UPWARDLY MOBILE

Mexico 2016 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Luis Roberto Mantilla Sahagún, Rector of the Universidad Latina de América (UNLA), on the importance of facilitating learning outside the classroom and building the workforce of Mexico's tomorrow.

Luis Roberto Mantilla Sahagún
BIOGRAPHY
Luis Roberto Mantilla Sahagún has been Rector of UNLA since 2009. He has been a lecturer since 2001 and has been involved in different forums, congresses, and courses at national and international level. He graduated with honors in philosophy from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM). He also holds a master’s degree in the same field and is a candidate for a PhD in history from the Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolás de Hidalgo.

Can you tell us about the origins of UNLA?

UNLA was founded in 1991 to create a new option for a different type of education than the ones that existed at the time. Our goal was to create a university with an inclusive approach, open to diversity in our people and their points of view. We wanted to have a local impact in the state of Michoacán first and then take our project further to other parts of Mexico and the world. Our model is based on a diversified education with a vast range of inspirations and points of view. We pursue internationalization and an interdisciplinary emphasis in our university; we want our students to learn other languages, develop a holistic vision, and embrace their profession.

How has access to higher education changed in Michoacán since UNLA was founded?

Before 1991, local students had to go to other parts of Mexico to study, causing a brain drain for our state. Now, we attract not only local students from Morelia, but from various other places, and this has greatly contributed to the development of Michoacán over the last 25 years.

How do you integrate interdisciplinary studies into the day-to-day education experience of your students?

Our students have the possibility to look at their reality through a lot of experiences and knowledge in many fields. To carry out this approach, we count on teachers trained in different disciplines to provide our students with a holistic view that incorporates the complexities of the world from every field possible, from law to economics and psychology, for example. We also promote a form of learning outside the classroom through activities that give our students the possibility to interact with others, involving them in different thinking, disciplines and methods of study.

What is the importance of internationalization for UNLA?

We have established relationships with different countries around the world. We have academic mobility with many countries in South America, the US, Canada, France, Spain, Italy, Denmark, Iceland, Senegal, South Korea, and India. We send and receive students and teachers to and from other parts of the world. As expensive as it is, we want to propel academic mobility and bring students of other countries to UNLA to share their experiences with our students. Our global vision is one of our main assets since we do not focus on preparing our students for in-field work just in Morelia or Mexico, but for all around the globe.

How many students take advantage of those opportunities to go abroad?

Only around 5% of our students take advantage of these opportunities to study abroad. However, in order to make the rest of our students benefit from that feature of our academic model, we have implemented a “home internationalization program" in which we receive foreign students and teachers, through our strategic relationships with universities from around the world.

What are the challenges related to establishing links with foreign universities?

The main difficulties are the political and security problems Michoacán has experienced in the past eight years, so foreign education centers tend to have doubts before signing agreements with universities here. It is only after foreign universities have seen that Morelia is a beautiful and safe city, and that UNLA has academic and institutional accreditations, a good campus, a high level of academic programs, a robust pedagogic model, and the whole infrastructure that they agree to establish partnerships.

What are your goals, and where do you want to see the university in five years?

We will celebrate our 30th anniversary in five years, and we want to create new academic programs. We also want to develop more relations with other universities, and want to continue transforming society by collaborating with the public, private, academic, cultural and social institutions, not only in Morelia, but also throughout the entire region. We want a better scenario for Michoacán and are aiming at becoming a fundamental part of constructing that scenario.