Higher education: a key aspect of the EU-LAC cooperation

INTERNATIONALIZATION

“What do we want?” “Pizza and a beach body! More EU-LAC cooperation in Higher Education”!

Once upon a time, Higher Education cooperation was not needed. Erasmus was never created in Europe. Between 1987 and 2014, 3,770.000 individuals – the population of Panama – did not benefit from Erasmus. In 1987, 3,244 students from eleven countries did not embark on an international adventure, while 329,000 people – the combined populations of Barbados and Saint Kitts and Nevis – from 34 countries did not carry-out a mobility in 2013-2014. The number of beneficiaries was hence not multiplied by 100 over 27 years, and the threshold of 20% of all graduates from the European Higher Education Area having spent a period of time abroad by 2020 was never a goal. Can you imagine such a story? Luckily, all of this actually happened. Although these facts could be questions for a Friday night trivia at your designated Erasmus bar, they also show how important and attractive international mobility is in Europe.

LAC-wide, the Regional Academic Mobility for Accredited Courses at MERCOSUR-level, the Exchange and Academic Mobility Program of the Organization of Ibero-American States (68 institutions from 19 countries involved in 2016-2017), and the Pacific Alliance scholarships program (about 400 yearly) exist; however, the multiplication of LAC-integration systems attempts and the lack of higher education concerted policies between LAC-countries are clear obstacles to a truly ambitious international cooperation, while more and more young people enroll at universities and demand international possibilities.

Erasmus+, through Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Degrees (EMJMD), International Credit Mobility, Strategic Partnerships, Knowledge Alliances, Capacity Building and Jean Monnet actions, is open to LAC-countries. Nevertheless, they do not take full advantage of it: although 72 LAC-institutions (out of 242 Partner Countries institutions) are involved in at least one of the 38 selected projects of the 2016-2017 EMJMD call for proposals, the participation imbalance among LAC-countries is striking: 34% are Brazilian institutions, four countries (Brazil, Mexico, Chile and Ecuador) are home to 75% of participating LAC-institutions, only 11 LAC-countries out of 33 are represented, and none is Caribbean. Regarding Jean Monnet, none of the 198 2016-2017 selected projects involve LAC-institutions, which demonstrates a total lack of interest for and understanding of the EU. Even the Spice Girls, who sang “if you wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my friends”, originally wanted to say “if you wanna be international, you gotta get with some partners”. True story. While the word “internationalization” seems trendy in LAC and the EU and the CELAC are talking about a Euro-Latin-American Area for Higher Education, Science, Technology and Innovation, this situation is worrying, all the more so as Mexico, Brazil and the CELAC are EU-Strategic Partners. If they are indeed committed to this Area and to the EU-CELAC Academic Summits, the Brussels Declaration and the Action Plan 2015-2017, the EU-LAC cooperation must be reoriented.

Nonetheless, fear not, dear reader, for successful examples of EU-LAC cooperation exist: the Erasmus Mundus Action 2 project “Academic Mobility for Inclusive Development in Latin America” (AMIDILA), implemented between 2013 and early 2017, has been one of the most unique cooperation projects in recent years. It funded 203 mobility scholarships for students, scholars and staff from eleven Latin American and nine European universities in twelve fields related to inclusive development. It served both as a mobility program and a capacity building project since most Latin American universities were not very active internationally, making inclusion a core component institutionally as well. AMIDILA perfectly illustrates the benefits of the cooperation.

The new generation wants and needs higher education to be put at the top of the cooperation agenda, so will the October EU-CELAC Summit be a momentum for academic cooperation? Will Higher Education be at the center of EU-LAC relations in the foreseeable future? Is the EU-LAC Higher Education Area a real possibility? And most importantly: does Jon Snow really know nothing? These questions require answers, and projects and actions like AMIDILA, EMJMD, Capacity Building, Jean Monnet and International Credit Mobility seem like a worthy investment. The creation of a fund financed by European and willing LAC-countries would be a proof of commitment. “Willing”, because LAC is not an integrated area, so countries or groups of countries (ALBA, CARICOM, MERCOSUR, Pacific Alliance, SICA) ready to compromise could start partaking in it, and other members could progressively be integrated: undertaking small steps at a time is the best way forward, as it is regarding the EU-integration. In that respect, the EU-LAC Foundation would have a big role to play, while the 2017 EU-CELAC Summit represents a chance to reiterate the commitment to academic cooperation and move closer towards a common Area for Higher Education, at a time when the USA are losing interest in LAC and Erasmus celebrates 30 years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

