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ARGENTINA: University Opens Doors to the World

Marcela Valente

BUENOS AIRES, Nov 15 2007 (IPS) - The University of Buenos Aires (UBA) is the alma mater of four of Argentina’s five Nobel Prize winners. It is regarded as one of Latin America’s most prestigious universities, and thousands of young foreign students are entering its halls of learning.

This public university was chosen by over 4,600 of the nearly 24,000 students who have come to Argentina for undergraduate and postgraduate academic studies, according to a report by the Ministry of Education.

Between January and October, the UBA’s website was visited nearly half a million times by foreigners, mainly from Brazil, Colombia, the United States, Mexico, Peru and Chile. And because there are also thousands of enquiries from France, Canada, Switzerland, Britain and China, an English version of its portal was posted online this month.

Most of the enquiries are in the fields of social sciences, health sciences and the humanities, although the different branches of engineering, studies related to agriculture and livestock and animal health, biology and the environment are also popular subjects, as well as postgraduate courses in every subject area.

“The largest percentage of foreign students comes from Latin America, but others come from Europe, the United States and China,” Marcelo Tobin, UBA’s deputy secretary for international relations, told IPS. “This shows that in spite of difficulties, this university continues to enjoy high prestige.”

Founded in 1821, the UBA is the largest university in the country, with over 312,000 students and 30,000 lecturers. It offers 113 degrees in 13 faculties, a dozen short courses and close to 300 postgraduate courses, including doctorates, master’s degrees and specialties.


The UBA has six hospitals and medical centres, laboratories, institutes and research centres, and runs two secondary schools that are highly sought after because of their strong academic reputation.

There are also a dozen UBA sites spread out through the city and province of Buenos Aires where students can do their Common Basic Cycle, a foundation year of university studies which is the required threshold for entry into any degree course.

Nobel laureates Carlos Saavedra Lamas (1878-1959), awarded the Peace Prize in 1936, Dr. Bernardo Houssay (1887-1971), awarded the prize for Physiology and Medicine in 1947, chemist César Milstein (1927-2002), awarded the same prize in 1984, and French-born doctor Luis Federico Leloir (1906-1987), winner of the Chemistry prize in 1970, were all UBA graduates.

Argentina’s fifth Nobel Prize winner is architect and writer Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, awarded the Peace Prize in 1980 for his human rights work during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship.

The UBA is classified among the top 200 universities in the world, along with the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil and the National Autonomous University of Mexico, according to the global ranking drawn up every year by Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

But its prestige and influence contrast with the periodic financial crises of the university, which charges no tuition. This year the UBA asked for two billion pesos (645 million dollars) for financial year 2008, but so far it has been granted less than 800 million pesos (256 million dollars).

Ninety-five percent of the funds it currently receives go towards salaries, and according to sources in the university administration, roughly half of its lecturers work in an honorary capacity, purely for the value of the experience for their academic careers.

Viviana Monsalve, a 28-year-old Colombian graphic designer, told IPS she came to Buenos Aires in March to update her skills in a course on the latest developments in digital design at the UBA.

“Colombia doesn’t provide many study opportunities in this field, and the UBA has an excellent reputation,” she said.

Before deciding to come to Argentina, Monsalve thought about going to Spain, but after hearing about the experiences of colleagues in Colombia who studied in Buenos Aires she made up her mind to head south.

In addition, the cost of living and studying in Argentina is lower than in Spain. The fees for the one-year course are 1,100 dollars, and she has already found a job in a graphic design studio.

Tobin said the idea of facilitating enquiries from would-be foreign students is part of “a political decision to open the university to the world.” Agreements for academic exchange programmes are also being signed with universities in other countries.

The UBA charges fees for postgraduate courses, and foreign students generate revenue not only for the university but also for the country, he said.

IPS asked whether the UBA is considering charging foreign students for undergraduate courses, as well. “The university will have to discuss this issue, because some people are for it and some are against,” Tobin replied.

“Some ask why Argentine taxpayers should pay for foreign students to study at the university, and others defend the principle of free education for all, as has been the case until now,” he said.

There is also a proposal to charge certain fees for the purpose of providing scholarships for students from low-income families, he said. But for now, undergraduate teaching is free of charge to all comers, and the moderate fees for postgraduate courses are payable by Argentine and foreign students alike.

 
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