New Times, New Role for Universities of the South
What does it mean to educate “successful” professionals in this sea of poverty, in a society that is ever more elitist and less governable? “The excellence of our university is not in being like Harvard or Oxford. It is in mastering our own national reality, in forming a conscience of transformation and in contributing effectively to the process of change. The excellence of a distinctive university should lie in knowledge of our reality, in knowing what is being done and whaat should be done.
Given the challenges we are facing at the end of this century, defining the role of the university is difficult and perplexing. This is especially true in Central America as a whole and even truer here in Nicaragua, with its profound economic crisis and acute political polarization.
We want to provoke, convoke and evoke the best history and experiences of Latin America's universities, with a creative, self-critical vision. To do that, we must begin by evaluating the history of our own Central American Universities (UCAs) and the lessons that this difficult and conflictive, yet testimonial, history teaches us. Using that memory, yet not closing ourselves up in it, we then want to program the future of the UCA 2000.
The 1960s: Adapted to the ModelThe Jesuits established the UCAs in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua more than 30 years ago, hoping integration of the isthmus. The legal differences in each country combined with coordination problems to break the regional nature of the project, leaving simply three universities, only two of which even used the name UCA. (Guatemala's took the name Rafael Landívar University.)
They were born as private universities, with less than 2,000 students in each, and, compared to the national universities, were elite. Their student bodies came from wealthy families that lacked either the possibility or the desire to send their children to study in the United States or Europe.
The UCAs achieved their central goal of training professionals and political leaders for the Central American Common Market's integration scheme. At least an implict coherence existed between the university's role and the project of the elites in charge of this agroexport and import substitution model.
The model produced spectacular economic growth (6% annually) in the region's countries for almost 20 years, but it was a dependent and unsustainable growth, which economically and socially excluded the majority of the people. Export profits were not reinvested in developing either a national market or a platform for industrial exports. This exclusionary growth was controlled by repressive and structurally anti-democratic oligarchic governments.
The 1970s: Tension, Transition, EvolutionIn the mid-1970s, a decline in the rhythm of growth and a lack of alternatives to the model, together with the unjust and anti-grassroots character of the political order, caused the regional crisis to explode. The UCAs were partly responsible for this crisis since they prepared professionals who did not criticize the model and lacked the creative capacity to adapt or transform it. One of the many consequences of the crisis was thus a breakdown of the UCAs' own university model.
In Guatemala, the Landívar University yielded to the limited spaces in the culture of terror imposed by the military, causing serious conflicts even among the Jesuits themselves. Some, among them César Jerez, were ex-pelled from Landívar for questioning the meaning of a university in the midst of the repression and impovershment of the majorities.
The José Simeón Cañas UCA in El Salvador evolved differently. The university leadership, especially the Jesuits, began to denounce the political system's injustices. Ignacio Ellacuría and his team turned the UCA into El Salvador's "critical consciousness," directly countributing to the agrarian transformation of the mid-70s and the creation of the government of young officers at the end of the decade. Various secular UCA leaders joined that government, including its rector, Román Mayorga, who became president of the civilian-military junta.
That transitional government, catalyzed by a negotiation of elites with significant participation by the UCA leadership, lasted less than a year. It was truncated by the 14-family oligarchy and the armed forces at their service. Massive repression, cruel tortures and killings followed, in which we lost thousands of brothers, among them Bishop Romero. The country was thrown into the worst crisis of its history. For its part, the UCA transformed itself to serve as a platform of democratization from above, but made no substantial changes in its student body, its curriculuñm or even the institution per se.
In the UCA-Managua, the winds of change came from the laity, not the Jesuits. The Somoza dynasty had submitted the UCA to its direct influence through a relative of the dictator. A broad sector of students, radicalized since high school, joined the struggle against Somocismo, and a number of professors and some Jesuits who gave active solidarity to that student movement were expelled from the UCA along with the students themselves. Despite this, the decade-long open conflict with the dictatorship imprinted a tradition of strong participation by both the teaching staff and the student body in the university life of the UCA. Nor did the various waves of expulsions prevent the UCA from contributing to the insurrection and its legitimacy. During all this, the UCA's university model was challenged but not changed. Only the fall of Somocismo produced a university transformation, and even then with serious limitations in the UCA's academic level and with respect to its autonomy.
The 1980s: Conflict, Negotiation, DemocratizationDuring the 1980s, the UCA-El Salvador became virtually the only public platform for discussing the negotiation of the armed conflict in that country. As the stagnated war dragged on, civil society's demand to find a negotited solution grew. The UCA responded by criticizing the FMLN as well as the Duarte and Cristiani governments for wanting to resolve the conflict on the battlefield, thus prolonging people's suffering. The magazine Estudios Centroamericanos (ECA) contains invaluable testimony of this colossal peace effort over the decade, whcih fundamentally questioned the anti-democratic government and military structures.
The assassination of the six UCA Jesuits in late 1990, ordered by the army's high command, was a desperate attempt to truncate any negotiated solution to the conflict. But the international solidarity these murders provoked was a determining element in attaining the negotiated peace and the verification of the whole process by the United Nations.
Thus the UCA-El Salvador went from being a platform for criticism and the search for democratic transformation through negotiation among elites in the 1970s, to grassroots interests represented by the FMLN in the 1980s. Nonetheless, it still did not make major internal changes in its own model and curriculum, alter the social origin of its student body or change its administrative structures. It should be stressed, however, that its "pastoral of accompaniment" to peasant and refugee communities served as a social base for creating two towns that became symbols of the newly emerging democratic power even in the midst of war. We refer to "Segundo Montes" in Morazán and "Ignacio Ellacuría" in Chalatenango.
In Guatemala, the Landívar University continued restricting itself to the space permitted by the military, without ever becoming a voice critical of the persistnt terror that was expressed in the massive massacres of indigenous and peasant communities and in the disappearance of those who dared denounce them. Not even was any sphere of the university's own model questioned.
In that decade, the UCA-Managua's model went through the greatest changes. The Sandinista revolution opened the way for criticism by professors and students who had fought against the UCA's original model. The new rector, Armando López, opted to integrate the UCA into the National Council fo Higher Education (CNES) and provide free tuition, financed by the national budget. That decision broke with the elitist nature of a private university and opened new perspectives for even greater social commitment than the UCA-El Salvador had shown. Students from the middle classes and grassroots majorities who entered the UCA gave it a new vitality and character.
