WE’VE COME A LONG WAY

Peru 2015 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Mariana Rodríguez Risco, President & CEO of Laureate International Universities, on the role of the institution in the higher education system.

Mariana Rodríguez Risco
BIOGRAPHY
Mariana Rodríguez Risco is the President and CEO of Laureate International Universities. She has an MBA from Boston University. She is the founder of UPC, CIBERTEC, UPN, and ITN.

With its two institutes and two universities, what role does Laureate play in the higher education system here in Peru?

We are now one of the biggest educational groups in Peru with 100,000 students enrolled in our institutions, UPC, UPN, CIBERTEC, and ITN. Yet, when you look at the overall higher education market, we make up less than 10% of private enrolment. There are 1.5 million students at the tertiary level nationwide, albeit the private education systems slightly less than a million. We entered the sector in 1983 with CIBERTEC as pioneers in IT training and education in Peru. To this day, we remain one of the most prestigious institutes specializing in technology, although we have successfully introduced programs in the areas of business and design. Technology, so to speak, remains the common denominator. As a group of higher education institutions, we have always pursued a dynamic academic model characterized by innovation. We were the first to offer an undergraduate focused in the music and in the fashion industries (UPC).

What innovations are you exploring to integrate technology into the educational experience, particularly at UPC?

At UPC, we are developing a new model; the country's first digital university. We aim to find new ways to deliver higher education. We will strive to become a leading university in the use of technology in the classroom. The delivery of education needs to be more accessible to students with different needs. The higher education industry is evolving, and we believe in being bold in our stance. We are currently in the design and pilot phase of the digital model. We have already started by encouraging our students and faculty to leverage such technology as smartphones and tablets in the learning environment.

What role can the private sector play in increasing access to higher education for people of lower income in Peru?

UPN is keen to make higher education more affordable for a large underserved market that has long lacked access to education. This is vital for the future of a developing country like Peru. In this country, participation in higher education remains low. We have come a long way over the past 15 years; only three out of 10 students leaving school today have access to higher education. We need to push for a 50-60% participation rate. There are those who dismiss the key role of private education in society arguing that education should be free and guided by the state. I myself have been engaged in this debate throughout my professional life of over 30 years. Today, when we look at Peru, we find that private education accounts for 70% of enrolment. Had we not secured private investment in the education system over the past 10 years, we would be in a critical situation, lacking the required pool of professionals that Peru's development requires. And so private education has played a major role in providing higher education to more and more people in Peru.

Do you think the reform of university regulations to improve low-quality private institutions has been positive for Peruvian education?

The issue of quality is a separate issue from whether a school is a public or private institution. There are good and bad quality institutions in the public and private sectors. The students' best interests have to be at the center of the debate. Both public and private institutions need to manage their financial resources effectively and efficiently in order to invest in better infrastructure and academic quality. I can understand why there has been pressure for new laws and regulations regarding higher education in Peru. When you look at this sector, sure, some bad institutions do not focus on the best interests of their students. This is a very asymmetric sector where the student has a limited ability to decide where and what to study. Effective regulation must be built on setting reasonable, minimum, or baseline standards focused on the outcomes (employability) of institutions rather than just the process (percentage fulltime faculty). My concern is that the regulatory body, SUNEDU, may become highly bureaucratic, led by people with traditional paradigms and set in the ways of the past. Too much regulation is the best way to stifle innovation.