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Universidad Bernardo O’Higgins: Meet the Rector

santiago chile

 

Located in Santiago, Región Metropolitana, Chile, the Universidad Bernardo O'Higgins is ranked in QS Latin American University Rankings 2020.

To learn more about Universidad Bernardo O’Higgins and what it offers international students, we spoke to its rector, Dr. Claudio Ruff. 

Could you tell us about your background and how you became rector?

I’ve been teaching for the past 27 years. I am a business engineer with a master’s degree in Finances and a Ph.D. in Engineering. I have studied in Chile, but also in Geneva, in the National Defense University in Washington D.C. and in the National University of Trujillo in Peru.

I was Vice-Chancellor of Administration and Finances for 9 year at Universidad Bernardo O’Higgins and then I became the rector in 2011, so I have just started my third term in this position. I never stopped teaching, even in my current position, I keep teaching four hours per week. I love being in contact with students, it’s part of my strategy as rector, to connect myself with the different parts of the university without breaking our pyramidal structure.

What is the main mission and pillars of the university?

Universidad Bernardo O’Higgins is a private institution. These institutions appeared in Chile after the liberalization of superior education. In Chile, the predominance of public education lasted until the 80s, then came the liberalization, and private universities like ours started to flourish.

Our university follows the O’Higgins’ principles of “father and fatherland” and it is inspired by the spirit of service and republican formation that is essential for Chilean citizens. The university is a recognized institution with holistic standards, and this is the current chancellorship seal because nine years ago we decided to include scientific investigation as the university’s second mission.

What is the importance of international students, teachers, and internationalization in general?

This has a lot to do with a phenomenon which started about 4-5 years ago: the fourth industrial revolution, and the replacement of humans by robots. That revolution came with enormous modifications and challenges for education, specifically higher education, because the world is changing quickly.

There is a disconnection between what happens in the classroom and what happens in the real world. There are three educational processes: informational (the traditional classroom), formational (student access to networks and other professors with completely different views), and transformational (what is coming, where the student must develop critical thinking and learn how to work in teams to change the world). The university’s duty is to strengthen their connection with social and productive means, in Chile, it’s been public policy since 2020, and so internationalization will play an essential part. This year, the university has maintained internationalization and will increase it, so that our students can take classes in other universities and foreign students can take classes here. Internationalization is here to stay and grow digitally to face the pandemic. 

How is the university promoting itself to international audiences?

Firstly, we have incorporated internationalization into our strategy. In 2015, we declared in our plan that the university should be internationalized before 2025.

Secondly, with regards to international media interaction, the university must be present in global activities. Lastly, we must learn from other countries like the US, France or the UK on how to put together a permanent state policy to attract students. We already have an organization called Learn Chile, a network of more than twenty universities, created to develop the internationalization of Chilean academic offer and is linked to an entity fundamental in globalization called ProChile, which promotes exportation.

Is it correct to say that Chile should attract more foreign students? 

This is true, we could do much more. To attract foreign students today, we must progress in the dimension of “open mind” and increase the quota of international academics. According to Jamil Salmi, in The Challenge of Establishing World Class Universities, published in 2009, such academies bring at least 50 percent of their professors or researchers from other countries, and we are still very far away from that. We have a lot to achieve and we must develop an international community in the university.

Does University Bernardo O’Higgins have enough international exposure in English to attract foreign students?

I was in Genova 25 years ago, there were three Chileans at the university, against 50 Bolivians and 150 Peruvians, which means we were – and still are – very attached to our homeland.

English is the universal language, but Chile has a very low number of English speakers. Virginie Delalande, our Director of Strategic Affairs, would tell you as well how difficult it is for us to send a student to an English-speaking country.

Do you think developing programs in English will encourage more international students to study here?

I think so. A study has revealed that 67 percent of Latin American students studying abroad stay within the continent and 50 percent within their civilization.

Chile started offering scholarships (Becas Chile) in 2006 because funds arrived through a tax called Royalty Minero to send students abroad, which was successful for master's and Ph.D. programs, but a complete failure for the technical/professional formations. The problem is cultural, idiomatic and idiosyncratic. We need students to go abroad and complete their studies and their world will change through travel, discovering other realities and opening their mind.

How are you promoting the university to an international student audience?

Our Department of International Affairs has been working on that. The Latin American market is very important for us, for the students to exchange within their culture; Brazil, Argentina and Peru are significant markets.

We want to be perceived as a university with quality research standards to impact students. We must also attract English-speaking students to come study Spanish at Universidad Bernardo O’Higgins and exchange their language.

Another distinctive seal of ours is French language and culture. We are members of the Francophonie University Agency – which has more than 900 university members all over the world - and our internationalization strategy is focused on French speaking countries in Europe: France, Belgium, Switzerland; Africa: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Republic of Congo; Canada. We offer French classes at the university and we have many partnerships with francophone universities. In fact, a third of our international students come from Francophone universities.  

What is your final message as a university leader for students in these times of uncertainty?

Besides the fact that Universidad Bernardo O’Higgins is an attractive establishment, focused on research, I would tell them that Spanish is a beautiful language that goes beyond the Latin American frontiers.

Our university welcomes them, not just to study here for a semester or a year, but also to immerse themselves with the culture of the region. Chile is a stunning country, 4,200 kilometers long, with a desert, a central valley, a mountain range with an average height of 3,500 meters above the sea level, and wonderful Southern lands, and the third largest user of the Panama Canal, so we have a lot to contribute and to teach between language, culture, and what we bring to the planet.

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Written by Niamh Ollerton
Niamh is Deputy Head of Content at QS (TopMBA.com; topuniversities.com), creating and editing content for an international student audience. Having gained her journalism qualification at the Press Association, London and since written for different international publications, she's now enjoying telling the stories of students, alumni, faculty, entrepreneurs and organizations from across the globe.  

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