Reflections

After having time to reflect back to the conversations and experiences I had while in Chile, I have some final thoughts to share.  First, I would like to touch on the subject of funding which some of my peers have previously discussed.  In 1980, a law was passed in Chile allowing the creation of private universities.  Prior to the 1980s, higher education was free for all students in Chile.  However, in the Chile of today at least 79 percent of a student’s higher education is supported by their family.  I heard from one administrator from the Universidad de Austral that it is actually about 85 percent.  This percentage is the highest of any country in the world.  This has led to many Chilean students choosing to leave their country and attend a university in Argentina or Uruguay because it is a cheaper option.  In addition, after the top students complete their undergraduate studies or masters they choose to study abroad to earn their doctorate.  The population of Chile is slightly more than 17 million people.  The number of Chilean students attending universities is currently 1 million and the number of graduate students is about 27,500 (~23,750 masters and ~3,750 doctorates).  One way in which funding for higher education is distributed throughout Chile is by region.  The country is divided into 14 regions and each one receives its own set of funding.

I also would like to touch some on the tenure process and types of professors of two of the Chilean universities we visited.  The Universidad de Austral is a regional, non-state, non-Catholic university.  The tenure process there is very similar to the tenure process in the United States.  However, publications and obtaining outside funding are both helpful in obtaining tenure, but are not absolutely necessary.  Additionally, a professor needs at least two graduate students to complete their degree in order to become tenured.  In contrast, the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile is a metropolitan, non-state, Catholic university.  It receives funding from the Catholic Church as well as 10 percent of its overall funding from the Chilean government.  In comparison to the Universidad de Austral, Católica does not offer professors the opportunity to attain tenure.  Another statistic that I found remarkable is that around 80 percent of professors at Católica come from outside of Chile.

Lastly, I would like to discuss a little about the types of secondary education in Chile which has had a major impact on the amount of funding each institution of higher education receives from the government.  There are three types of secondary education institutions in Chile:  private, subsidized, and public.  The private schools, which make up 6 percent of the total number of secondary schools, require their students to pay for the full amount of tuition.  Subsidized schools require their students to pay a certain percentage of the tuition, but the rest is paid for by the government.  Public schools are free for students, meaning that the government pays for everything.  At a meeting with administrators from the Faculty of Engineering at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile we were informed of the types of students that are accepted into the undergraduate program.  One out of 60 students comes from private secondary schools, one out of 3,000 come from subsidized schools, and only one out of 7,000 are admitted from public schools.  These numbers are exceptionally startling.  Nevertheless, the Faculty of Engineering at Católica has begun a social responsibility program in which 50 students who would have otherwise not been admitted into the university are accepted.  These students come to the campus before classes start and receive mentoring so that they can become acclimated to the university.  This program helps to ensure their success.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

We have been so busy the last couple of days that I have not been able to find the time to sit down and inform you of the latest updates, even though I have been writing down thoughts whenever I have a spare moment.  So here is what we did on Tuesday . . .

Today we flew from Santiago to Valdivia.  I was surprised by the unpaved, bumpy, narrow road we took from the airport to our hotel.  The hotel we are staying at is very nice and right on the Calle Calle River and are rooms overlook the river.  In the afternoon we took a bus from the Universidad Austral to visit their Marine Lab Calfuco (which means dark blue) in Niebla.  Along the way we stopped and took pictures overlooking the river that went dry after the 1960 earthquake and then which sent tidal waves up the banks.  We also stopped and took pictures overlooking the Pacific Ocean at a Spanish fort.  I was amazed at just how isolated the Marine Lab is from the city, but it is in a very peaceful and beautiful location.

We heard two presentations from faculty members.  I learned that there are currently only eight people in the world who are conducting research on erosion of sandy beaches.  In addition, this area of Chile is expecting an earthquake sometime in the next several years because historically when the north of Chile has one, this area has on that soon follows.  In most places an earthquake takes away land, but here earthquakes move the land up.  For example, one earthquake raised the level of the earth by 1.6 meters.  This change in the sea level has a direct effect on the biodiversity of the animal and plant species that live there.

Next we received a tour of the labs and talked with students working in them.  We learned that Ph.D. graduate students receive scholarships for four years, after which time they can renew them for a six month extension.  Therefore, if you require more than that amount of time to complete your degree, you must pay for the rest of it out of your own pocket.

Then we walked around outside and went down a path to get a better view of the ocean and to watch a pair of graduate students collect samples in the water.  However, they appeared to be having some competition with the foam created by the waves.  There was seaweed that had been pulled out of the ocean and was being dried on the rocks.  In the water it appeared black, but after drying it became orange.  I was offered to try some and I did.  You are supposed to chew on it and as you do so it becomes softer.  It is also supposed to be healthy for you.

We finished the day off by having dinner with administrators and faculty members from the Universidad Austral.  This has been a wonderful day and I look forward to the upcoming days.

Stay tuned for more . . .

Monday, January 9, 2012

Today we visited the Universidad de Chile and met with Dr. Daniel Wolff (Director of Graduate Studies and Vice President of Academic Affairs), faculty, and graduate students in similar disciplines to us.  I learned that their equivalent to a Department of Food Science and Technology is a combination of two departments, Food Chemistry and Food Microbiology, in two separate faculties.  In comparison to the size of Virginia Tech, the number of students enrolled is similar; however, the University of Chile has fewer Ph.D. programs at just 36.

One of the topics that I found interesting was that the university is working towards reaching international standards.  Graduate students at the University of Chile can apply for fellowships to study abroad, but they are only allowed to apply to the top 150 ranked schools by Shanghai Jiao Tong University.  The university offers 60 scholarships for graduate students to study abroad and 20 scholarships for foreign graduate students to come to study in Santiago.  We were informed that just last year the university president, Victor L. Perez Vera, said the University of Chile needs to become more inclusive.  In the past and still to this day the regional and geopolitical circumstances have affected the internationalization of the university.  It was touched upon that there needs to exist social equity with quality.  Lastly, even though this fact does not apply directly to my field of study, I found it fascinating that Chile has 56 schools of Architecture.

Until tomorrow . . .

Sunday, January 8, 2012

This morning we arrived to Santiago, Chile around 6:30 AM Eastern time after our flight was delayed over an hour in Miami last night.  I was able to see some of the Andes on the way in and what a sight they were to behold!  On our drive from the airport to the hotel the scenery reminded me of some parts of Spain and Italy.  As we entered the city, our driver pointed out a building and informed us that it will be the tallest building in South America next year after it’s completed.  I also noted that there was not much water in a river (Marpocho River) and what water there was appeared to brown.  After reading some information about Santiago, I discovered that the Mapocho River’s name comes from the Mapuche word Mapachuco and means “water which penetrates the earth.”  In addition, the streets of Santiago are very quiet today because people relax and take it easy here on Sundays.

I spoke too soon!  After lunch we decided to go and do a little sight seeing around the city.  By that time people were starting to come out and by the time we got back to the hotel it seemed almost as if everyone in the city was out and about.  It’s hard to imagine what it’s like on a normal weekday.We walked around the Santiago and took the funicular up to see the Virgen de Santiago and were able to view the Andes and the city from above.

I’ve been surprised by how many dogs there are here, both on and off leashes.  Also, Chileans use different words for certain items that I’ve learned.  For example, “palta” means avocado.  Until tomorrow . . .