The UCA-Managua formulated its mission as expressing a preferential option for the poor through "critical support" of the country's new process of revolutionary social change. In reality, there was more support than criticism. Like the other universities, the UCA backed the new revolutionary state and suffered and exodus of its best professors to the government ministries.
The university's new model and curriculum centered on training officials for the new state, and the expanding public sector offered a stable supply of jobs for those coming out of the university. Even before finishing their course work, a significant percentage of UCA students were already state employees. The UCA also adjusted to the political and ideological needs of the Sandinista state: the majority of those graduating from the UCA thus had an affinity with the revolutionary project.
But the university did not really respond to the new state's technical, scientific and professional needs or the the country's needs. It could not do so because it suffered limited teaching capabilities and a clear academic deterioration due to the "brain drain" of its profesors toward the government. Although this was compenstated for by the student-teacher movement, it combined with the minimal academic standards that CNES and the state demanded of the new professionals--as well as with the university's use as a source of volunteers for cotton and coffee picking, the military, social service and the like--to lower university quality and the UCA's very relevance in national life. CNES seriously clipped the possibilibities for university autonomy and thus for laying out its own academic goals, even within the revolutionary process. As in the 1960s, when the UCA trained uncritical professionals for the agroexport model, UC graduates of the 1980s were unprepared to contribute creatively or critically to a national project in a decade traumatized by political polarization, war, US aggression and the ever more evident crisis of state socialism.
Both the destruction caused by the war and the inefficacy of public administration forced the Sandinistas to introduce the beginnings of an economic structural adjustment program in 1988. The following year the UCA sought more autonomy from CNES in order to rationalize its own administration, but did not question either its model or the acquiescent role that it and the country's other universities maintained in the face of growing national exhaustion caused by the war and the Sandinista project's own limitations.
The 1990s: New Model, New ProfesionalsIn Guatemala, the Landívar University is playing no leadership role in the slow and ambiguous national peace process and is contributing little to the valiant efforts of the Bishops Conference in favor of human rights. Nor is it yet questioning its traditional university model, although tiny bursts of new initiatives have ocurred in its Institute of Indigenous Studies and in the reconceptualization of the role of Landívar's seven branch campuses in the departamental capitals.
The UCAs in El Salvador and Nicaragua, on the other hand, are trying to fundamentally reformulate their role in the face of new national and international realities. In El Salvador, the UCA is trying to reconsolidate following the decapitation of its leadership team. Since the newly opened road to democratization offers Salvador's civil society more possibility of confronting the armed forces' impunity and winning the country's demilitarization, the UCA's voice as "critaical conscience" has now become but one of many. This allows it to turn more attention to its role as an institution in a more democratic country.
The other side of the coin is that the avalanche of foreign financing accompanying democratization has meant a certain "brain drain" from the UCA to the reconstruction programs of international agencies, grassroots organizations and national nongovernmental organizations. In this novel peacetime, the UCA-El Salvador is seeking to project itself academically through its new and ambitious public health program (which links it directly with the most basic needs of the country's poor) and its School of Engineering (by contributing to the rebuilding of the destroyed infrastructure), as well as to maintain its hard-earned role as a platform of debate about the national reality.
The crisis of the university model is greater in the UCA-Managua than in the UCA-El Salvador. But the higher level of the Nicaraguan student body's social consciousness and the incorporation into the UCA of an array of researche institutes with social projection into the rural zones (Nitlapán, the Center for Research and Documentation of the Atlantic Coast, the Institute and the Juan XXIII Institution), together with the initiation of five over the world that are looking into the new role of the university, open possibilities for it to respond creatively to the crisis.
The Context of UCA-Nicragua's CrisisThe crisis of our universtiy model is not defined, as some erroneously believe, by the serious financial crunch in which tensions emerge around how to obtain new resources. It is defined by a far more fundamental set of issues. What kind of university will the UCA be? How will it insert itsef into Nicaagua? For what labor markets will it prepare its students? What national project does Nicaragua need to consolidate peace and democracy and begin a new phase of development?
These questions were put on the table for discussion following the Sandinistas' electoral defeat. With the rapid shrinking of the public sector, training for the state burbe the university's main task. A drastic and dogmatic neoliberal policy has merchandized our society and provoked higher levels of unemployment and poverty than those of the worst period of the war. The reduction of the university budget sparket the "6% strike" in July 1992, in which UCA students pulled the whole university community behind them in demanding the full governmental budget allocation and achieving a victory at the end that few had thought possible. But while the protest questioned the government's neoliberal policies-which condemn the majorities, as well as a young generation of students, to a future without hope-this questioning did not define the university model that Nicaragua needs. In 1993, the university reform has not yet gone beyond the limitations of the past or creatively faced the profound international changes and the challenges of the national crisis.
Absorbed by the grave problems of personal and university economic survival, authorities, students, professors and administrators run the danger of giving in to exhaustion and withdrawing intellectually and politically from the university dilemma. It is easier to blame the administration than propose alternatives, to wait for the return of a progressive and subsidizing state than create from within the university proposals that can serve civil society and win its support. I is easier to rely on the power of criticism, as if this were sufficient, and wield short-term emergency demands than face the medium-and long-term problems, and easier to demonize the market than confront it creatively, seeking within it the factors that can guide the university's own transformation.
Such intellectual and political retreat is irresponsible. Without defining a new university model, we would be deceiving not only the students, but ourselves and the country. "University endogamy" is university's greatest danger, the cancer that eats away at university transformation and the crucial contribution the university can and must make to the crisis of civilization our world is now living through.
Latin America's Lost DecadeIn the 1980s, all of Latin America experienced democratization processes and the emergence of their civil societies. In no other region did these changes have the force that they had in Central America. In Nicaragua and El Salvador, after years of war, the principle of negotiation and agreement finally won out over the logic of arms.
