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Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile: Meet the Rector

Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile: Meet the Rector main image

Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile is one of the leading universities in Latin America, topping the most-recent QS Latin America University Rankings.

To learn more about the university and how it operates, we spoke to its rector, Dr. Ignacio Sánchez Díaz.

Could you tell us about your background and how you became the rector of Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile?

I studied at the Sagrados Corazones de Alameda school in Santiago, received surgeon and pediatrician training here at the Catholic University and then I did my fellowship in pediatric pulmonology and respiratory diseases in children in the University of Manitoba, Canada.

After that, in 1993, I became a professor of the Faculty of Medicine here at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile and I was director of the medical school between 2004 and 2008 and dean of the medical faculty between 2008 and 2009.

Since March 2010, I am the rector of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile and I just started my third period of five years, just two weeks ago.

What are the traditions of Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile?

Our institution has 132 years of history. It was founded in 1888 and it belongs to the Catholic Church, but it's funded by public funds for the past 100 years.

As well as being the top university in Latin America according to QS, our university is among the top 130 in the world in the QS World University Rankings 2020. We are a comprehensive university with degrees in theology, medicine, STEM, arts and humanities. We are proud that our university accounts for about 24 percent of the total research of the country.

Lastly, I would like to mention that the internationalization in our university is also one of the key factors. We have up to now 250 international professors, which is about 15 percent of all our professors. In the past three years, close to 40 percent of the professors that are hired by our university are from different countries in Latin America, Europe, North America, Australia and Asia.

Why is it important for of Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile to attract international students from different backgrounds?

It is crucial because we really think that internationalization is the opportunity to share experiences through joint projects among students, and through international research among our professors.

I think that it is very important for our students to be taught by professors from countries like Bulgaria, Iran, Germany, Brazil, United States and Japan. That way we are opening our students to a world of experience where we make sure they build comprehensive knowledge and an international network.

How many programs does your institution offer in English? And what do you do to diversify the students coming to the university?

At postgraduate level, about 25 percent of the courses are in English, while at undergraduate it's about 10 percent. Our goal for the next five years is to triple that number, and then we would like to have a English version in the majority of the courses.

For example, for Economics we have 15 different courses. We would like to have at least one or two courses in English for international students and to give domestic students a chance to study in English as well.

In our university, we only ask for a minimum level of English. Students take the test and if they pass, they can study in English. If they don’t, they can take free English courses in our university to ensure that when they graduate, they have appropriate levels of speaking and writing in English. I would say we are the only university in Chile that have this in place, and it has been extremely helpful to our students to get employed.

How do you want Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile to be seen in the future?

If you consider that our university is one of the main universities in Latin America, it is very important to be seen internationally so that universities on different continents engage with us on student exchange and joint research projects.

I would like to be known as a very serious university with excellent professors and bright students. If you see in the QS ranking, our quality of professors and quality of students are in the top 50 in the world.

We know that the one of the main issues our system lacks is the funds to do more competitive research. That's why we're doing our best to make sure we have agreements and links to different networks around the world. We would like to share experiences so we can improve our research activity in joint projects in collaboration with high quality universities globally.

How does an international student apply to your university?

We have about 600 different agreements with universities around the world. About 1,800 to 2,000 students from abroad study here every year. Unfortunately, this year it is much less as many of them returned to their own countries due to the pandemic, but they work like ambassadors for their own universities.

Our webpage is very straightforward, and we have an application form there. We have bilateral agreements with foreign institutions where their students don't pay to study at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile and our students don't pay to study there.

In the case of postgraduate education, we visit different countries to promote our university and participate in different education fairs.

How you would like the university to be seen on an international level?

At both international and domestic levels, we are known as a university that engages with society. We think that through teaching and research, we can collaborate with a society and serve its needs.

I am part of a team that is working on a special commission to prevent the Covid-19 pandemic rapidly spreading in Chile. People know this, and it is very important for the society to know that our university is engaged is situations like this. Crisis actions like this position the university in the correct way and maintain our engagement with society.


As a head of university and a doctor, what can you say to the student community about the Covid-19 pandemic?


Here in Chile, we have transferred 100 percent of our teaching to online. We are going into our third week, because we just started our new semester in March.

We are teaching students through multiple platforms, and initial feedback was positive. It has been an excellent effort from both our professors and students. We are constantly sharing a lot of information and solving a lot of problems. We're also trying to find ways to help a good number of students as not everyone in our country has access to all the facilities required to adapt to this new teaching method.

We think this situation in Chile will be the same for this whole semester. We are also preparing for all international exchange to be stopped until the situation is resolved. We sincerely hope the situation will start to be normalized by next year. As for now, most exchange students that came to start a semester in March were asked by their domestic institution to return home.

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Written by Craig OCallaghan
As Head of Content, Craig is responsible for all articles and guides published across TopUniversities and TopMBA. He has nearly 10 years of experience writing for a student audience and extensive knowledge of universities and study programs around the world.

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