The Report Company: In your opinion, to what extent do you consider the 2007-2012 Education Sector Programme successful?

Rodolfo Tuiran: The Education Programme is a transition period, aimed to solve problems accumulated in the sector. This programme poses a set of medium-term challenges, whose aim is to get us back on the right track towards more ambitious goals. The first big challenge of the programme during these last years was to boost the enrolment numbers and increase coverage.

This programme aimed to achieve the goal set by the National Development Plan of a 30 percent of gross coverage rate. This incorporated two complementary targets; to achieve at least 30 percent of total coverage, and 30 percent in schooled population. It is forecasted that by this September or October, we will achieve 35 percent of total coverage, and approximately 31 percent of schooled population.

This means that we have surpassed the objectives of the National Development Plan. To achieve this, enrolment was increased by more than one million students between 2006 and 2012. We started with 2,525,000 students at the beginning of the six-year term, and by the end of it, we will probably reach 3,500,000 million students. These additional one million students represent what was achieved between 1950 and 1982, or the 66% of what was achieved between 1982 and 2006. It is no small feat, although we are still behind the Latin American average.

We need to continue encouraging the growth of higher education, to be able to promote the development of the knowledge based economy. Therefore we will have a value added economy that will present us different options to the ones we have had in the previous years.

TRC: What is the role of private investment in this process?

RT: There is a tradition in the political and public sphere in Mexico to favour public and government investment, without discarding private investment. To achieve our education objectives, we have to invest at least 17 billion pesos a year. Nowadays Mexico invests an average of two-thirds of a percentage point to sustain the growth of public enrolment. Private institutions invest the additional third. We are investing nearly 1 percent of our GDP with two sources of financing; public and private. To sustain enrolment growth, the public sector has set the goal to invest 1.5 percent of the GDP by 2018. The objective is not only to sustain the growth of higher education, but also to invest in culture and research.

Despite private investment in education, and the goals achieved, private institutions have not been able to significantly increase their enrolment numbers. In the last six years, more than one million additional students have enrolled in higher education, but 75 percent of this growth relied on public institutions, in contrast to 2006 when it only grew 50 percent. This shows that in the last years, the increasing dynamism of the higher education sector depends on the public sector, not the private.

TRC: The second objective of the Education Sector Programme is to reduce the inequalities that exist in education. So far, what has the programme accomplished?

RT: The second main objective of the programme has to do with fairness. I believe it is here where we need to make an important effort, although, there are indicators that show significant advances in this issue.

In 1992 our universities only had 130,000 students from the lower income segment of society, and in the year 2000 there were nearly 500,000 students. Today there are more than 900,000 lower income students, and this number is going to continue growing the next years. This number represents 22 percent of students that attend higher education, while the number of higher income students at our universities is between 78 percent and 80 percent.

The Mexican Constitution has recently passed reforms to Articles 3 and 31 that establish mandatory high school education, which will be made universal by the year 2022. Today high school education coverage is of 68 percent. These changes in the Constitution will allow a greater number of young people to complete their high school education. The fairness in the system will be achieved thanks to universal scholarship programmes.

Nowadays out of our four million students, two million have scholarships. In higher education we are going to reach a record number of 850,000 students with scholarships. Some scholarships are better than others, but we are favouring low income students. We are aware that our plans are not perfect, but they demonstrate our capacity of favouring students from disadvantaged backgrounds. This in itself is an extraordinary feat that we are accomplishing for the first time.

TRC: Going to the third objective, how are you forging alliances with private companies to develop research programmes in higher education centres?

RT: This type of initiative is new in Mexico, since there was always a tradition that separated what was done inside or outside universities. Fortunately this is changing, and today we are starting to build the structure needed to create links between research and development.

The first step has been to implement a gradual change in the structure of higher education courses, and also expand our network of public research and institutions. We are also creating tighter links between our universities and the productive sector, so there is greater dialogue and collaboration between the two parties. We are establishing the foundations that will allow the economic and productive sector to take advantage of the knowledge acquired in our research centres.

We have nearly 405 centres of higher technological education, all which have a governing board that acts as liaison between the institution, and regional and local businessmen, with the objective to promote dialogue between both parties. This initiative will soon begin to bear fruit.

Simultaneously we have created business incubators, which have knowledge and technology units to develop projects that end up transforming companies. Right now in our technological institutions we have nearly 196 projects identifying investment possibilities, and looking to establish alliances and become a viable business.

These projects have helped us break the old stereotypes that believed establishing links with the private sector could be damaging to universities. Thanks to 196 business incubators, 2,500 companies have been formed, and created nearly 10,000 jobs. Even though some of these recently created companies are small, some have the potential to become medium-sized or even big companies. Furthermore, each one of these incubators develops an average of 20 projects, so we are talking about 4,000 projects in our technological institutions.

TRC: How would you like your management to be remembered in a few years’ time? What do you think have been your achievements as undersecretary?

RT: Many of our accomplishments in higher education are the result of many policies that were already in place; so in many cases my job has been to continue with the established path. This process started in 1995, so the key element of this transformation has been to assure the application of policies that already existed.

The indicators show that all the changes have been very positive in the programme proposed to achieve ten goals in higher education: coverage, fairness – where we double the number of scholarships – quality, and access to internet in indigenous areas. The Secretariat of Transport & Communications (SCT) is making the effort to guarantee the WiMax and the NIBA network, thanks to a system built by the Federal Commission of Electricity (CFE) jointly with the SCT that will allow us to reach 100 percent of the communities included in the plan.

Another objective is to strengthen the institutions in public universities, to help them design plans for their development, and mobilise communities and institutions to implement these plans every year in a participatory manner. Other goal was that at least 75 percent of higher education institutions had Consultation Councils, and today nearly 100 percent of them do.

We are succeeding in meeting our goals, and in some cases we have exceeded our expectations. A significant effort has been made, but we still cannot be satisfied. We still have a long way to go, and the results will be seen in 15 or 20 years. My contribution has been to continue with those projects, and fulfil the goals set in higher education, with a long-term vision.