But if today Latin America, particularly Central America, is more democratic than at the end of the 1970s, it is also much poorer. The modernization of our economies has not accompanied the modernization of our civil societies. According to the United Nations's Economic Commission on Latin America (ECLA), the Latin american economies' lack of international competitiveness could undermine the advances attained in the political sphere. There is growing agreement among economists that the 1980s were a "lost decade" for Latin America's peoples in terms of economic and social development.
In the UCAs, the harvest of political democracy and the desire to defend it could distract us from the fundamental challenges of the future, which are increasingly technical, scientific and economic. We are going through a particularly difficult, even dangerous, period due to insufficient clarity about either the challenges of the 21st century or what university model will be required to respond to them. One overriding principle, however, should propel our responsibility as a university: our transformation can only come in response to the challenges that exist outside of the university classroom.
The Abyss Between Us and ThemThe "structural photography of the planet" tht appears in the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) report called "Human Development 1992" is a stylized champagne glass, in which 83% of the world's walth is concentrated in the shallow but ample cup of the North to the benefit of the 20% of the population living there, while 60% of the planet's human beings is crammed into the slender stem and base of the South, which sustains this wealth yet benefits from only 6% of it.
The wealthiest 20% of humanity controls 81% of world trade, 95% of its loans and 81% of its domestic savings and its investment. In addition, the 20% of humanity living in the wealthy countries consumes 70% of the world's energy, 75% of its metals, 85% of its wood and 60% of its food supply. The middle classes are tending to disappear or at least shrink drastically, since the 20% that could be called the world's middle classes only receives 11.7% of tis wealth. The current international "order" only functions by maintaining a growing inequality, thus provoking a structural instability and ungovernability that endangers even its own growth.
In July 1992, Latin America's ministers of finance met in Washington with then-Secretary of the US Treasury Nicholas Brady. Al agreed that the increasing poverty is a threat to growth, democracy and peace in the world. In the same vein, the Interamerican Dialogue, the Interamerican development Bank's Social Forum and even the World Bank have issued alerts regarding the need to address poverty as a virus that is eating away at and delegitimating contemporary civilization.
Worse yet, the gap between the industrialized countries and the underdeveloped ones is becoming an abyss. In 1960, the wealthiest 20% of the world's nations was 30 times richer than the poorest 20%. Thirty years later, in 1990, it was 60 times richer. An analysis of individual income--not that of a country as a whole--reveals even more profound inequalities. In 1990, the poorest 20% of the planet's population was 150 times poorer than the wealthiest 20%.
Between 1980 and 1990, not only did the gap spread between the living standard of the 24 most developed economies of the North and the economies of Latin America, but the per-capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Latin America as a whole also dropped 10% in absolute terms. Countries like El Salvador and Nicragua lost three and even four decades of development, precisely due to the force of political change. Nicaragua is the only country in the world whose per-capita income in 1993 is less than it was in 1960. Poverty levels in Latin America, following mild improvement in the 1970s, increased from 35% in 1980 to 41% in 1991. Indigence and malnutrition levels rose from 15% to 19% in the same period, while urban minimum wages fell 40%.
What, then, does it mean to train "successful" professionals in this sea of poverty, in a civilization and a society that is ever more exclusionary and unstable and less governable? Does an institution that does not confront the injustice surrounding it, that does not question the crisis of a civilization that is ever less universalizable to the great majorities of the world, merit the name "university"? Would not such an institution be simply one more element that reproduces this unequal system? What changes can a university make to be able to respond to these dominant problems with vision, hope and prposals?
The Technological Revolution: Concentrated and ExclusiveAs the UNDP report also indicates, the inequalities between the North and the South increased even more in the indicators of scientific capacity and technological development than in those of income distribution. In less than 10 years, the North's advantage in the number of scientists and technicians expanded by 60%, and in only 15 years, the differences in university enrollment levels doubled in favor of the developed world.
Investment in research and development ("R&D" in the argot of the transnational companies) is a key indicator for predicting the spectacular development of the central economes of the North, but it is also a key to predicting greater poverty for our peoples. Between 1980 and 1990, the gap in research and development spending widened a breathtaking 170%.
Both of these indicators show that the "champagne glass" of education, and of the preparation of human capital in general, is becoming even more top-heavy than tha of per-capita income.
It was once possible to believe that entrepreneurial development could get us out of poverty through the concep known as "trickledown." While practice belied theory even in its heyday during the Aliance for Progress, today we can no longer even believe in the theory. New spaces were created for private business initiative in all the Latin American countries in the 1980s, and in Nicaragua at the end of the decade. Nonetheless, our continent's participation in international trade fell 41% in that neoliberal decade while that of the countries of the North-including Japan-as well as India, China and the four "tigers" of the Pacific increased. With the exception of Chile and perhaps two or three other countries, both Latin America and Africa have lost their competitive place in the world market.
Sub-Saharan Africa's exclusion from the international market was almost double Latin America's, but subregions such as Central America--with the exception of Costa Rica--come closer to Africa's situation. This exclusion--particularly, but not only, of the continent's smallest countries--is deepening our societies' backwardness, as reflected in the growing use of the term "Africanization of Latin America." Even Brazil's President Itamar Franco called attention to the "Somalization" of several north-eastern regions in his own country.
This "Africanization" is basically due to our educational, scientific/technical and organizational backwardness compared to Asia and the countries of the North. The majority of our populations are excluded from the market because this backwardness takes place in an elitiest culture of increasingly materialist and selfish minorities dependent on the developed world's models, which they aim to imitate only in its consumerist lifestyle.
All of this is a great challenge to our universities, which must accept a large share of responsbility for the fact that the underdevelopment of our scientists with respect to the North and of our professionals in the technological and administrative spheres has contributed greatly to our increasing poverty. Can a university be called successful if it churns out professionals unable to contribute to creating the appropriate science and technology that are needed so that our countries do not retreat even further from international competition? A university transformation that does not deal with the challenge of our growing scientific and technological distance from the North will be a project that condemns an ever greater percentage of our population to poverty.
The university and its professionals must take on the creation of a new international economic, legal and ecological order that can overcome assymetric international relations in a world technologically converted into a "global village." One of the tasks of a university facing the challenge of a civilization that is truly universal--albeit in such exclusionary forms--for the first time in history is to create interdependent links with other universities of the world.