La moda de la incertidumbre, el Brexit y Latinoamérica

En las próximas líneas enunciaremos una serie de hechos que se pudieron percibir entorno al referéndum inglés; en segundo lugar hay que tener presente dos puntos que están interconectados pero que se mueven a su propio ritmo: el económico y el político.

El mundo bajo la incertidumbre y hechos virales

El referéndum se llevó a cabo el día jueves 23 de junio de 2016. Días antes, se podía apreciar que hubo una gran campaña sobre los puntos negativos de la salida del RU (Reino Unido) de la UE, por lo menos por parte de la UE (Euronews no se dio abasto para señalar la posible catástrofe) y por algunas portadas de diarios ingleses que llegaron a manifestar por Twitter; en pocas palabras, presentaban un escenario catastrófico.

El debate se llevó a tal grado, pasando de las ideas a la confrontación física, que el ejemplo más significativo fue el asesinato de la diputada laborista Jo Cox. Llegué a pensar que era un hecho que no ganaría el Brexit, pero se comenzó a desarrollar un ambiente de miedo.

Durante el voto, las encuestadoras preconizaban la permanencia del RU en la UE en alrededor de un 52%, información que salía en los titulares. Discurríamos que no se presentaba una tendencia clara, por lo que había que esperar hasta que se diera el resultado final. Mientras se hacía el conteo de los votos, los medios daban a conocer que casi iba ganando la permanencia, hasta que se anunció el resultado definitivo. Un ambiente incierto  se podía leer o escuchar en el mundo virtual de la información.

El día 24 de junio de 2016 por la mañana, el Reino Unido anunció que era un hecho que el Brexit había ganado y durante unas horas se dieron los escenarios más escalofriantes: el miedo, la incertidumbre y en tercer lugar el shock ya eran claros. El shock se manejó con fotos de gente preocupada, gente llorando y manifestando otros  sentimientos de angustia (sin olvidar los memes más dramáticos) y surgen las preguntas: ¿Qué haremos? ¿Cómo lo haremos? ¿Adónde iremos?.. Como si nadie hubiera elaborado un proyecto para el país (o países, que son cuatro: Inglaterra, Irlanda del Norte, Escocia y Gales) desde que se propuso el referéndum en 2013, pues es imposible. Todo este escenario caótico, lleno de sentimientos y discusiones apasionadas, hicieron acto de presencia en una semana.

Lo que no puedes pasar por alto y que no se hicieron virales.

Entre los artículos que no lograron gran alcance y que mencionaban el referéndum: uno que la votación no se había propuesto al Parlamento inglés y que era ilegal; otros acerca del artículo 50 del Tratado de Lisboa, que establece un máximo de dos años para las negociaciones y que éste tiene que ser activado por el país que desea aplicarlo. Pero si el referéndum no ha sido ratificado por el Parlamento inglés, activar el artículo 50 es algo que va a llevar tiempo.

El disgusto social frente al sistema socioeconómico.

El resultado se presenta en un contexto de descontento socioeconómico mundial que puede tener muchos nombres dependiendo de la región del mundo: el modelo neoliberal, el modelo de austeridad, etc. Este malestar social se ha manifestado en tres formas: manifestaciones-huelgas (en la UE), manifestaciones-guerras sin cuartel (América Latina) y manifestaciones-movimientos raciales-grupos minoritarios (Estados Unidos de América); en RU se presentó como un voto en que la gente que ha visto reducida su calidad de vida pudo manifestarse.

El oportunismo financiero.

La primer noticia que se pudo captar en cuanto salió el resultado favorable al Brexit (sin estar un 100% monitoreando la información) fue: la bolsa de Tokio ha caído, pero hay inversionistas que ganan de la catástrofe – era lógico (sin llegar a hacer mucho análisis) que podían bajar las bolsas, sólo había que esperar el momento adecuado para comprar y vender monedas o comprar y vender acciones, un experto en finanzas debería tener la habilidad, la capacidad para ver el momento adecuado y realizar los movimientos más convenientes.

