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DISCOVERY MAGAZINE

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Lawrence S. Graham

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Exchange Programs with Latin America


While the University of Texas is increasingly a global player in higher education with a worldwide presence, it is in Latin America where our image as a leading institution in U.S. post-secondary education is most visible and where the largest number of its international agreements and activities are concentrated.

Illustration depicting Exchange Programs in Latin America
Thirty-two percent of the University’s 148 international agreements (as of March 2001) are with Latin American institutions concentrated in five countries. Mexico, with twenty-one agreements, is by far the most important country for UT, both in Latin America and on a worldwide basis. The other countries are Brazil with ten, Argentina with seven, and Chile and Ecuador, each with four.

Complementing UT’s international agreements are two contracts which are redefining exchange relationships and the involvement of our faculty and students abroad: one in legislative strengthening initiatives that is exclusively Latin American in focus, and the other in democratic initiatives that has a major Latin American component.

Since Mexico, Brazil and Argentina constitute the Latin American countries with which UT Austin has the greatest amount of contact, it should surprise no one that this volume of activity has led to the creation of three autonomous country centers. Within the Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies, the Mexican Center, the Brazil Center and the Center for Argentine Studies are hubs for specialized classes, lectures, faculty and student exchanges, research activities and cultural events. With activities covering the entire region and with faculty in virtually every area of the campus working and teaching on Latin America, a single director today is no longer sufficient to keep up with the pace of work involving the Latin American region.

As a consequence not only do we have these three country centers, but also approximately 40 percent of the work of the Office for International Programs and 25 percent of the International Office’s work is concerned with Latin American affairs. Whereas the Office for International Programs coordinates international initiatives and monitors all international agreements, the International Office supervises study abroad programs and a wide range of services for international faculty and students. UT Austin ranks third in the nation in the number of students studying abroad (1,619 in 2000) and fourth in terms of the international students it receives (4,325 in 2000).

Three mechanisms are used for developing international programs: umbrella agreements and contracts, college-specific agreements of academic and scientific cooperation, and affiliation agreements. Umbrella agreements entail broad, comprehensive contracts involving more than one college, professional school or research institute, while agreements of academic and scientific cooperation are program specific. With cooperative agreements, faculty in an academic department or professional school partner with counterparts in Latin American institutions in a variety of fields, disciplines, and programs. Affiliation agreements involve, in turn, the exchange of either faculty or students without establishing a wider basis for academic and scientific cooperation.

Rich History of Student Exchange with Latin America

Classes started at the University of Texas in 1883. Records indicate that in 1889 the first student to enroll with an international address came from Mexico. Both the university's proximity to its neighbors to the south and the number of Spanish speakers within the state have nurtured the University's long-term interest in Latin America.

Statistics for the last few years demonstrate the continuation of the mutual interest of Texas students for Latin America and vice versa. In the 1999-2000 academic year, the University of Texas enrolled the fourth largest number of Mexican students in the United States with 174 students taking classes in Austin. In addition, approximately ninety students were in the McCombs School's executive MBA program taught in Mexico City by UT faculty. Students in this program don't usually come to campus until their graduation.

The University has consistently enrolled a significant number of students from Latin America over the past decade, with 541 Latin American students representing twenty-two countries registered in fall 2000.

Equally important is the number of UT students who choose to study abroad in Latin America. As in many U.S. universities, Spanish is one of the most popular languages taught at the University of Texas. The likelihood that our students will use Spanish on the job after graduation is growing each year. Many UT students choose to directly enroll in Latin American universities. There is a significant interest on the part of the students in visiting and learning about a wide variety of countries in Central and South America. This includes students on various kinds of study abroad programs as well as awardees of both the Fulbright and the NSEP scholarship programs.

In order to sustain this significant level of student exchange, the University and its students have invoked a combination of strategies. UT faculty members help create and maintain exchange agreements with a large number of universities in Latin America. This keeps alive relationships in research, teaching and student exchange. In addition, UT students created a self-imposed fee that is awarded in the form of scholarships to students who wish to study abroad. Two of every three dollars collected for each student enrolled each academic term is used for scholarships for both outgoing and incoming students, many of whom are from or going to Latin America. One dollar of this International Education Fee is deposited every semester into an endowment with the long-term plan to retire the fee and substitute proceeds from the endowment at some point in the future.

With events occurring in our area, such as discussions of expanding NAFTA to the rest of the Western Hemisphere, it seems certain that University of Texas student exchange ties to Latin America are secure for years to come.

Jerry Wilcox
Director, International Office

Roughly 80 percent of these international programs reside within individual colleges and professional schools and follow the format prescribed for academic and scientific cooperation agreements. This is because most exchange activities involve twinning arrangements between a professor in a department or professional school and one or more colleagues abroad who are involved in joint research activities. Out of these initiatives frequently emerges a desire to exchange students, either to provide advanced training or to facilitate individual and collaborative research. Also involved are student-based initiatives where individual faculty and program directors wish to expose their students to study abroad experiences as part of their academic programs.

