2018 NAFSA Conference – Discussing and Exchanging Ideas About Higher Education in Latin America: The Latin America Forum

Written by Kyle Purchase on behalf of Global Philadelphia Association

NAFSA: Association of International Educators held its annual conference and expo at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia on May 27 through June 1. The main focus of the conference dealt with international policy issues, such as immigration, U.S.-Cuban relations, and education. The conference welcomed many visitors including scholars, students and educators from various universities all over the world.

One of the premier seminars the conference hosted was the Latin America Forum. This program discussed the recent developing trends in Latin American higher education and the higher education institutions, and how Latin America can improve their progress with higher education. The notion of a global mindset and having cooperation between Latin America with other regions of the world to achieve common goals was also stressed.

The forum began with opening remarks from Dr. Jorge Arosemena, who leads the City of Knowledge Foundation in Panamá. In his opening speech, Dr. Arosemena stressed that “higher education must change itself” given that we are in a world that is changing fast. This was alluding to the notion of globalization affecting all aspects of society. (The word that was used throughout the forum was “internationalization,” which Dr. Arosemena said was the same thing as globalization.)

The keynote speaker of the Latin America forum was Dr. Sergio Urzua, associate professor, Department of Economics, University of Maryland. Dr. Urzua presented statistical findings about higher education trends in Latin America from one of his books, Disconnected: Skills, Education, and Employment in Latin America. His three main findings included that 1) efforts did not translate into higher productivity levels, 2) efforts correlate with declining inequality, and 3) the declining income inequality cannot be interpreted as a progress in higher education. Dr. Urzua concluded that there are opportunities to identify higher education institutions that are high quality in Latin America and that they must be used to form the blocks for economic and social progress throughout the region. With higher education institutions playing a role, Dr. Urzua also says that there must be policy debate and the ability to learn from other successful experiences in order to achieve sustainable growth.

After Dr. Urzua’s presentation, there was a panel discussion about higher education issues and questions from the audience were answered. Joining Dr. Arosemena on the panel were Dr. Alejandra Barahona Castro of Universidad Veritas, and Dr. Maria de Lourdes Dieck-Assad from the University of Miami. Members of the audience asked questions pertaining to how low-income students can gain access to resources and also about policy debate. The panel recommended focusing on an outcome model to show students’ progress and also to have synergy among government, industry and the higher education institutions to show the greatest achievements.

The forum ended with some opportunities for educators to discuss ideas about higher education reform. Common interests for education reform were exchanged among representatives from Latin American countries as well as Canada.