The Lost LinkThis internationallization of the planet is producing vacuums at national levels. The credibility of national alternatives and the legitimacy of the national state are in frank decline while political instability, a wide array of fundamentalism, and people's boredom with and apathy towards political rhetoric are sprouting up everywhere. Nor are the localisms and nationalisms so rampant at this century's end a solution, since they are racist and violent, and are leading to polarizing chauvinisms.
This delegimation of the state and of political parties themselves--both on the right and on the left--for their inability to deal with the problem of growing poverty and unemployment cannot be blamed only on interface by the transnational economic powers and the globalization of the economy. There is also a break between our countries' political, economic and cultural technocracies and the problems and alternatives that arise locally. The disconnection between the "know-how" of most micro-businesses, small factories, peasants and small and medium sized farmers of the nation and that of those coming out of the university system--who are precisely the ones who feed the technogracies that govern that nation--is enormous. The local definition of problems, needs and solutions is almost always very different from that imposed by the national-level technocrats.
There are professors of business administration who cannot research small businesses of 20 workers because such businesses do not use the sophisticated accounting systems that they studied in the texts, and which are used by only a small minority of our factories. In a country in which the immense majority of farms belong to small and medium-sized growers, some professors of agricultural administration are only comfortable with the business and state administration schemes that they know from the Harvard manuals. Examples of this missing link between local know-how and university know-how can be found in all our departments.
Professors interested in local work and political candidates involved in trying to solve local problems at a national level do exist, but they are the exception. Given this, local initiatives end up isolated not only from the national agenda but also from each other. Furtheremore, with today's accelerated contraction of the state and, above all, with the absence of any national plans or perspectives, no broader framework exists in which to try to insert local experiences. Local projects remain reduced to islands of assistance, floating in a arising sea of idealistic economic theory and very real misery.
The missing link is between the macro (national alternatives) and the micro (local experiences). There is a lack of "people-bridges" capable of creating communication links among different local experiences, of promoting experimentation among them or of pushing viable national programs based on their successes.
More than any other factor, this vacuum between the macro and the micro subverts our efforts to find an alternative national development model. We lack the necessary methods to evaluate, interlink and accumulate an overall project based on the enormous and valuable reserve of local experiences. "Lyrical leaps"--the facile extrapolation from local needs and experiences to national alternatives--are a very characteristic feature of our now failed political rhetoric. There can be no communication without knowledge and no knowledge without the experiences that link micro projects up with each other and with macro/national proposals. There is no substitute for the university's role in this task, above all in the face of a shrinking state that is privatizing everything and losing its normative and implementation capacity. The new generation of professionals must learn how to do this in all areas: the state, businesses, parties and nongovernmental organizations.
Without a genuine university transformation, the majority of students from the UCA and Nicaragua's other universities will fall into this vacuum between local and national realities (which lacks alternatives) and between the national and the international (which abounds in impositions).
Some few will get jobs outside of the country or in the privileged enclaves of our economic structure and will not have even one creative word to say in the current scientific, technological and administrative revolution that is making over the face of the planet. How many of them will end up being obedient sheep toward their bosses, but fierce wolves toward their brothers, sick with ambition to take home salaries and enjoy life styles that are light years from those of the majority of their own people?
But the majority of our students will not even get the kind of plum job in modern enterprises or public posts to which they aspire. And without a university transformation, the UCA curriculum will not prepare them to face our economic and social structure's most common problems, which can only be understood by analyzing local experiences and our economy's typical businesses. Unprepared either for the increasingly scarce privileged jobs, or to be professionals who can acompany the poor majority of producers in their search to generate more income, our students will join the army of unemployed or feed the "economy of froth" that consumes our scarce foreign exchange in the luxury goods that the North sells us.
The Challenge: Develop Human CapitalWhile there is consensus regarding the main factor the South contributes to our growing poverty (lack of human capital and scientific/technical underdevelopment) there is also apparent consensus among the multilateral agencies (UNDP, ECLA, the World Bank) about how to solve the poverty problem.
Wealthy and poor countries are unequal competitors in the international market. If the "developing" countries are to compete on equal footing, there will have to be massive inestments in human capital and technological development. According to ECLA estimates, spending on public and private education would have to increase to as much as 10% of the GDP, which in some cases is more than twice what is now dedicated to human training.
According to ECLA, the roots of Latin America's "Africanization" can be found in a "spurious competitiveness." This means that in place of an authentic international competitiveness, based on incorporating technical progress and raising productivity and the remunerations to human capital, Latin America's insertion into the world market is accompanied by a reduction in remunerations and social services for the more modest sectors.
This "spurious competitiveness" is contrasted to "systemic competitiveness," in which the country's social fabric as a whole must be competitive, not just a specific company, product or economic enclave. As Lester Thurow, one of the Clinton administration's main economic advisers, noted, the comparative advantages of Japan's or Germany's "communitarian capitalism" over the Anglo-Saxon "individualistic capitalism" of the United States lie precisely in the "systemic competitiveness" of the former.
But, while the international development institutions and their advisers recognize the "human factor," they limit it strictly to its productive facet. They leave aside the building of human character and ethical values, so necessary in the search for "productive transformation with equity." Furthermore, equity is a techinical as well as ethical requisite of development. But how can equitable policies be implemented if people do not choose them, if they reject them in the name of consumption and market competitiveness?
Official organizations with much more power than ECLA, such as the World Bank, have recently appropriated the term 2human capital," but continue to leave policies of equity to one side. For its part, the US Agency for International Development (AID) is pushing another policy: it gives priority to primary education and rejects Latin American higher education, which it sees as ineffective and costly.
ECLA itself tends to project the image that technological development is destined only for "viable" businesses, while peasants, micro-business owners and informal sector workers should only receive a good primary education so they can participate as an adaptable labor force in the new business with modern technology. This proposition reflects and ignorance of Latin America's structures, in which technological advances remain isolated within the enclaves of the privileged classes with no trickle-down effect toward the majorities. It also reflects an underestimation of the technology that the popular classes have used and developed for many years, and which would increase the country's competitiveness in the international market if they could evolve appropriately.
In many Latin American countries, the businesses of the poor-those that ECLA sees as non-viable-represent jobs for as much as 40% of the economically active population and contribute a substantial percentage to the GDP. In Nicaragua they produce a third of the GDP and have the capacity to employ more than 50% of the working population.
