“Equality key” to engage globe’s fourth largest higher education system

Published 21/11/2023

More collaboration and a deeper understanding of specific market needs is needed between Central and Latin America and the US and Canada, according to sector leaders.

Key stakeholders came together at a panel during The PIE Live North America conference on November 14 to discuss how to do so effectively, along with the factors currently driving demand.

For Waldenor Moraes, vice-president of the Brazilian Association for International Education and international officer at The Federal University of Uberlândia, it’s less about competing and more about collaborating.

“Collaboration is the key word. We have space for everybody, different niches, different markets, different perspectives,” he said.

However, when it comes to collaborating effectively with neighbouring countries, there are pitfalls that North American institutions can – and do – fall into, the audience in Boston heard.

Moraes cited an example of reaching out to a Canadian institution to collaborate, only for the institution to be overly concerned with rankings and how many students would be sent.

“We couldn’t care less about rankings. We have a social impact where we work. We look at university from a different perspective,” said Moraes.

He added that North American institutions can be “too data-driven” compared to their Brazilian counterparts who are more “word-driven”.

“We like to talk. We don’t rush. The way we do business, I think agents and universities should look at this very carefully if they want to be successful in connecting to us, because that’s one of the first ways for you to push people away from you.”

It comes down to the language used too, said Moraes, highlighting that the commonly used word “recruit” isn’t favourable in Brazil, instead having army connotations.

Cyndi McLeod, CEO of Global University Systems Canada, spoke of the importance of institutions learning from in-country people, who can educate institutions on how to be culturally appropriate.

Through sharing such experiences, Moraes is keen to highlight how North American institutions should consider their approach to their continental neighbours, even noting how approaches may have to be altered for different institutions within one country as they too may vary.

“We have different Brazils. We are the fourth largest higher education system in the world. We’re only behind India, China and the US. This is gigantic,” Moraes continued.

“When we refer to Latin America, we refer to it as one unit. It’s not. It’s very complex,” said Moraes.

“We represent 8.37% of the world population – 656 million people – and we speak over 448 languages. We can’t forget that we have this variety of cultures and languages in Latin America.”

Mihaela Metianu, assistant provost for global engagement at Florida Atlantic University, highlighted the importance of equality within any type of collaboration and warned that sometimes US institutions can be guilty of acting “superior”, a move that she said doesn’t “bode well” for effective collaboration.

“Building those partnerships that are equal is very important and it does help with everything else that we want to do in-country”

“I think from a university perspective, building those partnerships that are equal is very important and it does help with everything else that we want to do in-country,” said Metianu.

“When I started working on agreements, there was language in our legal documents that said if the document is in English and Portuguese, the English version will prevail. Now we have something that says both languages are equal and both documents are equally valuable.”

Panellists took the opportunity to share the key factors that are driving demand for education abroad among students from North America’s neighbouring countries.

Many students from Mexico are seeking internships and co-op opportunities abroad, experiences which allow them to return to their home countries with new skills, often returning to apply those new skills to a family business, said Marcus DeWitt, founder and CEO of Blue Ivy.

Meanwhile, students from Central America, Peru and Colombia are more likely to view their study abroad experience as a “vehicle for some sort of professional migration”, said DeWitt.

According to Metianu, Bolivia is a growing market for FAU.

“You have to think of where do you have natural ties now? What do you want to explore? For example, at FAU, we don’t have a lot of students from Mexico. That could be an exploratory market for us,” said Metianu.

“Colombia, Peru and Ecuador, we’re doing very well there, a lot of it through natural connections that we have through our faculty, staff and other other ways.”

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