Digital University for all

It is not about the university closing the door


Traditional universities also upload to the cloud . Offering degrees or distance courses is the only way, they say, to guarantee access to higher education throughout the planet. And more when the demand for training grows at an unprecedented rate. The more than 1,100 presidents of 33 countries gathered in Rio de Janeiro these days point to online education as part of the solution to this new challenge.

The III International Meeting of University Rectors, promoted by Banco Santander, analyzes the future of the university, its most pressing challenges and needs from an Ibero-American point of view. “In this changing world, the university needs to renew its teachings to adapt to new students and social demands, it is the part where we are most delayed,” says Marco Antonio Zago, rector of the University of São Paulo.

Unesco estimates that by 2025 there will be 80 million more people who will want access to higher education, especially in emerging countries. To meet this demand, it would be necessary to create three universities per week with a capacity for 40,000 students over the next twelve years, says the entity.

But in a context of economic crisis and cuts, the rectors are aware that this will not happen. How to respond then to all these new students? Through distance education , according to university officials.

“Internet, WhatsApp, Twitter, mass and open online courses – Moocs – are innovative proposals that have broken down the barriers in the dissemination of knowledge, are advances that facilitate the creation of a new society, where the presencial and virtual intermingle (…), the Ibero-American university should exploit the possibilities of this education more open and accessible, “said Emilio Botín, president of Banco Santander, during the opening of the meeting, which has become the largest university forum in the world. This change of course would allow the campuses to compete internationally in attracting students and “respond to the training demanded by the new generations of young people who enter the university,” added the president of Santander.

It is not, they said yesterday during the debates of the meeting, that face-to-face universities close the door and go exclusively to the digital world, but to offer several options, combining face-to-face classes with virtual ones depending on the needs of each country and of the type of student. “A part of education must always be face-to-face, to promote social skills and personal interaction,” agree the rectors of the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, Enric Fossas, and Rovira i Virgili, Josep Anton Ferré.

However, higher education changes its format. The University of Barcelona (UB), which also participates in the Meeting together with 61 other Spanish universities, will open its first offer of official titles online in September. It is one of the first face-to-face universities in Spain and Latin America to offer this option. It is about the degree of Design and of the masters of Psychopedagogy and of Territorial Planning and Environmental Management. They will be taught in Spanish, because the UB wants to attract Ibero-American students -the titles have also been chosen with the needs and demand of this region in mind.

In Brazil, where the meeting is held, only 17% of the population between 18 and 24 years of age studies in the university, compared to 30% in Spain, but in a decade the number of students in higher education has doubled until reaching the seven million, a figure that is expected to continue rising. Brazilian universities believe that distance education would help to absorb this demand, especially for students who live in remote areas.
The ability to reach any place is what Hans Peter Knudsen

<br /><br />The ability to reach any place is what Hans Peter Knudsen

rector of the Colegio del Rosario University (Colombia), values: “For a country like ours, with such a complex geography and universities concentrated in large cities, training digital will allow us to reach a large population that would otherwise not have access to higher education. ”

In this line, Spanish and Ibero-American universities will start distributing open and free courses in MiriadaX, the Mooc platform in Spanish and Portuguese that Banco Santander and Telefónica have created. In this meeting, the first data of the platform was presented, launched in a pilot way a year and a half ago, with 133 academic programs that 33 Spanish and Ibero-American universities already offer and in which more than 750,000 students have registered. And that still does not work 100%.

Apart from access to higher education and the role of technology, the more than a thousand directors gathered discussed other fronts open at the university. The first, that of university funding. Many governments have cut investment in higher education, such as Spain – and the Government of the Generalitat – while others, such as Germany, have increased it. At the meeting, the opinion of the majority of rectors coincided in asking for a greater contribution of public funds in the universities, which are considered insufficient.

This model was also claimed by the Ibero-American General Secretary


Rebeca Grynspan. According to this, a basic and superior education accessible and financed by governments is essential to reduce poverty and social inequality. He also claimed, as do all the rectors, an increase in patronage.

In this case, Banco Santander has become the largest patron of the university environment. During the last four years, it has invested 594 million euros in the form of agreements in 1,159 universities through its Universia network. And it has promoted mobility scholarships for 15,000 Ibero-American students. Recently, the Minister of Education, José Ignacio Wert, proposed to promote loans to university students to finance their studies, which would increase the private effort to pay for training to the detriment of public aid.