Statistics distort and falsify this reality. In fact, a very large difference often exists between the producer's net income and the net benefit for the country. Although income per day of work may be higher in large enterprises with a high coefficient of imported inputs, for this same reason they consume the country's scarcest economic resource: foreign exchange. Our peasants thus generate more net foreign exchange than agribusiness.
The Invisible ProducersIt is often impossible to find any serious analysis of research--with economic calculus and technological behavior--of urban micro businesses or of peasant and small farmer enterprises in our universities, even though they are fundamental components of our countries' GDP. All we find are social or anthropological descriptions. In the faculties of business administration the only things taught are the business strategies, technology and economic calculus of big business. The problems suffered by the majority of the country's businesses appear nowhere, which shows a kind of economic, social and technological "apartheid." What flattens the poor most is not being "exploited," but being excluded, going unseen, being "nobodied" by a system that does not take them into account, that ends up converting them into a leftover element, a "throw-away".
In a truly equitable strategy the producing majorities must be conceived of not only as potential beneficiaries of the "miracle of technological growth" that may occur in some uncertain future, but as essential contributors, through their own human and productive potential, to our economies and to an integrated development, both nationally and internationally.
Although their potential to successfully contribute is not guaranteed, these majorities would not continue making heroic efforts to survive if they did not believe in themselves. And that faith has greater value because they have historically been excluded, as if they were a pariah caste, from training and organization programs and, for the most part, still are today from the "social compensation programs".
A minimum of respect for the concept and reality of equity urges us to include all strata of producers in our strategy of training human capital and democratizing education and knowledge. We should make our dedication to preparing professionals for the business sectors compatible with serious programs and sufficient human and financial resources for small producers. This could be the best way to communicate to all our professors and students the value of equity and respect for the potential of all those who should be taken into account in a free market with a symmetry of opportunities, which would democratize the market and society. This is the profound meaning of the option not only for but with the poor and their cause, the only way to build genuine democracy and sustainable development.
Five Kinds of Human CapitalThe most permanent component of our crisis is reflected in the crisis of cadres and of human capital, which in turn is reproduced in the crisis of institutions, parties, the state and the universities themselves. The neoliberal proposals and the conditions set by the wealthy nations encounter neither our own negotiating capacity nor our ability to efficiently absorb the foreign aid and creatively design and execute projects, which in large part ends up being done by foreign consultants or "technicians" from outside of the community.
We need to train new cadres in the various levels and territories of society who can digest and assimilate the experiences accumulated during the regional crisis and confront the challenges of the future. We need human capital that is professional, ethical, regional, grassroots and international.
Professional Human Capital. These professionals must overcome the isolation between teaching and research and between both of these academic task and the grassroots subjects and entities of civil society. This presupposes and alternative social insertion by the universities, in which professionals make the knowledge of national reality and its equitable and democratic transformation into the center of their own human fulfillment.
Ethical Human Capital. The problem is not only one of new techiniques and methodologies, but of values and options, of a new vision and profile of the professional in society. We need an ethical human capital with the capacity to provoke an option of alternative service in the face of the totalitarianism of values imposed by market and the productive model of technological society. The crisis is not merely economic, social, technical and geo-political; it is a crisis of civilization itself.
Regional Human Capital. The solution to the crisis of our contries is regional, and demands regional subjects and actors, who begin with national proposals and integrate them into a regional and Latin American vision and future. The preparation of these regional cadres, wheteher professionals or political and grassroots leaders, requires a new kind of university institution and intersectoral and interdisciplinary regional education projects.
In a world of great blocs and megamarkets, purely national solutions are impossible, above all in a strategically, geo-politically and geo-economically open area like Central America, which is a bridge between North and South America and between the Pacific and the Atlantic. Our area requires vision and regional negotiating power, with regional human capital able to build a common project.
Grassroots Human Capital. The creation of human capital in grassroots leaders--incorporating both women and men--with a capacity for alternative, up-to-date and technical thinking, and linked to the new generation of professionals in their country and region, will be a democratizing and integrating factor for our societies. This human capital will be able to create regionals institutions of the grssroots sectors than can compete with greater symmetry and negotiate more effectively with the big guns.
International Human Capital. By linking this new Central American generation with similar movements in Latin America, the rest of the South and even the North itself, we sould have the international human capaital than Central America needs to overcome its own crisis and contribute from its rich experience to the deisgn of a really new international order. International links with ecological movements, with producers from diverse sectors, with organizers of more appropriate technologies, with consumer organizations, etc., offer us an unexplored potential to move beyond the "transnationalized, subordinated and assymetric insertion" that the North's international organizations impose.
The international link-ups with universities and research centers thatn such insertion is increasingly making necessary would allow a break with the induced fatalism that there are no alternatives other than the ones they offer us, or conditions other than those the market and the agents of the dominant economic, technological and political powers offer us. The new critical role and awareness emerging in the global centers of thought and education should be use from a perspective that democratizes knowledge and the resources dedicated to producing it.
Professionals Who Professionalize OthersThe issue is to train professional men and women who are "for others," professionals who professionalize others. The core of Ignatuius of Loyola's educational provalues, so as to have human capital capable of transforming the world--not only of filing existing posts within it, but of creating new perspectives and institutions than can change reality. It is the well-known Ignatian "magis" and his obsession to overcome mediocrity, above all in moments of profound crisis.
The first key characteristic of the new professionals is not heir capacity to "do something for others" or to "lead others," but to "train others so they can lead themselves." Perhaps the main cause of the failure of many movements and institutions whose projects have equity and justice as ideals has been the inability to train human capital that could implement them.
Ignacio Ellacuría, the martyred rector of the UCA-El Salvador, argued that the "essential element of education resides in individuals, not in ideas; the great man is not he who has great intellectual capacity but he who knows and teaches in an integrated, convinced fashion, not abstract but innovative and not tied to rules." This principle emphasizes the importance of a university curriculum and educational process thatn seeks to create men and women capable of preparing others.
