Interview: Carlos Heeren
To what extent is there a need to amend the University Law to guarantee higher quality standards within Peruvian universities?
CARLOS HEEREN: University Law reform should aim at improving deeper aspects of the university system in Peru, rather than attempting to regress. The law aims at cleaning up both the system and universities that do not meet quality standards, but it fails to enhance those universities that already meet 21st century standards. In order to do this, it is important to guarantee access to as much information as possible for all students.
The law must also improve research and development (R&D) as the key to guaranteeing the country’s sustainable development. For this purpose, the National Council of Science, Technology and Technological Innovation must continue to play a relevant role in encouraging R&D initiatives by overseeing more areas and focusing on those that are critical to the development of Peru.
Furthermore, the law restricts the amount of content that can be taught online. This limits the capacity of education to reach all corners of the country. A total of 100% of the content should be available online, not just for universities, but for schools too. However, lack of connectivity must not be the reason why online education is not accessible to every student.
Moreover, incentives that enable universities to foster R&D are needed. In most developed countries, the state plays a fundamental role in enhancing R&D efforts carried out by universities. Peru also needs centres of excellence to partner with the most prestigious institutions that would spearhead cutting-edge entrepreneurship. The University Law should not focus only on control, but also on promotion.
How much room is there for further private sector and academic cooperation to enhance R&D?
HEEREN: Peruvian universities need to reach out to the private sector to understand how it can add value to the tertiary education system. Once universities understand how firms can add value, they need to incorporate these findings into their programmes. Peruvians are entrepreneurial, due to the lack of formal employment opportunities. In fact, entrepreneurship is often the only means to make a living. However, many start-up companies lack a high degree of sophistication and have limited access to capital, thus limiting their options of success. Universities can play a major role in helping entrepreneurs guarantee the sustainability of their projects through start-up accelerators.
Furthermore, universities can serve as the link between students and internship and employment opportunities in entrepreneurial projects. In doing so, universities expose students to the dynamics of entrepreneurship, thus helping them gain the necessary experience to launch successful projects in the future.
Lastly, universities will offer programmes that place more emphasis on practical aspects rather than theoretical. There is an increasing tendency towards shifting away from traditional education to focusing on providing students with the tools necessary to implement their own projects from the moment they begin their degrees until they graduate.
In light of UTEC’s agreements with Harvard University and other foreign institutions, how can local universities benefit from global partnerships?
HEEREN: The government must make a significant effort to enhance the internationalisation of universities by attracting more international professors and researchers. Higher exposure to foreign teaching and research methods is crucial to fostering a meaningful process of knowledge transfer. Technology is changing and will enhance the process of internationalising Peruvian universities. As a matter of fact, virtual education is already a reality, allowing professors and students in Peru to access labs and classes in some of the most prestigious universities in the world. Virtual reality and education will change the way we teach and learn.