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Mexico 2019 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | FOCUS: GLOBALIZING THE MEXICAN EDUCATIONAL MODEL

As international competition grows in academia, Mexican universities are incorporating online classes and forging alliances with international institutions to attract top students.

In an increasingly globalized world, top students are faced with more choices than ever before when choosing academic institutions. The knowledge and skill sets needed to compete for the well-paying jobs of the future are no longer limited to a handful of universities in England and the United States, and the next generation of high achievers are increasingly looking at innovative and adaptive schools to prepare themselves for the job market.

With aims to retain top talent, higher education institutions in Mexico are undergoing a transition to align with global tendencies in order to present more attractive study programs to ambitious students who have historically sought degrees abroad. To do so, many of the best Mexican universities have begun to incorporate online courses and collaborative programs with international institutions to offer college students the well-rounded, globalized preparation they need to compete with peers from around the world.

Many specialized programs have arisen in the process, several of which were borne from the alliance between Mexico's largest and most prestigious university, the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and the University of Arizona. Such programs aim to develop community and bilateral relations between students and faculty in both the US and Mexico through multidisciplinary projects addressing cross-border health, water, and environmental issues.

Elena Centeno, a UNAM researcher who was appointed as the new director of its Center for Mexican Studies at the University of Arizona, said she hopes to build binational labs and study programs to focus on problems shared by the neighboring nations, such as immigration and the ongoing challenges of integration at a time of increasingly nationalist political rhetoric.
“We have the goal to strengthen student exchange programs, research collaborations and cultural events,” Centeno said. “We need to provide our governments with information that is based on research and knowledge.”

At the same time, another top Mexican university is collaborating with two of Latin America's leading academic institutions to launch one of the largest and most ambitious online education curricula on the education website, Coursera. Under the name “La Triada” or “The Triad,” the Tecnológico de Monterrey University partnered with the Universidad de los Andes in Colombia and Pontifica Universidad Católica de Chile to offer more than 100 courses on Coursera free of charge to all on-campus students across the three universities.

The pilot program will reach nearly 150,000 students, making it one of the largest and most innovative experiments in online education to date. Not only will the initiative foster the open sharing of knowledge between some of the most respected institutions in Latin America, but it will further prepare future generations of leaders by enabling them to learn beyond physical borders and think globally from an early age.

“The idea for this program emerged last December, when I met with the leadership of Latin America's top universities at the International Congress on Education Innovation hosted at Tec de Monterrey,” Jeff Maggioncalda, CEO of Coursera, wrote in a blog post. “That's where I met the rector of UniAndes, Pablo Navas, who said to me, 'Jeff, the next big disruption in higher education will be collaboration.'”

Along similar lines, Tecnológico de Monterrey University is one of nine universities that have embarked on a joint effort to build the next generation of digital credentials. The institutions are seeking to create a new standard for issuing, storing, displaying and verifying academic credentials based on the latest advancements in public key infrastructures, encryption, public ledgers, and block chain technology.

In effort to achieve the goal, Tecnológico de Monterrey University will collaborate with Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, Harvard University, the Hasso Plattner Institute at the University of Potsdam in Germany, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the Technical University of Munich in Germany, the University of California, Berkeley, the University of California, Irvine and the University of Toronto in Canada.

Such innovative, specialized and collaborative approaches have helped Mexican universities climb global academic rankings. The absence of Mexico's top institutions from international lists of top performing schools has long been a sore spot for the nation's educators and state leaders, but with the current push to improve science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines, several Mexican schools, including UNAM and the Metropolitan Autonomous University (UAM), are quickly rising in the rankings of leading institutions.