The scarcity of this kind of professional can be felt at the moment of doing any economic or social project in Central America. The professionals with knowledge totally lack the capacity to put together a team that could proceed without them. They turn in documents, advice and ideas--which many be brilliant--but leave no installed human capacity to implement such proposals. To advance, the grassroots sectors require one outside consultancy after another, which eat up the majority of the available resources, without leaving any human capital from and permanently in the communities. On the one hand, the grassroots sectors lack the necessary knowledge, and on the other, the professionals cannot communicate their knowledge pedagogically and effectively or from self-sustaining local teams that could initiate an effective decentralization and broaden the focal points of productive accumulation.
Practical Dilemmas, Not Theoretical OnesWe are living through a kind of post-modern renaissance. Our times require the preparation of professionals capable of facing not only theoretical dilemmas but practical/administrative ones within the specialization that the world requires today. The young "stars" currently climbing the executive ladder in the transnational corporations are characterized more by practical/administrative genius than by technial/theoretical training.
A common feature of the failures of both our companies's productive/technological transformation and the scial change initiative/technological transformation and the social change initiatives for justice is not so much in the "what to do" or the "why do it" as in the "how to do it."
We Jesuits have an historic slanat that inclines us towarad theoretical dilemmas. Theoretical debate was a very valued characteristic from the 16th century on--although when the Jesuits were faced with Latin America's problems, the practical dilemma imposed itself on their Paraguayan settlements of converted Indians.
Today's needs and challenges are how to apply theory/technique to the practical dilemma. Theory and vision--more important than ever in this crisis of paradigms and ethical values--must confront the practical dilemmas with ways to formulate, proceed with and implement pragmatic and real alternatives.
Inside and Outside the University ClassroomIf the universities opt to begin transforming their model, a gradual process of interaction between the different strata of human capital within and outside of the university can be initiated.
The fist step, absolutely necessary both to begin and to progress in transforming the university model that we seek, is to emphasieze building a catalyzing institution endowed with enough autonomy and professors who can dedicate themselves full time to creating nuclei for experimentation, research, grassroots education and development projects. On this basis, it will be possible to rapidly increase the quality of university research and the experimentation necessary to simultaneously permit university instruction and the formation of a new generation of professionals as well as the promotion of new leaders out-side its classrooms.
In a first phase, the catalyzing institution would invest two or three years in consolidating these experimental nuclei and training the local bases in grassroots education workshops. This would produce technical and economic grassroots educators who can expand local development. It is also necessary to train local development professionals, born in the communities, who would take off-campus education courses and progressively replace the professors from the catalyzing institute, so the latter can extend their work according to the new teaching and apply the pedagogy they learned outside to the university curricula.
During this period, the experimentation nuclei would provide feedback to the university through new texts created on the basis of their experiences, with which they would also support the curricular transformation according to the national reality and, even more importantly, incorporate other professors and their students into the new research and experimentation spaces in the local nuclei (such as ecological, agricultural, anthropological, economic and technical ones, others on women and children, etc.).
In a second phase, the different majors--business administration, sociology, social work, economy, agricultural and industrial engineering, ecology, law and journalism--would begin to have more independent contact with the experimentation nuclei. Although the catalyzing institute would continue supporting these initiatives, it would dedicate more time to research, experimentation and systematizing the already obtained experiences with macro/micro counterparts who would begin to distrubte what the university had collected to government ministries, banks and businesses, NGOs and international organizations.
We believe that this interdisciplinary, intersectoral work of macro/micro relations, of research/teaching/off-campus grassroots education is the heart of the university reform in Latin America and in the South as a whole. It is the heart of the transformation required to prepare the new generation of human capital that will be dealing with the 21st century.
The Strategic Element: Democratizing KnowledgeUniversity talent is and is measured by its academic excellence. But a university "mind-set" also exists, which refers to the way in which the professional's intelelectual capacity and technical abilities are inserted into human reality. In a true university, academic talent is accompanied by this mind-set, this wisdom that judges and knows how to situate knowledge within the mosaic of life and apply it ethically to human well-being. It is born from connecting with peoples' cultural and historic identity.
Among its recipes and models, the dominant neoliberal model brings a project for society and for the university: the latter should serve "market demands" without state, "academic or ethical" interference. The "market demands" determine a marketabiity of the university product so as to put it a the service of the large enterprises and a privatization of the university so that it can serve the most privileged classes. In such a project, that university mind-set disappears, and the university becomes a branch of the wealthy businesses, whic it feeds with professionals for their operations.
The university should respond to market demands, but not by selling itself to the highest bidder. It should do so by contributing technical and scientific proposals that can fertilize the development of all of society, including, but not exclusively, the wealthiest enterprises. But to make that contribution, the university needs to maintain the autonomy that allows it to exercise its particular mindset.
In the transformation of the UCA-Managua, we pursue the academic excellence of both university talent and its mind-set. "We can be tolerant of many limitations and even defects in our Jesuit universities, but what cannot be tolerated is mediocrity," asserted Father General Peter-Hans Kolvenbach in a meeting of the Jesuit universities in Mexico.
To democratize knowledge, the UCA must leave its classroom, break down the wall that separates it from society and come down from its ivory tower. We still have a long way to travel to reach academic excellence and we will do everything to speed up the trip. But even that search for academic excellence will be mediocre if it is not accompanied by a fine-tuning of the university mind-set. Academic excellence isolated from our national reality will also be mediocre.
If the contents of our curriculum are not of high quality, they will be of no use in training a new generation of professionals. This truth is cleary and directly seen in the experimentation nuclei: the lack of academic excelence will only lead to the failure of the experiments. Resolving the problem of poverty and unemployment requires more technical quality than working in the government apparatus or in a big private company. The poor cannot continue being fooled by second-quality professionals.
The main university mind-set that we to stand out in the UCA is not its political belligerance, but its beligerance as an educational institution. Its impact on society should be made through knowledge and wisdom, through the "ethical and cultural sapience" that incorporates the new creating force of thw South's ethnic, gender, ecology and theological movements. Nothing can be more relevant in a world where development and poverty are defined in terms of knowledge and human capital.
To protect itself from neoliberal tendencies and from repeating the errors of the 1960s and 1980s, the UCA's option is to define its university mind-set around the democratization of knowledge. We want to do it by inserting university training into the core of society.
