TBY talks to Father David Fernández, Rector of Universidad Iberoamericana (IBERO), on international exchange, education reform, and IBERO's role in developing human capital and more democratic society.

Father David Fernández
Before becoming rector of Universidad Iberoamericana Ciudad de México in June 2014, Father David Fernández served as rector at the university’s Puebla campus. He has almost 20 years of experience in education, also working as rector at the University ITESO and as education assistant of the Mexican Province of the Company of Jesus. Additionally, he was a member of the International Council on Human Rights Policy based in Geneva. He holds a master’s in sociology from the Universidad Iberoamericana, Mexico City. He is the author of several books and recognized for his work regarding human rights.

What distinguishes IBERO's approach to education from other institutions?

It is our commitment to society that other private universities do not have. We contribute to solutions that are relevant to society, particularly the thought and formation of ethical and social values among our students. A second difference is that we have an integral approach to help form their will, corporality, values, intuition, and creativity, for example—aspects of life not usually valued in a market-oriented university. The third difference is that we value academic quality in our research, teaching, and relationship with society, companies, and the public and social sector.

How is IBERO's relationship with other international institutions, and how is it perceived on an international level?

We are sending 600 students and receiving 250 students approximately from other universities each year; however, there is still room for growth. Our students are mostly going to the US, Spain, the UK, and Western Europe, the first two being the most important destinations. International students are coming mostly from France. We are also receiving some students from Asia, mainly Japan. We have sought to strengthen our relationship with 200 Jesuit universities around the world. We are going to have a meeting with deans next year to benefit from this network, rather than focus on a particular region.

According to OECD's last PISA evaluation, Mexico occupies last place. What has to be done to advance in this field and what role can the education reform play?

First, education needs to become a public matter, not a matter of state. It has been used for social clientelism and control; the matter has not been debated publicly but instead decided by small groups inside the government. This needs to be debated by the public and by private and social entities, communities, and families. Second, there has to be an in-depth reform that educates and incorporates new technologies and pedagogical and didactic assets. An indisputable condition is to incorporate the teachers into these reforms, which has not been done. The latest reform is authoritarian; therefore, teachers are rejecting it because it has not broken the logic of control and does not incorporate their practices and experiences.

How would you evaluate human capital and what is IBERO doing to develop it?

We are trying to improve mathematics programs because we have a lack of engineers in Mexico. On the other hand, there are too many programs that are not required, such as law, psychology, communications, and medicine. We still need to strengthen technical careers in the country. In Eastern societies, for every bachelor there are two or three technicians; here for every six graduates we have a technician. There is a field of work there; however, universities are still not contributing. At IBERO, we are strengthening our high-level technical programs: we have five now and will have eight in three more years. Now, we have 500 students in these areas, but we intend to have at least 1,000. It also contributes to social mobility.

What are the priorities of IBERO University for 2017?

Our priorities will be to have a university more linked to society and to strengthen mechanisms for interaction between the campus and the broader community. We think that a Jesuit university cannot be isolated, but must be in constant feedback with the society from which it springs. A second priority is to make our community an inclusive and plural one by strengthening one of our most ambitious scholarship programs. We plan to incorporate 2,000 students with full scholarships. A third priority is to increase research, graduate studies, and the impact of these theoretical-academic reflections on resolving the country's problems. It is important for us to have an inclusive, plural university that is respectful of different individuals and will contribute to a more democratic society and participatory citizenship.