Q&A Jesus Ancer Rodríguez - Rector of the Autonomous University of Nuevo Leon (UANL)
Dr. Jesus Ancer Rodriguez holds a BA in Surgery and Obstetrics, and a doctorate in medicine from the Autonomous University of Nuevo Leon (UANL). Rodriguez has also earned a doctorate in Pathological Anatomy from the Universidad Complutense in Madrid, Spain. After first joining the UANL in 1980 as a teacher, Dr. Rodriguez worked his way up to become Rector in 2009. With his scientific expertise and storied history in the UANL, Dr. Rodriguez is transforming his university into a socially responsible international hub of academic knowledge and exchange.
Jesus Ancer Rodriguez: First we have to analyse the reality in Mexico to understand what we need to do to achieve this objective. We currently have 31 percent coverage in higher education, and 60 percent coverage in secondary education. Our intention is to have 100 percent coverage in secondary education, and at least 50 percent coverage in higher education, by the year 2020. Compared with the United States, which has more than 80 percent coverage in secondary education and 60 percent in higher education, we obviously need to further define our strategies.
The National Association of Universities & Higher Education Institutions (ANUIES), of which UANL is a member, has proposed a restructuring of the entire national educational system, starting with basic education. In this respect, universities established three parameters: an increase in coverage, and improvement in both quality and fairness. All public universities have made efforts to increase their coverage. For example, in our case we have 141,000 students enrolled, of which 58,000 are from secondary education, and the rest coming from higher education. This year we increased our number of enrolments by nearly 12,000 students.
But increased coverage loses validity if you do not offer quality. That is why national organisations like the Inter-Institutional Committees for the Evaluation of Higher Education (CIEES) and the Council for the Accreditation of Higher Education (COPAES) were created. In CIEES, our university has achieved a Level 1 evaluation for the last three years, and in COPAES, we are one of the universities with the highest number of degrees accredited; approximately 51 of the 71 that we offer. These indicators have given us additional resources to increase our coverage, infrastructure and quality.
Regarding the issue of fairness, the growth of Mexico’s population is going to peak in the year 2030; after this date, it will start to decline. Based on this information, we have to allocate resources to cover that number of students, without forgetting the most needy and vulnerable segments of society, such as people with disabilities.
It is necessary to give young people more options, both in terms of education and in new career paths. For example, in UANL we offer traditional degrees, but also mechatronics, aeronautics, petroleum engineering, actuarial science, international business, software engineering, and genome technology. Our objective is to offer each student greater alternatives.
TRC: What do you hope to accomplish in 2020?
JAR: UANL opened itself up in 2006 and created advisory councils, and in 2012 we decided to start working in the field of technological innovation. We also designed a generic framework for the university, where we created the International Advisory Council, currently presided by Professor Thomas Fox of Harvard University. These two councils – the national and the international – allow us to see which direction the university is going, while always looking for new accreditations.
UANL has a clear vision for the year 2020. By then, our university will be recognised as a socially responsible institution, and globally recognised for its quality, relevance, and its contributions to scientific and technological development, innovation, the creation of new schools of thought, and to human development in Nueva Leon and in Mexico. We will be able to achieve these goals as long as we follow the strategies and actions outlined in our Institutional Development Plan.
To all of the above I also add cultural value, as universities play a substantial role in promoting culture. I believe that apart from Mexico City and perhaps Guadalajara, we are the institution that has organised more free cultural and artistic events, at around 500 events per year. Sport is also included in our Vision 2020, and we have been national champions in different disciplines for seven consecutive years.
We also have student exchanges, and offer training programs for our professors. We also started working on securing more resources since our budget was insufficient. This prompted us to create strategic alliances with private and public companies to create doctorate programs, generate patents and offer our students professional internships.
TRC: In terms of the exchanges and ties that UANL shares with research and development institutes, what projects are there to promote small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs)?
JAR: We started with a franchise in the World Trade Centre that links us to their systems, while also working with the Technology Business Incubator Centre. We are incubating companies that are working with medium and high technology. Last year we won the National SME Award, and we are currently incubating 60 companies, and offer direct advice to more than 2,500 applications a year. In this way UANL will be in the position to create ties and generate links with all of these companies. We are involved in the entrepreneurial process, looking for students that want to create their own companies. Before, this was impossible.
