Panama 2014 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | B2B

TBY talks to two leaders in higher education about the growing need for technology in universities, and on their institutional priorities.

Dr. Carlos Arellano Lennox
Columbus University
Modaldo Tuñón
Latin University of Panama (ULAT)

How would you assess the level of technology in the higher education sector in Panama?

MODALDO TUÑÓN It is clearly improving. We assessed the state of science and technology during the previous administration, which helped set business and engineering goals for Panama. Engineering standards were found to already be above average, and so we have been working to reverse our weaknesses indicated in the report as being project management, and statistical, analytical, and critical thinking. We have been working on these issues since 2005, as they are important right now for the development of engineering and business schools. In 2013, we concluded a survey that measured the impact of accreditation in our academic programs, and we determined that we have been improving in certain areas. We are the only university on Panama that is both nationally and internationally accredited. National accreditation is based on 187 indicators, and the international equivalent features 270. At ULAT, we have developed our own computer information systems to help with accreditation. These actions had a huge impact on our peers when they came to Panama and discovered that we had developed such computer systems to manage our institutional and academic program accreditations. The market is highly demanding, with a presence of 100 international organizations today, obliging all participants to aim at particularly high quality thresholds. Nevertheless, Panama is a small country, and the one least subject to migration in the Americas, as well as being the smallest Spanish speaking country. This means that it has certain characteristics that oblige us to bring in people from abroad.

CARLOS ARELLANO LENNOX We are making a great effort to channel the latest innovations and technologies, as that is part of our educational process. The process should never be a static one, as the broader economy is not static. We have to supply professionals who can adapt themselves to changes in society. We adapt our programs to be able to provide these workers. The reason behind the proliferation of private universities was the national need for more adaptive and modern educational institutions. For example, in a maritime country such as Panama, it is absurd that there is just one state university providing maritime education, namely Universidad Marítima de Panamá.

What are your key priorities in the higher education sector?

MT At the Latin University of Panama (ULAT), we have been highly committed to changes in the higher education sector in light of the accreditation process. In 2006, a law was passed obliging all public and private universities in Panama to be accredited in order to continue operations. We have already completed the first phase of this process in which 18 universities were accredited, which was compulsory. We are currently working with the government and public and private universities to adjust to the process in upcoming years.

CAL The Columbus University was born with the objective of maintaining the quality of education, a goal that we have achieved so far. We wanted to do this with a scientific responsibility, and by reinforcing values and humanistic principles. Our objective is to achieve excellence in teaching and to foster innovation. Most of the private universities are today adjusting themselves to the needs of society. However, one of the serious problems we face is the preparation that one receives in high school, which is deficient in Panama. Most of the private universities are today adjusting themselves to the needs of society. The government drafts its own programs without consulting the educational sector. I can devise an educational program for the next decade, which by then will have become obsolete, and it is essential to change and be dynamic.