En el mundo financiero siempre hay ganadores y perdedores en el día a día que pasan desapercibidos. En cambio, cuando se da un hecho como el que estamos hablando, las grandes ganancias y pérdidas también están presentes (pero creo que los que son de látigo como de corto impacto son igual de importantes, como dice el dicho “de poquito en poquito se va llenando el jarrito”).

Para la hora que busqué el precio de la libra esterlina, aproximadamente al medio día en Santiago de Chile, no se veía que fuera muy bajo el precio, seguía siendo de las más caras.

Inglaterra cuenta con gente que tiene la capacidad para moverse fuera de las fronteras, para ellos no existen muros físicos o reglas acordadas. Londres es uno de los polos financieros más grandes del mundo junto con Nueva York y para ella es importante la libertad del movimiento financiero y económico mundial. Consideramos que el Reino Unido como país es una potencia media y no toda la población tiene los beneficios de esta riqueza, por lo que estamos hablando de tres  actores diferentes: Reino Unido como tal, Reino Unido dividido (Inglaterra – Escocia) y Londres.

El Brexit en el escenario europeo.

El Brexit afecta a todos los países, es un hecho al que se le debe dar importancia y a su respectivo seguimiento. Este fenómeno va a modificar el escenario internacional, se van a modificar las estructuras de poder, la política europea.

El RU todavía sigue y seguirá formando parte de la Commonwealth, así argumentar que el país quedará aislado no es del todo cierto. Dentro de la UE cuenta con un grupo que le será de gran ayuda para negociar un acuerdo favorable para ellos: el Grupo Visegrád (hasta cierto punto es casi el antiguo Reino Austro-Húngaro) en Europa Central y que puede aumentar su protagonismo.

América Latina, sus interrogantes y el poder blando inglés.

Para nosotros pueden surgir por lo menos dos interrogantes según nuestros intereses: ¿Es mejor que el RU siga “integrado” (medio estaba integrado) a la UE? ¿Cómo se va a dar esta nueva relación?

Los medios en América Latina les dieron mucha importancia a todos estos hechos, lo demuestra el Poder Blando con el que cuenta, pero hay que resaltar que sólo se trataban los temas comerciales.  No se percibieron – o en menor medida – titulares como: “el pueblo ha hablado” o “la búsqueda de una mejor calidad de vida se ha manifestado en las urnas” por poner unos ejemplos; de hecho, los que votaron por el OUT se les degrado, se les tacho de ignorantes sin conocimiento alguno de la importancia de pertenecer a la UE. Creo que hay que darle la importancia que se merece y abordar el problema, aunque no quiero decir con ésto que aislarse sea la respuesta.

La relación de América Latina con Inglaterra siempre ha sido concreta en términos comerciales y lo sigue siendo si le agregamos los intereses financieros. Desde la época colonial, Inglaterra se enfrentó a España para que las colonias hispanoamericanas abrieran sus mercados; por poner un ejemplo Inglaterra es el primer Estado que reconoce la Independencia de México, pero también ha sido violento como en el caso de Argentina invadida constantemente. En la actualidad, Bancos británicos (HSBC) hacen muy buenos negocios con el narcotráfico, el lavado de dinero; éste sería de lo más escandaloso, pero cualquier empresa grande puede hacer movimientos financieros ilegales.

Es posible que si continua dentro de la esfera de poder de la UE se pueda limitar un poco más su libertad de acción en países latinoamericanos, pero creo que esto no sucedería, ni la limita. Lo que puede suceder es un acercamiento para un mayor intercambio comercial RU-América Latina, en particular con los países de Derecha (Alianza del Pacifico) para lograr un intercambio más fluido de capitales y mercancías, más no de personas, pues no pienso que desee llevar más allá su relación.

