university that is open to helping the public sector transform itself. We are a believer in innovation. We want to contribute to creating a society with citizens who are capable of critical thinking. We are constantly thinking about the future of our society, and we want to be part of that. We also conduct a great deal of research in different areas. We want our students to behave as leaders when they graduate. We are well-respected by everyone due to our social responsibility, the quality of education, and the solid degrees that we offer as well as our positive impact in Colombia’s different regions.

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