Ignacio Ellacuría once said: "The excellence of our university is not in equaling the specialized fields of Harvard University or Oxford. It is in dominating our own national reality, in forming an awareness of transformation and in contributing effectively with this awareness to the process of change. The excellence of a distinct university should be in the knowledge of reality, in knowing what one is doing and what should be done."
Nuclei of Research, Experimentation and DevelopmentSince 1990, UCA-Managua has define dfour basic activities: teaching, research, masters programs and graduate studies, and social projection. Each of these activities has its own logic and requires a high degree of autonomy to be able to evolve sucessfully--an organic autonomy that integrates these diverse components into the "universitas."
Nonetheless, experimentation nuclei that combine and integrate researach, social projection and teaching for university professors are necessary for the democratization of knowledge. In these experimental nuclei, the UCA seeks to work jointly with associations of civil society to solve its most heartfelt problems.
The UCA currently has several of these research, experimentation and development nuclei. Social Work began using this model of societal contact years ago. The School of Agricultural Sciences has an experimental nucleus for ecological protection and self-sustainable development in Río San Juan and San Andrés de la Palanca. The Departament of Ecology has another nucleus among the shrimp cooperatives in Puerto Morazán and in Río San Juan. Nitlapán has experimental nuclei of peasant development in Masaya, Carazo, Matagalpa and Jinotega and three experimentation nuclei of small industrial development with micro enterprises of Monimbó and Masaya. More than 150 of our students participate in Nitlapán experimental nuclei. Nitlapán has also developed and experimental nucleus in land titling and the legalization of cooperatives with students in the Law School.
CIDCA has been and continues to be a pioneer in work on and in the Atlantic Coast, and will broaden out in the future to study coastal ecology and its economic problems. The Juan XXIII Institute works in rural development with some 40,000 peasant families. The Central American Historial Insstitute, and autonomous institution directed by the Society of Jesus, has a collaboration agreement with the UCA through which it joins forces with our work, maintaining five social projects, includig envío, among which is distinguished the most important project with war disabled in the country, with more than 3,00 individuals (those with disabiities and their famiies) organized into rehabilitative production and education workshops.
All of these experimental nuclei offer an ideal place for our professors and students to bring their theoretical knowledge down to earth, to participate in research projects that directly benefit civil society and to extend teaching to Nicaraguas excluded from access to secondary and university education. One objective of these nuclei is the simultaneous preparation of a new generation of profesionals and leaders of civil society. In that way, our professors and students are getting skills and training in the same process in which they train others. The university campus is also gettin valuable feedback through these experimental nuclei with new texts and with new problems and ideas about Nicaragua's reality. In fact, the majority of the research being undertaken today in the UCA takes place in these nuclei, which sould permeate each school's own research and education.
Upgrading the NucleiFor the UCA to democratize knowledge and respond to the country's most urgent needs, these experimentation nuclei must be expanded and empowered. On the one hand, the number of these new experiences must be multiplied and more students--and, above all, more professors--must be connected to them. On the other, there is an urgent need to increase the academic ecellence with which research, teaching and social projection is carried out in them. Increasing excellence obliges us to train new well-prepared professionals so that the nuclei can produce experiences and development models that are reproducible at the national level by the government and by the diverse organizations of civil society.
We should multiply the research, experimentation and development nuclei that the UCA already has to respond to the challenge of the growing concentration of science and technology, characteristic of developed countries. As mentioned above, Reseach and Development programs are key indicators for predicting development in the central economies of the North. The businesses that invest more in their R&D spending end up being the more competitive economies. What today distinguishes research and development is the integration attained by the company between pure research, the re-skilling of the labor force and experimentation with new products and technologies. Research isolated from the up-grading of the labor force and that is not applied researach is not only backward in today's world, but is a bad investment.
In the UCA's transformation, we aim to create a research and development environment that is alternative to that of the transnational corporations. Our research and development nuclei should be differentiated from those of the transnationals by seeking to democratize knowledge instead of concentrating it even more. And although they should not differentiate themselves in either their academic and techinical excellence or their applicability and viability in the practical world, they indeed should be different in their ethical option and in the selection of their priority social subject.
With the evolution and upgrading of our experimental nuclei, the UCA will have the ability to initiate off-campus education programs, which have been one of the most effective mechanisms to democratize knowledge in other countries of the world. These programs could be even more effective if they have a real tie to the experimentation nuclei, which would function as curriculum creators for the off-campus education programs. Nitlapán, CIDCA and the Department of Agrarian Development are currently preparing the foundations for an off-campus education program that should link up with University Radio and prepare for Educational Television in the future. Although experimental nuclei are an optimal place for training professors and students in research for transmitting knowledge to civil society and for social projection, they are not enough to make the leaps that the UCA and the experimental nuclei themselves require.
The recycling and permanent training of teachers and researchers and a periodic and continual curricular transformation from and at the service of national reality itself are needed. In a society without perspectives, university creativity should turn itself into an element of hope.
University transformation and the advances in democratizing knowledge and in academic excellence in the experimental nuclei will contribute new and useful elements for our social projection units, for the Juan XXIII Institute, for the Grassroots Law Office and for teacher and student practice as part of their academic curriculum.
The University: A Platform for ProposalsThe redefinition of the idea of the University of the South gives priority to the role that it can play in mitigating the growing concentration of science and technology. A third-woldist university such as the UCA can be an effective environment for the scientific-technological generation and transfeence necessary for our country's economic development.
The UCA's goal should not be to replace the dynamics of the producers' associations or to substitute for the specialized research on international market possibilities already done by the transnationals and specialized research centers of the North.
The UCA's centra activity should be in the field of genrating analysis and applied technologies that are appropriate and committed to the majority economic and social subjects. And this should happen in all fields: law, humanities, and the social and communication sciences.
The university's role is not to be the author of proposals or alternatives in the experimental nuclei, but to serve by offering itself as a platform for debate, analysis and improving the proposals that emerge from civil society and government programs. Its role is to be a platform that catalyzes knowledge for new proposals that include the interests of big business, small peasant/artisan production and the poor of the city and the countryside, in a process of accumulating knowledge from below and from within national reality itself.