Un error desde nuestra perspectiva es que México lanzó un comunicado para anunciar su disposición para seguir fortaleciendo sus vínculos con el RU. Pensamos que no hubiera sido necesario un anuncio de esta índole (poniéndolo al nivel de un ataque terrorista, por la necesidad de lanzar un comunicado al vapor); en cambio, ésto ofrece una posición de servilismo hacia el RU. México hubiera debido de hacer una declaración por el acontecimiento, no más allá (para no quedar indiferente a tal) y esperar a desarrollar una estrategia con otros países latinoamericanos.

Para terminar

Opinamos que el éxito del Brexit es una manifestación de la descomposición socioeconómica actual y concretamente la estrategia nacional del RU, que se desea ignorar la misma al tachar de ignorantes y pobres a los que votaron por el OUT. Ésto sólo es un reflejo de la escasez de oportunidades que tiene la población en Inglaterra y Gales, problemas que tienen que ser abordados de la manera  más rápida posible.

No quiero decir que el proteccionismo y separarse de la UE sea la solución; el RU es uno de los mayores promotores del sistema neoliberal, por lo que su población ya no podría ser protegida por las leyes europeas o disminuir su impacto. Estamos presentes ante un juego político más que económico.

Para Irlanda del Norte y Escocia, la UE simboliza su empoderamiento (o hasta cierta independencia ) frente a Inglaterra, además para Irlanda una relativa reunificación.

América Latina debería establecer una estrategia de manera consciente y en favor de su población y apoyando a las empresas medianas (que serían las más afectadas de todo este descontrol) y sobre todo evitando declaraciones comprometedoras. América Latina podría re-negociar algunos puntos de su comercio bilateral: podría ser una oportunidad si tenemos una estrategia en conjunto como región hispanoamericana (claro que la realidad es distinta 🙂 ), pero nosotros somos para el RU mercado, mano de obra barata y materías primas.

Dear Brexiters, dear EU-sceptics (Part I)

Democracy has spoken: the United Kingdom (UK) is out of the European Union (EU). In a way this is not necessarily bad news: the Brits decided to say no to a system that they feel has failed them, and their decision should be enforced. Now, I am not saying that you will be better off without the EU, because I really do not think you will, but at least you will have tried (although probably not in the best possible way), so let’s cheer to that. That said, this is a sad day for the EU obviously. I am disappointed and angry, especially because that means that you have decided to turn your back on the values that the EU stands for – unity, solidarity and peace – out of particular interests, but we can only respect your decision. We can only work with what we are given, and what we are given is a Brexit.

However, let’s be clear: the UK is not the Beyoncé of the EU, and its solo career is quite uncertain. But if there is one country that can make it outside of the EU, it may well be the UK. The price to pay might be higher for the UK than for the EU on the long term, simply because it stabbed us in the back and the EU won’t forget that. Also, because it is a small country that is alone and that has always had big ambitions, while at the same time other countries in the world are huge or forge strong alliances that come in the form of regional integration systems, such as the EU. That may sound a lot like the 18th and 19th centuries, and Great Britain did not do so badly at the time (well except the constant wars of course), but there is a huge difference nowadays: we live in a globalized world, and the UK is neither big nor part of a strong alliance anymore. And guess what: it won’t, since all of its neighbors are already in an alliance (the EU), unless that alliance collapses. And here is the problem: I refuse to believe that the EU will collapse.

I give you that it is hard to be positive when only a few days have passed. I am not British, so I won’t be affected as a Brit but as a European. And here is how I decide to see things: some sort of balance within the EU has been broken, no doubt about it. The only way the EU will survive is if it resumes to being the EU that it used to be a few decades ago, when things were rolling. Sure, it will be a difficult path, but we are facing a simple choice: it is changing or crashing, so I hope that the Brexit will serve as a wake up call. A lesson, as hard and sad as it is, must be learnt. The EU has lost a battle, but it still has a war to fight. We, the citizens, have the responsibility to fight for what we want. And what I want is a harder, better, faster, stronger EU. Isn’t that what we all should want after all?

There are huge negative effects to this separation, but if we can turn them into benefits, I believe everything will be just fine. This article will hence be about that: what will a Brexit change? How can we turn this defeat into a victory? What can we do?

First, let’s take a look at the main reasons why the UK decided to exit. There are a few of them, among them: immigration, the fact that it was losing more and more power to the EU, the impossibility to negotiate preferential agreements with some Third countries, and its contribution to the EU budget.