UANL wants to change society, working together with the government to improve the educational system, and offer opportunities to the young. In addition to what I mentioned before, thanks to our vision, we have managed to create partnerships with companies to conduct research. For example we are currently working with PEMEX, with TERNIUM in iron, and with FEMSA in beer brewing. We are working with researchers to create patents and enter the social and productive sectors.
In the 2020 Institutional Development Plan we have integrated a Secretariat of Sustainable Development concerned with environmental issues. We are currently working on saving of water and energy, reforestation and recycling, with each of the faculties and schools.
TRC: What type of alliances are you forging to achieve all your objectives?
JAR: We started with what we have in our sector, since local companies are the ones that hire the majority of our graduates. For example, TERNIUM is investing $200 million dollars in a plant located near our campus, so our engineering students can acquire practical experience and get a job once they graduate.
It is also important to pay attention to local problems, because we have 45 year old engineers that cannot find work. This is why we are creating programs for updating information technologies to offer them new opportunities, through the federal Ministry of Economy. We are also creating spaces for the creation and development of new businesses.
In the international arena, UANL has agreements with universities from 33 different countries. Our idea has always been to extend our international relations network to benefit our students and professors.
TRC: Does UANL have agreements with the United Kingdom?
JAR: Yes, we have agreements with Cambridge and Sheffield universities. Cambridge University recently published a list of the world’s best universities, in which UANL was included. One of the academics from Sheffield University is a member of our International Advisory Council. We also have agreements with other European institutions. For example, our engineers and technicians have a residence for up to six months at the Toulouse Aeronautical Test Centre in France. We also have an agreement with Germany, where our medicine students can complete a professional internship the final year of their degree.
TRC: Is the UANL focused on science and technology?
JAR: Yes, these are key areas for both the present and future of our university. But we are also looking to develop other areas like art. We have agreements with Turkey, where art is experiencing a big boost. We are interested in all areas of knowledge, not only in science and technology, although these are some of our priorities.
Thanks to our policy of covering all areas of science, every year we send 700 of our students abroad, and we expect to double that amount next year. We also receive 350 foreign students annually, and want to double this number, since that international exposure is very beneficial for our students. Insecurity is a factor that has hindered our development in that area, but lately the amount of visiting professors and foreign students is increasing.
In our objective towards achieving internationalisation, we have to promote joint degrees, and enter into a process with international universities to make our degree programs equivalent. UANL is very respectful of the fact that the degrees must be linked with their equivalents.
TRC: How would you like UANL to be seen in the world? How would you like it to be seen in a few years?
JAR: Currently UANL is already recognised as a quality institution, thanks to all the indicators that I previously mentioned. We are now embarking in a process of internationalisation. I want UANL to be seen as a university with an international curriculum, where students have the ability to define their future thanks to international standards.
Another aspect is social responsibility, because the students need to be aware that they belong to a community. With this in mind, we have designed a strategy for a permanent social service program. Our nursing, medicine and dentistry students must complete a year of social service in order to graduate.
Another important aspect is that we are promoting research. But this research should focus on science and technology, as much as it should focus on how to conduct social research. That is our vision for the year 2020.
TRC: Taking into account all the goals mentioned, in your opinion, what has been your biggest accomplishment as Rector?
JAR: I arrived at the university in 1980 as a teacher, and from that moment on I understood that we needed to follow the path that society wants, and learn to serve the community. I was Director of the Faculty of Medicine, then I became General Secretary of UANL, and today I am the Rector. I have held all of these positions and therefore I know the institution inside out. This knowledge has allowed me to define the institution’s transition towards quality, research, culture, sports, and today, towards sustainability and international mobility.
But if I had to choose one accomplishment, I would have to say it has been in promoting the participation of our students in different activities of UANL, especially to fully integrate in our society. In doing so, we can accomplish our goals of social responsibility that we have as an institution and as individuals.