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Enhancing higher education cooperation within Latin America and between Latin America and Europe: Outcomes of the ALFA PUENTES project

09 May 2014

A consortium of more than 20 national and international university associations from across Latin America and Europe have just completed a three-year project to improve mechanisms for modernisation, reform and harmonisation of education systems in Latin America and to enhance Europe-Latin America university partnership.

The ALFA PUENTES project: Building Capacity of University Associations in fostering Latin-American regional integration – co-funded by the European Commission ALFA programme and coordinated by the European University Association (EUA) – has linked university associations in Latin America with European counterparts to tackle several key topics: collaborative quality assurance; qualifications frameworks; and mobility and internationalisation.

The project has been based upon the principle of mutual exchange: the experience of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) was a reference point for many of the discussions that took place in ALFA PUENTES, but European partners and participants learned equally from Latin American experiences with mobility programmes, quality assurance approaches and degree reform.

Higher education convergence in LA: A sub-regional approach

ALFA PUENTES was distinct in that it built upon existing sub-regional HE convergence processes in LA: in the Andean Community (Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Chile, Bolivia), the Mercosur region (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay) and Central America (Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Panama). European partners – national university associations from Germany (HRK), France (CPU), Portugal (CRUP), Poland (CRASP) and Spain (CRUE) as well as Santander Group of Universities (SGROUP) – provided invaluable input from their experiences with European reform processes.

In the Andean Community, university associations, led by the Association of Colombian Universities (ASCUN) and in partnership with the national quality assurance (QA) agencies, piloted a regional programme accreditation scheme. This has sparked a deeper debate on QA practices in the region, and helped to create a common understanding regarding evaluation criteria.

In Central America, the partners of the region, led by the Central American University Council (CSUCA), have developed a proposal for a Central American Qualifications Framework (QF) for higher education. This takes inspiration from the QF of the EHEA, but has been drafted in a “bottom-up” way by the university community. It will now be taken forward, promoted and further developed by CSUCA and the rectors’ conference of the region in the hope of creating more transparency between systems, enhancing recognition and mobility and drawing attention to the need to define and assess learning outcomes.

In Mercosur, the Association of Universities “Montevideo Group” (AUGM), worked in conjunction with rectors’ conferences to assess the state of play in student and staff mobility within the region. A paper has been published that outlines key trends and developments and also provides recommendations for enhancing and improving mobility as a means for regional integration in Latin America.

Beyond these sub-regional activities, one of the transversal activities of ALFA PUENTES was a comprehensive survey of higher education institutions, professors and students across the LA region which also provides comparable data on how universities are currently tackling a wide variety of crucial HE issues. More information on the survey is available here.

Looking forward: Exploiting results and further strengthening cooperation in the future

ALFA PUENTES has also been a catalyst for a number of spin-off projects and initiatives, driven by national and regional university associations. These include:

  • A pan-Latin American university association of national university associations entitled “ACRULAC” has been launched; it has been recognised by the CELAC process (The Latin American and Caribbean intergovernmental collaboration process) as a key stakeholder.
  • European and Latin American associations have signed agreements for bilateral exchange and cooperation. This has also extended to European countries without traditional ties to LA, which have increased their interest in the region.
  • A consortium of European national agencies and universities together with EUA have launched a joint project to assess the impact of the Brazilian Science without Borders programme on developing more sustainable HE partnerships (ALISIOS project).
  • Latin American associations are scaling up internal regional mobility programmes: plans to develop an Andean mobility scheme are underway.
  • European and Latin American partners are assessing prospects for further cooperation under the European Union Erasmus+ programme, including “Capacity building projects” for higher education reform.

Ultimately, ALFA PUENTES has demonstrated once again that regional higher education integration processes are distinct and context specific; the EHEA is an important case study from which Latin American systems can extract lessons but it cannot simply be exported or replicated.

In this respect, continued bi-regional dialogue is crucial; projects and bilateral initiatives between European and Latin American universities and organisations must continue to be exploited. University associations/networks are inherently placed to identify and enhance synergies, disseminate results to the broader HE community, dialogue with government and other key stakeholders and drive the regionalisation, integration and internationalisation agendas.

Background information:

 ALFA PUENTES was coordinated by the European University Association (EUA) and a project management team consisting of the Observatorio de las Relaciones Unión Europea - América Latina (OBREAL), the Asociación Colombiana de Universidades (ASCUN), the Association of University Montevideo Group (AGUM-Uruguay), the Central American University Council (CSUCA) and Santander Group of Universities (SGROUP).

The following project publications and outcomes can be downloaded here:

  • The electronic report of “Transformations in Latin American Higher Education” (TRESAL) (in Spanish, Executive summary in English)
  • University Associations in Latin America: A snapshot (in Spanish and English)
  • A Qualifications Framework for Central America (in Spanish)
  • Mercosur and Academic Mobility: State of play, proposals, and guidelines from the ALFA PUENTES project (in Spanish, Executive summary in English)
  • The Andean Model for Programme Accreditation: Manual of Procedures (in Spanish, Executive summary in English)
  • European Higher Education Institutions’ Collaboration with Latin America: National and Institutional Strategies (in English)

European University Association (EUA)

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