As far as numbers are concerned, immigrants account for a tiny part of the UK society, so what was this fear even about in the first place? First, we need to tell legal immigration and illegal immigration apart. When we talk about legal immigration, we mean mostly EU immigration, and the fact that EU-citizens can go to the UK to work and get social benefits. Well, the UK was not ok with this. And it was not ok with welcoming political refugees either. And it was not ok with illegal immigration (=people fleeing war and death and did not have the “chance” to have a political refugee status), because immigrants are bad, bad people, and they are responsible for all your domestic problems. Well, guess what? There is no such thing as a massive immigration flow to the UK (legal and undocumented) and anyways it won’t change much since shutting down immigration (especially illegal immigration) is impossible. Exiting won’t change that. What it will change, however, is that if the UK makes labor and legal immigration harder, then the EU will make incoming immigration from the UK equally hard, may it be for business or travel purposes. This can’t be a win-win situation, this will only be a lose-lose situation. But domestic political battles (errr David Cameron) have their reasons that the reason ignores.

Another reason for a Brexit is the impossibility for the EU Member States to negotiate separate bilateral commercial agreements with Third countries. The EU was not in favor of negotiating with China and India, but the UK was. The same happened with the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the USA: the UK was ready to accept anything while the rest of the EU was quite reluctant. I am tempted to say that the Brexit is a good thing in that respect, because both the EU and the UK will be able to do as they please: the UK will be able to negotiate with the USA, China and India – but still these three countries won’t be quite satisfied, because one country compared to 28 countries does not quite represent the same market – while the EU won’t have any pressure to do so. Generally speaking, when it comes to negotiating commercial agreements, it can definitely be an advantage to be a country. Let’s take the example of Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) (for more information, see article “the Brexit and the relations with Latin America and the Caribbean” from March, 12th 2016): one of the main reasons why trade between the EU and these countries has never really taken off is that LAC countries have always been reluctant to negotiating with the EU as a block (or rather they can’t agree with each other), so that it creates an imbalance that the EU, a group of countries by nature, cannot correct, so the LAC region is the one that necessarily needs to adapt. The UK will have a bigger chance at a fruitful commercial relation with this sub-continent, because it is something that the EU is not: a country. Obviously, it will need to swallow its pride, because as a country it will not be more powerful than bigger countries such as Brazil or Mexico, and also the UK trade balance is negative with some other countries, especially Colombia and Argentina, so it won’t exactly be in the position of demanding.

As far as the budget is concerned, the solidarity principle applies within the EU, meaning that richer countries necessarily pay more and proportionally get less return on investment than poorer countries (although the UK fully benefited from the Single Market and dit get a lot more return on investment than most countries). This rule has always been pretty clear, and yet the UK had already obtained a cut in its financial contribution to the budget. Obviously, that was not enough, and we can regret once again that the UK decided not to play by the rules when it reckoned that these rules did not exclusively favor its own interests. From the moment you decide to be part of a supranational organization, you should at least think a tiny bit of the greater good, so I do not reckon that the UK should have benefited from so many favors in the first place, or that quitting out of particular interests was fair.

Finally, as a supranational organization, the EU by nature takes on more power to the detriment of the countries. Of course, the UK had always seen the EU as a mere market to play in, it has never hidden the fact that is was against a closer union, but with the years passing, it was getting obvious that the economy would not be the only EU field of competency. Yes, the UK decided not to take part in the Schengen Area and the Eurozone, and blocked as many decisions as possible that implied more delegations of powers to Brussels, but what did it think? That this would just stop? Many countries and EU-citizens were getting quite fed up with the reasoning and selfishness of the UK, so the question is: why didn’t you exit earlier, when you saw that there was no turning back? In the middle of an economic, institutional and security crisis, exiting is a really bad timing, and blaming the EU for all your domestic problems seems a bit simplistic. In case you Brits wonder why the EU citizens and leaders are disappointed and angry, the answer is easy: you begged us to be a part of the EU, yet you were never a part of its spirit, and eventually you let us down at the worst possible time in the history of the EU. I believe it will take some time for the EU to trust you again, so do not expect our leaders to make your life easy, because you most certainly did not make ours easier.

