THE CUTTING EDGE

Panama 2015 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Joaquin Villar-Garcia, President of the Directors' Council and Rector of Columbus University, on the evolution of education on Panama, important achievement of the university, and ensuring an internatioanl standard of instruction.

Joaquin Villar-Garcia
BIOGRAPHY
Joaquin Villar-Garcia is President of the Council of directors and rector of Columbus University, and a member of the association of Sociology of Central America. He has worked as coordinator of the organization of universities for the sustainable development, Spanish branch, and served as a memeber of the directive council of “Consejo Iberoamericano” in educational quality, Peru. He was a member of the association of scientific experts of tourism, Switzerland and a representative of Columbus University in the network Compostel Group of Universities, Spain. Joaquin has also been the secretary of the board of the council of rectors of Panama and President of Capìtulo Panamà of the association of Central American and Panamanian private universities.

How would you describe the current level of access to higher education in Panama?

From 1935 until the early 1980s there was very little in the way of higher education in our country. The 1990s marked an unprecedented boom in private universities, which currently number about 25. Universities have developed regional headquarters, and even special programs to provide access for indigenous and rural areas using information and communications technology. Tuition information recorded by the General Controller Office indicated in the last census showed that 139,116 people from rural and indigenous areas were pursuing higher education studies. Regarding graduates, we recorded more than 21,821 people from different professions serving the development of the country. Studies indicate that there is a shortage of at least 75,000 trained professionals in different sectors and this is an opportunity for education institutions.

What have been the landmark achievements of Columbus University?

We have increased and diversified the number of degrees, introducing not only more campus offerings, but also extending our learning with the support of information and communication technologies. We expanded our offering of post-graduate programs, courses, seminars and diplomas, and prepared also some PhD offerings in partnership with prestigious American and European universities. We have than 4,000 graduates who contribute in different areas of the development of the country such as in the maritime sector, where we teach Naval Engineering with an specialization in Machinery and Maritime Transportation. We also have graduated doctors, lawyers, and business managers who specialize in education, architecture, law, psychology and other important economic and social development areas. We boosted participation in academic networks with national and international universities for the academic development of teaching, student mobility and research. We built closer links with the private sector, state institutions and civil society to strengthen the curriculum of the teaching offered. We strengthened participation in national and regional organizations of higher education such CRP, AUPPA, and AUPRICA among others. We developed research activities and pushed for continuous improvement of the capabilities and skills of our teachers and students in areas of extension, technology and academic teaching and research.

Can you talk about the latest programs the university has integrated in its offerings to strengthen competitiveness levels?

We are always improving out academic offerings and developing new courses and programs to meet the demands and needs of the growth of the economy. We incorporated nine new compulsory levels of English language to all degrees, so we will soon become a fully bilingual university. We incorporated ICT, virtual libraries, and degree simulators for medical and nautical engineering, computer labs and social networks. We developed blended programs to facilitate the access to higher education to people and communities with that have difficulty attending lessons.

How does the university offer opportunities to foreign students? What kinds of joint projects have you developed at the international level?

We have the international recognition of; the World Confederation of Businesses based in Texas, USA; Ibero-American Council for Quality Education, based in Lima, Peru; the Association of Private Universities of Central America and Panama, based in San Jose, Costa Rica; the International Organization of Universities for Sustainable Development and Environment (OIUDSMA), based in Granada, Spain; the Brazilian Association of Quality Incentive, based in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Importantly, Columbus University possesses ISO 9001 version 2008 standards and we have the accreditation of the National Assessment and Accreditation Institution of Panama. In addition, the School of Marine Science and Technology Center is certified as Maritime Training Center by the Panama Maritime Authority and belongs to the University Network that integrates the Compostela Group Universities based in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.