The most active unit internationally is the College of Liberal Arts, which houses all the language and area centers (such as the Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies) as well as the majority of faculty in individual departments with international interests. Complementing it are the McCombs School of Business, College of Engineering, LBJ School of Public Affairs, College of Communication, and Law School, all of which are actively engaged in international programs.

Illustration depicting Exchange Programs in Latin America
The principle guiding these activities today is that they are faculty-based initiatives. This means involving one’s colleagues in prior discussions and obtaining the support of one’s administrative superiors, rather than the somewhat chaotic prior practice of individuals negotiating international agreements and assuming that others would pick up the responsibility for making them work. The goal is to demonstrate that there is sufficient commitment by the key individuals involved, in terms of dedicating their time and securing the necessary resources, to ensure the likelihood of success. How specific activities are structured varies greatly according to the discipline, the nature of the research, or the training desired. Even though most of these initiatives involve small groups of individuals, typically three to five students, there are numerous instances where larger numbers of students become involved in study abroad experiences, especially in summer programs with linguistic and cultural content.

Illustrative of comprehensive institutional agreements is the package of agreements signed by UT President Faulkner with the Brazilian minister of education, the director of CAPES (the Brazilian equivalent of the Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education, FIPSE), and the director of the Instituto Rio Branco (the Brazilian Diplomatic Academy). The demand for umbrella agreements linking a variety of institutions inside and outside government—moving beyond isolated, program-specific agreements with individual departments and schools—has been the most important shift in negotiating international agreements over the last eighteen months.

These activities, in turn, present the University with the challenge of responding with greater institutional flexibility and creative groupings of faculty cutting across the divide between the scientific and technological side of campus and the social sciences and the humanities. In these agreements the earth sciences, environmental sciences, engineering, the social sciences and public affairs receive priority attention.

Complementing funding for advanced graduate training and the exchange of faculty and students for short periods of time, both in Brazil and the U.S., is the University’s designation as the recipient of a Rio Branco Chair through the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Relations. This chair now brings to campus annually an outstanding Brazilian professional for one or two semesters of teaching and research. Combined with this visiting professorship is University of Texas funding for short-term reciprocal visits of UT and Brazilian faculty.

And, through Ford Foundation support, advanced researchers and demographers involved in the collection and processing of socioeconomic data are coming to campus for advanced training in the Population Research Center in quantitative methods at the rate of five professionals per year for the next five years.

Another type of umbrella agreement uses the mechanism of project-specific contracts as a way to trigger more rapid change in the training of skilled personnel in communications and information technology. Two contracts centered in IC2 Institute are illustrative. The first is with ESPOL (Escuela Superior Politécnica del Litoral) in Guayaquil, Ecuador, and the second is with the State Secretariat for Science and Technology in Curitiba, Brazil.

Finally, out of legislative strengthening contracts held by UT Austin, in cooperation with the LBJ School, Law School and the International Office, has come a series of democratic initiatives designed to strengthen legislatures in Central America and the Caribbean. Funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development has been channeled into the University of Texas through a variety of organizations—Center for Democracy, State University of New York at Albany and Creative Associates. In the process, UT Austin for the first time has been able to establish a reputation of its own among U.S. universities as a leading center of valuable human resources critical for legislative and judicial strengthening initiatives in Central America and the Caribbean.

In a partnership arrangement signed in May 2001, the leading non-partisan think tank organization in our nation’s capital, the Center for Democracy, joined hands with UT Austin. In so doing we moved to the cutting edge of democratic initiatives, domestically and internationally, by partnering with another organization. And we solidified our presence in Washington by creating a multiplier effect involving the UT System’s Federal Relations Office and the newly constructed William H. Archer Center.

In the new global economy and in the international marketplace of ideas and endeavors linked to democratic governance, there is no longer a clear-cut separation between democratic initiatives abroad and those at home. We have come full circle, for the simple reason that the strengthening of democracy in the years following 2001 must be as much a domestic endeavor as one abroad.

Lawrence S. Graham
Dr. Lawrence S. Graham is associate vice president for international programs and a professor of government. A specialist in public policy and comparative politics, he has been a UT Austin faculty member since 1965. He served as director of the Brazil Center in the Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies from September 1995 to June 2000. With thirty-five years of work in development policy, he combines teaching and research with hands-on experience as a consultant with a variety of national and international organizations. His publications (ten books and more than sixty articles) focus on development policy and administration in Latin America, principally Brazil and Mexico, and in Southern Europe, especially Portugal and Romania. He can be reached at 512-232-3610.

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May 14, 2002
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