At a recent conference of international educators (AIEA – http://www.aieaworld.org/), representatives from VT, University of Basel and the Swiss Embassy in Washington DC served on a panel on the topic of global graduate education. The focus of the discussion was on the Preparing the Future Professoriate Global Perspectives program and the U.S. – Swiss partnership. After we described the program, the use of the term “global” was questioned due to the fact that our visits were limited to selected countries within continental Europe (e.g. France, Switzerland, Italy, Germany) or Chile.
The point raised by an audience member was a good one and prompted me to reflect on the term “global”. While it is true the VT global perspectives program includes visits to selected universities and countries only, I would argue that the program provides a first hand experience that helps us to acknowledge differences around the world and embrace a perspective beyond our own country of origin. The discussions in GRAD 5104 Preparing the Future Professoriate and brief presentations by international students provide a glimpse into higher education in various countries around the world. The monthly seminars of the Global Perspectives group prior to departure provide the opportunity for more intentional focus on selected universities and countries. Interactions among the participants enrich our understandings of each other in that not all of the VT participants are U.S citizens and not all University of Basel participants are Swiss. We learn from each other about national perspectives, language and cultural differences and much more. While “global” might signify the world, the experiences of the Global Perspectives program can plant the seeds and open our eyes and ears to greater understanding of our shared global world.
Within the last two weeks, I have had the pleasure of interacting with multiple groupings of individuals who have or will participate in the Preparing the Future Professoriate: Global Perspectives program. The initial meeting of the 2012 Global Perspectives group was held and we began the process of preparing for our May visit. The PFP Chile ’12 group met to debrief and reflect upon our January visit to Chile. The weekly Global Perspectives lunch gathering was held and I was able to attend. And most recently, I shared the draft itinerary with my colleagues who will participate in the first ever Global Perspectives program for graduate deans this July. The pervasive sentiment across these groups is genuine excitement about learning more about the global academic world and reflecting about the significant impact upon one’s professional and personal lives. The global perspectives program is one of the many ways through which we can and will transform graduate education.
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.
I just arrived home from Chile, where I had the opportunity to travel with VT administrators and other doctoral students to explore higher education in South America. During the trip, I had the opportunity to go to the Santa Rosa Experimental Research Station. The station is a part of the Universidad Austral de Chile’s agricultural research programs. This is similar to US land-grant schools, as they also have agricultural research stations where professors and extension agents can conduct research and learn about advances in crop production.
Most of the funding for UACh’s research is derived from the government. There is little (but some) private funding in Chile, which is an interesting contrast from US land-grants, where some professors can run their entire research programs on private funds. In talking with professors, there were mixed feelings about private funding, but most (if not all) agreed that the government could and should increase monies allocated to university research.
Chile has major export markets for berries and the southern region of Chile is also responsible for approximately 70% of the country’s milk production.
Below are some pictures from the research station, including some pictures from the facilities and surrounding fields and greenhouses.
The first picture is the blueberry orchard for research purposes. Their biggest problem… hungry students. I think all blueberry researchers rant about that.