Francisco Pedrahita has been at the helm for 25 years pastor subordinate Icesi . UniversityPerhaps one of the most important private educational institutions in the world Cali It is all over the country.
During this quarter of a century, during which Icesi gained national and international fame, this institution has also undergone a series of significant internal changes, which have added to the continuous development of the sector.
In an interview with EL TIEMPO, Piedrahita, who was about to leave his post, refers to his administration as rector of this university and also to the state of high educationFaced with declining student numbers, challenges of digital transformation, competition from virtual platforms, and funding issues.
How did you leave Icesi University?
In general, very satisfied. This has been a very intellectually challenging work, as we have made significant progress on issues of inclusion and positioning of research groups, among others. In short, a very rich experience. I was very fortunate to be there – with the support of the university community in general – to share with an excellent team.
How has Icesi changed in these 25 years?
The university has changed a lot, because transcendent decisions have been made. When I arrived, Icesi was a management school, focusing on this type of training. For various reasons in 2003 a discussion took place within the university, the board of directors and the Supreme Council, in which a conclusion was reached to expand the mission of the institution, to become a university in the broad sense of the word, with a great diversity of races.
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From two undergraduate programs and one master’s degree, in 1996 we went to 30 undergraduate programs, 56 between master’s degrees and medical and surgical specialties, and two doctoral programs.
All this means changes in the teaching staff. That is why there are more than 120 professors who hold Ph.D. The campus also had to be expanded as it was necessary for more students, professors, courses and laboratories, among other infrastructure. The built-up area has multiplied tenfold.
And in terms of students?
The number of students has changed a lot as well. From a population that was primarily Layers 4, 5, and 6, we now have more than 40 percent of students from Layers 1 and 2, and almost 60 percent if Layer 3 is added. This shows us that there is more diversity, that we We provide first-class education to young people regardless of their status.
This integration project benefited from government programmes, which has happened in other universities, for example, with the diversification of Icetex credits a few years ago, which has allowed for increased enrollment since the beginning of this century.
What challenges will the university face in the coming years?
We have many challenges. The first is the change being experienced in technology. The pandemic has shown us all the possibilities it brings; We adapted, it went well for us, but without a doubt something the new rector should bring. Work must also continue in continuing education and graduate degrees. Unfortunately, another challenge is funding the university, especially to ensure access to populations in difficulty as the government has refocused its resources.
What you mean?
The real problem is that in Colombia,
Historically, there were a large number of young people who did not have access to higher education, and in some cases did not even graduate from high school.
In economics, there are subsidies for supply, when it is given to an enterprise, and to demand, when given to an individual, so that, in this case, they choose the place of study.
What happens to the sector is that in Colombia we had a valuable and balanced mix of both approaches. Offer subsidies are mainly those that are given to public universities, which have always had subsidized tuition fees for their students, and this is necessary.
Demand support, on the other hand, has been significantly reduced. For example, at the interest rate of Icetex. Before they benefited from all residents of classes 1, 2 and 3, the Sisbén degree must now be met, with much lower coverage, and this excludes many students who cannot enter public institutions because they have neither quotas nor capacity, nor private ones, because they lack resources adequate.
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Ser Pilo Paga was another program that allowed a student, after fulfilling certain conditions, to enter the university of his choice. But that changed with Generation E, in its Excellence component, which, despite its value, is a program that’s 30 percent of what it was before in terms of investment.
Many universities are losing students. Is this the case for Icesi?
What the stats show we lost is the students who came in with demand support and today they no longer have access to it. The challenge is how to not continue to lose this socio-economic diversity, because if that happens, you will not only lose the university, but also the community.
The drop in college enrollment occurred across the country years ago. How do you deal with this problem?
There are several strategies. One of the articles we support is a state budget article that leads Icetex to create emergency income financing. It is nothing more than a financing that allows the future professional to pay to the extent that he gets an income. If you don’t have a job, you pay nothing; If you earn little, you pay little; If your salary is higher, you pay more. It was invented in other countries years ago; It will make it possible for people to lose their fear of Icetex credits and be able to access higher education.
Is the pandemic also affecting the drop in student numbers?
Unlike national figures, Icesi has not been declining in student numbers in recent years. This decline was mainly felt in 2020. The pandemic may have had a role, although not much for all the support work we did. But it is a common factor, because with this lack of demand support, vulnerable populations are left with no way to access private universities. They mostly welcome students from classes 1, 2 and 3.
The real problem is that in Colombia there has always been a large number of young people who do not have access to higher education, and in some cases do not even graduate from high school. The seriousness is there. The high school graduation rate leaves much to be desired, aside from the quality issue.
Some suggested no tuition fees for private universities. do you agree?
never. I don’t believe in no tuition fees, if I’m being honest. It is neither private nor public. There is a lot of information that tells us that a professional graduate earns a much higher income than a bachelor’s degree.
It does not make sense for us to support those few who go to university, because unfortunately few, and they will have, in the case of private universities, how to pay for their education using these emergency income credits that I explained before. There may be facilitation, forgiveness, part support or other mechanisms, not necessarily no registration. It does not seem fair to those who do not have the opportunity to study today. Zero tuition fees are not for them.
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In the case of the public, less. It’s a measure I don’t understand, because the subsidy is given to boys who have already received higher subsidies. It does not increase coverage, because quotas remain the same and these institutions are not in a position to accept more students.
Many wonder if universities are responding to the needs of the labor market…
There are universities that prepare young people for the needs of the labor market, but there are also others that do not seem to do so. Which is that institutions do not specifically use the tools provided by the Ministry of Education that can help them understand this. For example, the dimensions of Saber Pro exam results are poorly understood, and how they help assess general, specific, and citizen-related skills for students and future professionals.
But there is another one, the Observatory of Labor Higher Education, which is much more mysterious, and no one consults it. Monitors the alumni of each group from each program in each institution. If you take a wise look at this, you will surely find answers.
Do the races shown have anything to do with it too?
Colombia has a lot of universities and a shortage of high-quality technical and technological institutions. In the country we have a “PhD”. We believe that if a degree isn’t a college degree, it’s not worth it, and it shouldn’t be. This is also because most technical and technological programs leave much to be desired. But if this quality is improved, there are many advantages; We guarantee greater reach, they are functions that society needs, shorter than that and can be very useful in all sectors.
What do you think of the trend of education on online platforms through courses and MOOCs?
I don’t believe in no tuition fees, if I’m being honest. It is neither private nor public. There is a lot of information that tells us that a professional graduate earns much higher income than a bachelor’s
A good college student cannot be substituted for these platforms. They are not even close to the quality of education that can be offered at a good university, with a good campus.
I believe that virtual training for undergraduates has important values for the population who cannot access the campus because of age, because they work, because of distance or economic status, among other factors.
But if you have the possibility to go on campus, that is much better. With this, I will not deny that there are advantages to continuous and virtual training in professional development, without a doubt. In this there are a number of players looking for money. It’s corporate theft that sells products that are easily accessible but huge, in the logic of money. Higher education in Colombia is not-for-profit.
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