Interview: Jesús Ancer Rodríguez
Substandard education does not appear to be caused by a lack of funding. What is the problem?
JESUS ANCER RODRIGUEZ: Over the past few years there has been major investment in the educational system, which is reflected by the more than $46bn allocated to it in the 2013 budget, most of it directed to the basic education system. Expenditure in education is adequate. The problem lies in the distribution and effectiveness of the resources. This is mainly due to Mexico’s extreme diversity between states, and the absence of a system to evaluate the coverage and quality of teaching in order to shed light on each state’s specific deficiencies. This is a very important issue because it is the real reason why the resources do not have an impact on quality.
The problem is that a significant amount of money is being injected into a system that is not well designed, and in which the state has no ability to evaluate where the failure lies. In this context, the educational reform was presented in 2013 with an agenda to professionalise teachers according to a permanent evaluation scheme that will measure their performance, just as is done today in the higher education system thanks to the reform 20 years ago. Today anyone can measure the performance of each degree, with objective numbers and parameters, thanks to an evaluation system based on a sort of balanced scorecard with indicators that evaluate the productivity of the funds allocated to public and private universities.
The impact of this system is proving very positive and has led to very high levels of quality in higher education, and will certainly have a positive effect on our basic education system if it is implemented in the way that has been proposed in the education reform.
How can schools and universities encourage students to become entrepreneurs?
ANCER: When public universities were created, their most important role was to focus on general education; however, nowadays, we talk more and more about new policies geared towards entrepreneurship. This topic suffers from a certain taboo because anything public has a social impact and it is not easy to talk about businesses or customers in the classrooms of a public university. However, this perception is already changing. If you look at the US, the phenomenon is more than evident. Each university there has an area or a building where nothing but offices for the business incubation centre is located. What should we do in Mexico? Provide facilities for young entrepreneurs to go and be taken into account. What does that imply? Giving institutional support and public resources for the development of new ideas in the form of new companies or patents incubated in universities. Both public and private universities must also support new and stronger patent development policies. Unfortunately our country suffers from a weak policy in this regard. The regulatory framework is complex and bureaucratic, and this discourages people from applying for patents.
What can universities do to help the integration and coordination of industrial clusters?
ANCER: At the federal level the government defines in which areas the country should specialise and build momentum, and then invites the National Council of Science and Technology (Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología, CONACYT) to open bids for programmes in those specific areas. It was determined that the priorities would be the automotive, aerospace, appliances and biotechnology sectors. The life cycle of a cluster begins when CONACYT tenders contributions for specific projects, for which universities then submit bids for attractive projects together with private sector companies, which are interested because they will gain access to CONACYT funds and their employees will receive specialised training. Often private firms make donations to professionalise the cluster in the form of machinery or financial contributions. Clusters in Mexico began to integrate no more than five years ago and, since then, the country has grown a lot in these sectors, primarily in terms of aerospace and automotives.
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