The experimental nuclei should not be platforms of the University or its professionals but of civil society, from which the university and reality itself are transformed. They should be catalyzing platforms, with multiple expressions within and outside of the university campus and with a formtive character rather than one of a rhetorical or political tribune.
To be intermediaries for the generation of applied and appropriate technology is not a utopian dream, because the resources necessary for exchanging and transferring knowledge and technology are much less than those needed for merchandising raw materials or end products. Evoking another phrase of Ignacio Ellacuría: "No one should have morre competence than our university in one thin: the knowledge of our reality and what we need in order to get our of underdevelopment."
University Transformation Is a ProcessA good diagnostic is not in itself university transformation. The transformation could fail if we do not find a realistic process through which to carry it out. This process implies some subjects of university transformation, some priorities, some institutional mechanisms and a timeline with define periods in a chronogram that allows us to constantly evaluate the quality, equity and efficacy of the transformation.
The process further requires some consensual principles that can guide the university community in its behavioral benchmarks and collective commitments. In the UCA and in the National Council of Universities, the following principles have been defined: autonomy, participation, openness, consensus and solidarity.
There should be no bosses and employees in the UCA, but rather a community whose priority is preparing the new generation.
The search for academic excellence and for its quality, efficiency and equity has caused confusion and accusations of intellectual elitism. We in the UCA understand academic excellence as the result of a process carried out through: 1) curricular transformation; 2) a teaching roster and an evaluation that promotes quality, status and adequate remuneration; 3) graduate studies and new masters programs and a practice of permanente teacher upgrading, which in 1993 includes scholarships for more than 20% of the instructors in higher education; 4) research integrated into teaching, incorporating the research institutes; 5) social projection and insertion in national life; 6) general studies and credits.
The im is not to imitate the theoretical excellence of the North's best universities, but to seek and excellence that has an applied and practical character and, above all, an ethical insertion of service to the large majorities. This ethical commitment is what defines the UCA's identity. Academic excellence cannot be separated from ethical commitment. To attain this academic excellence, the UCA should initiate a selection and evaluation policy for new students entering from secondary school.
The selection should be dominated by this ethical vision. The UCA proposes that 60% of its students come from economically underprivileged sectors, who will be guaranteed free education. It also proposes a scholarship complement for those students who, despite free tuition, do not have the economic means to attend the university without this survival aid. This implies and requires that the state maintain a real and stable budget and that the UCA generate complementary financing. We also aim to give the selection a regional character, with priority to students from the Atlantic Coast and the other departments, for whom 30% of the UCA spaces would be absolutely guaranteed.
For this process to be stable and so that the fear of losing one's job not impede the commitment and dedication of all members of the university community, the UCA has maintained a policy of labor stability, which implies a profound solidarity among all members of the community and also a clear commitment to work and productivity.
The lack of this--together with the violation of the principles of universtiy transformation and the UCA's statutes--would be the only elements that would determine job loss at the UCA. This labor stability policy is tense and difficult due to our profound financial crisis. But we start from the principle that the university project, its quality and contribution to the country, can guarantee satable financing for the university transformation, even in the short run. Financing is a means, not an end in itself. If there were clear objectives and university consensus, the financial crisis, as serious as it may be, would not be the most difficult to resolve.
We maintain that the university is useful and makes a social contribution, which benefits the country, and there for society as a whole should take responsibility for maintaining the material base to guarantee the university's objectives and goals. As an entity of social utility, the university should basically be financed by the state and be free, especially in these times, when investment in human capital has become the most effective way to overcome underdevelopment. But the depth and character of the current economic crisis and the "straight jacket" the financial organizations have imposed with the reduction of the state (and thus of the state budget) means that even genuine compliance with the state's constitutional mandate of guaranteeing 6% of its budget to higher education will not maintain a university that fulfills its goals and is free for all. Therefore, to the state's added contribution from society (businesses, foundations, NGOs) and from those beneficiaries of university education who have the ability to contribute. The university institution itself should also seek forms of additional self-financing.
Regional and InternationalAt the end of this century and this millennium, national solutions no longer exist, least of all for the small countries of the periphery. The solution will be Central American or there will be no solution. Although we necessarily have to start from a national project, the future is regional.
The regional project in which the UCAs were born over 30 years ago has a profound Latin American character and inspiration. The Central American Higher Council of Univiersities (CSUCA), founded in 1948, was the first regional instituion of Central American integration. The origin and propulsion of a great part of integrationist thinking came from those university professors, who later enriched regional institutions such as the Central American Economic Integration Bank and the regional ECLA, among others. Nonetheless, the regional crisis absorbed CSUCA's energies, and our national unversities became victims of repression and financial crisis. To recover the original intuition of the regional university and transform it to dea with the demads of the 21st century is part of the task of univesity transformation.
In a world transnationalized by the internationalization of capital, technology, the "management" revolution and informatics, the universities, if they are to survive and be relevant in the future, must cooperate among themselves in a project that makes the "universitas" not only a community of local educational associations but of international ones. An inter-university cooeration project could be the most determining factor for overcoming the North-South gap,e stablishing a new and unused element to achieve genuine development. The proposals of ECLA and the other United Nations bodies are short-sighted in visualizing a development potential that closes off the democratization of knowledge. The lost link that can catalyze the new dynamic of investment in human capital and permit the transfer or appropriate technology and its adequate assimilation and utilization is precisely in the democratization of knowledge.
The current crisis of civilization and the crisis of hope for modern society needs a new generation, a new vision, a new perspective and bold proposals. It requires a project of great scope, capable of challenging the universities, getting them out of their stupor and mediocrity, provoking their transformation and making them recoer their historic role in culture and society. In this way their autonomy can have new meaning, as it had in previous crises, when the university was so often the promoter and midwife of new and vitalizing proposals for society. It is a question of life, of life for all. Of signing the univesity up with the party of life.
Three Strategies for Forming Human
Capital in Latin America
1. AID: Concentrate on primary education and leave techonological development in the North's hands.
2. UNDP, ECLA, UNESCO: Accept the double challenge of promoting primary education, attending to basic necessities, as well as technological development and higher education.
3. UCA/New Generation: Simultaneously prepare university professors and grassroots socioeconomic leaders in concrete and local experimentation and development environments. Offer integrated development of analysis and technology for all strata of the nation's producers.