What are the principles and values of the university?
We are an institution that forms part of the social and solidarity-based economy. Therefore, all our principles are grounded in solidarity. Our mission to democratize education must be reflected in the development of regions and in the betterment of the quality of life of our alumni. We have a multi-campus system spread across 16 cities, and our students come from over 900 cities, more than 80% of country. This means they are able to appreciate the quality and relevance of the wide-ranging coverage that the university offers to the less privileged populations of Colombia. In many cases, these are populations with specific socioeconomic, political, and social issues. Our values of inclusion, quality, and coverage have the power to strengthen our entire system.
What has the university's experience been like with remote learning?
Inclusion is a key strategic element. The switch to remote learning and then to hybrid was made possible thanks to 10 years of digital transformation research and investment at the Universidad Cooperativa de Colombia. In the past few years alone, we have invested more than USD60 million in technology and digital competency development for all our employees. Some years ago, we began building a vision for the future of the university, preparing for a moment like this without imaging that we would face it so soon. Therefore, with the participation of teachers, we were able to implement a hybrid model of learning for the benefit of students and families. The university began offering zero-interest financial plans for the payment of full tuition, ranging from six to 10 months in conjunction with our cooperative bank COMUNA, and we opened free enrollment. In 2021, we have continued to offer all students a 10% discount on tuition. We also started up several mentoring programs, delivered almost 2,000 computers to students and administrative staff, and organized donation campaigns in order to raise funds for connectivity and travel grants for national and international students.
What has been achieved in terms of gender equality?
We are the only university in the country with the EQUIPARES seal. This prestigious accolade is awarded to institutions that are able to demonstrate that they advocate for gender equality. It is presented on behalf of Office of the Presidency of the Republic of Colombia, the Ministry of Labor, and the United Nations Development Program. We were awarded the first seal in the city of Cali. We have been working to support the inclusion vulnerable populations for some years now. Gender diversity in the university community is highly respected. It is not a case of simply having policies or processes in place, but of generating a culture. In addition, in 2021 we will put ourselves forward for the gold seal in order to demonstrate to the community just how far we have come in terms of our gender equality policy.
How do you see the development of the higher education system in Colombia?
One of the important things to highlight about the higher education system in Colombia is that we have all come together. The Padrino Brown Plan, which was headed up the Ministry of Education, brought together over 34 universities and higher education institutions to support more than 180 people in need. The opportunities are continuing to grow, and awareness is increasing; however, education remains key to reducing poverty. The pandemic has given students the power to decide what they want to learn and how they want to go about it. For this reason, the Universidad Cooperativa de Colombia fast tracked a project called Ligros that had been in the works for a few years. This decision was made based on the fact that the pandemic has forced us to educate students online. We must continue to learn that technologies are a key factor in learning. Likewise, the system must become resilient and flexible. I believe it must adapt and innovate.