That said, the Brexit, most and foremost, is a hard blow for the EU’s equilibrium and for the most liberal countries. At the Council of the EU (which represents the interests of the Member States at governmental level and takes the major decisions, for more information see note “The EU-institutions: the Council of the European Union” from May, 30th 2016), a decision can be blocked by a minimum of four Member States representing 35% of the population of the EU. As a consequence, it was quite common to see an economic measure blocked by the “liberal bloc” (25% of the total EU-population), which was, among others, integrated by the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and the UK, and Germany sometimes joined forces to achieve the necessary minimum of 35%. With the UK (one of the three biggest EU-countries) out, this bloc will represent only 15% of the total population, and even with Germany that would not be enough to achieve the 35% of the population needed to block an economic measure. That means that these countries will have to seek the support of conservative countries, which won’t be such an easy task. In that respect, the Brexit means a breach in the economic and political balance between the member States that somehow will need to be restored for an opposition to even exist.

Also, the three biggest countries (France, Germany and the UK) used to lead the EU. Germany and the UK, although with some substantial differences, had more or less the same position towards the EU, and France was often forced to tag along and adapt to them. With the UK out of the picture, that leaves Germany vs. France without any other country to weigh in, meaning that these two will either have to coincide (good luck on that), or give more power to another EU country – most likely Italy if it came to that. The basic question will be this one: does Italy have big enough shoulders to fill the empty seat, or could Germany and France get along well enough to lead the EU together? For now, it seems likely that Italy could join the club, because Merkel and Hollande have very different opinions about the EU integration. However, Italy is closer to France than it is to Germany, so Paris would gain a lot of weight. Knowing that, would Merkel allow Italy to be “promoted”? And finally, Germany has been the backbone of the EU for the last decade or so. In case France and Italy took the decisions and Germany was left aloof, what would happen to the EU and its survival? This point is extremely important and needs to be taken care of cautiously: the EU was originally created to protect and guarantee peace. This is why Germany, France, Italy and the Benelux gathered together in the first place, and this is why countries such as Portugal, Greece and the former communist bloc were integrated, making it almost impossible to take decisions with 28 Members. Peace has always been chosen over consolidating the EU so far (although not always for good reasons), and I believe it was eventually the right choice. Nowadays, the balance between the decisions-takers must at all costs be preserved. All Member States will need to make sacrifices.

We have to work with what we are given, and what we are now given will soon be an EU with 27 Member States. I believe that this still is too much to function efficiently and to make progress, so a “multi-speed” approach might be needed. This is already the case of the Eurozone and the Schengen Area, so I believe this would be the wisest path to follow from now on. France, who is in favor of an ever-closer EU, and Germany, more reluctant to this idea, would not need to agree on everything, and none of them would feel frustrated. Sure, that would make the EU as such even more complicated than it now is, but each country would communicate on what it is a part of, so eventually that would not make each country’s role within the EU more complicated. Until then, France and Germany would need to agree that a “multi-speed” EU could be the only way around preventing the dissolution of the EU. In that respect, I hope the exit of Great Britain, which was a supporter of this idea, will serve us right, and that the Member States won’t take it as a sign that the biggest obstacle to the EU-integration has been overcome, because there are many others, like corruption ans standstill.

The necessity of an academic cooperation program at Latin America and the Caribbean level: the experience of the EU-program Erasmus and of LAC integration systems

The EU-program Erasmus is a tool that allows students, researchers and teachers to carry out academic and professional exchange periods of time in Higher Education Institutions (HEI) in other European countries, the so-called programme countries (the 28 of the EU, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Norway, and Turkey), as well as in Third countries, the program partner countries (including all of the LAC countries). Launched in 1987, the name of the program Erasmus stands for European Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students. It is part of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) and works by multiannual financial frameworks: we are currently in the 2014-2020 framework, following the 2007-2013 one. This program has been one of the best achievements of the EU so far, it is crucial to its development and to the understanding between the peoples, and there is no reason why it would change in the next years.

