EDUCATION FOR THE PEOPLE
“There is no way that a university can sustain itself in the future if it’s not globalising,” says Hugo Juri, the Rector of the National University of Córdoba (UNC). “You need to be working with partners all over the world. The world is advancing, knowledge is spreading and you cannot be isolated. You have to be integrated, connecting yourself to all the information and universities.”
Juri’s global ambitions for the university are matched by its rich and esteemed history. Founded in 1613, UNC is the oldest university in Argentina and the sixth oldest across Latin America. Today it boasts a student population of around 132,000 – one of the largest in the Americas – and physically it occupies an area of some 11.5 million sq m, split between the city of Córdoba and its provinces. The university features 15 faculties, 145 research centres and institutes, 25 libraries, 17 museums and two hospitals.
Its alumni include several Catholic saints, prominent politicians, scientists and many top academics. “UNC’s educational role and position in the world is a hugely important one,” says Juri. “Universities are top in the perception of society here.”
a national institution
Argentine society is a hugely important part of the university. Last year UNC celebrated the centenary of the Argentine University Reform of 1918 that began in Córdoba and resulted in the modernisation and democratisation of universities, essentially creating a blueprint for future education in Latin America.
“The democracies that were created helped the universities integrate much more with societies,” says Juri. “This was a real milestone moment. It laid the foundations for the university’s reputation.” The centenary was recognised by educational leaders from across the globe. “We celebrated it with a conference, which included around 4,000 university leaders, rectors, ministers of education and senior professors.”
The impact of the reform act is still crucial to the core of the university’s work and outlook today. This includes extensive and meaningful outreach work in the community, working with those who may not have access to higher education and attempting to bridge the gap between richer and poorer communities, as well as between educated and non-educated ones.
“It’s important to spread knowledge,” says Juri. “You go to Europe and the US and you have private companies doing research and development but in Latin America it’s just big public universities like ours that are doing it. We exist to get more of this into society because higher education should touch all levels of society.”
This exists on a practical level, too. “To people in smaller populations in the countryside we provide support for the needs of their local industries,” says Juri. “We are giving knowledge to these communities without them having to undertake a long course at the university. We deliver the knowledge of higher education to people in remote places by providing both physical and technological tools.”
All of this fits into the ethos of UNC, an institution that has a pioneering and innovative history, a deep investment in its country’s people and globe-spanning relationships with other educational institutions. “We are working in new technologies and areas that link directly to the workforce,” says Juri. “We are trying to forge a new generation of university professionals and workers. We are moving this university into the future.”