In the LAC region, academic cooperation programs exist within the framework of MERCOSUR, the Organization of Ibero-American States, and the Pacific Alliance – though with much less funds and efforts dedicated to it than in their European counterpart. Sadly, international academic mobility in some LAC countries such as Chile does not have a great reputation – although it is a requirement in our globalized world. Academic cooperation programm remain vital, and it is important to have a look at them and see how they can contribute to the understanding between nations, trade, and education overall.

This paper will be divided into three parts: first, we will see how the Erasmus program works within Europe – leaving the cooperation with Third countries aloof. We will continue with the analyzing of the academic cooperation within the framework of the integration processes in the LAC region. Finally, we will take into consideration the assets of an international academic cooperation at regional level.

 

First, let’s break the utopia: Erasmus is not only for exchange students. This is indeed the main part, but teachers and administrative staff can go abroad, and students can also carry out traineeships within its framework. For an HEI to be allowed to take part in the Erasmus program requires little effort: filling in an application file – the so-called “Erasmus Charter for Higher Education” – and bazinga! That is basically it. Once this is done, two HEIs from two different countries fill in an “Erasmus agreement” stipulating various information such as the number of incoming and outgoing students, the level of language required, the area and the level of studies, the length, and the type of mobility. There is no limit whatsoever on the number of agreements that an HEI can sign, and this is an easy document to fill-in.

The amount of the scholarships is set by each HEI depending on what it gets from the EU, which explains why a student at Paris-Sorbonne University will get less than a student at Bordeaux University: there are significantly more scholarships holders at the Sorbonne, and the EU Commission has limited funds, leaving each university deciding on the number of scholarships and the amount it gives (€272/month being the average amongst European students). Also, the amounts vary significantly from one country to another: Spanish scholars are known to obtain more than their French counterparts for instance. The governments of the countries or the HEIs can choose to add up to the amount given by the EU, hence improving the experience of the “chosen ones” – in reality there is not much of a “Matrix” choice, excellence is not really a core condition to get the scholarship since the number of applications is usually lower than the number of available spots.

This was the easy part of Erasmus. There are a lot of tools that you can find on the EU-Commission webpage, one of them being the building of joint Masters Programs – the so-called Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Degrees (EMJMD) – between various partners. The aim is to offer two-year study programmes with at least two mobilities, excellence being in this case a core component when it comes to selecting the candidates. Erasmus Mundus has been created in 2004, and scholarships are also available – obviously less than in the case of the regular Erasmus, but with much higher amounts.

Now, allow me to give away a few figures to understand how big and important Erasmus really is: in 2014, €2 billion were spent on Erasmus, 650.000 people studied, trained or volunteered abroad, and 70.000 organizations were involved. Spain, Germany and France are the most popular destinations within the Erasmus programme, while the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Liechtenstein and Luxemburg are the least popular. This ranking barely changes when it comes to the most students benefiting from a scholarship – although Luxemburg and Liechtenstein are the two countries that send the most students compared to the national student population. 61% of the beneficiaries are women, and the Bachelor level is the level that most students choose to carry out an Erasmus mobility (67%), followed by the Master level (29%). Social Sciences, Business and Law is the area involving most students (31%), while Humanities and Arts, and Engineering (both equal at 17%) complete the podium. Finally, the average age of the Erasmus student is 23, and the average length of the mobility is one semester. Between its creation in 1987 and the year 2013 (26 years), 3.350 million individuals benefited from the programme – that is the population of Uruguay! In 1987, 3244 students from 11 countries benefited from it, while 270.000 students and 52.000 staff from 33 countries carried out a mobility in 2012. This number has hence been multiplied by 100 over 25 years (!!!). 4.600 HEIs participated in Erasmus as members in 2013. By 2020, the goal of the EU is that 20% of all graduates from the EHEA have spent a period of time abroad. Impressive, right? Yes, Erasmus is quite good when it comes to marketing!

 

Now, let’s jump to Latin America and the Caribbean. There are various levels of academic cooperation within the MERCOSUR. Let us not talk about the regional accreditation mechanism (the so-called ARCUSUR) since that is not our focal point – yet do know that there is a cooperation to make sure that there are quality standards at MERCOSUR level and that only MERCOSUR-accredited university courses can partake in the cooperation program that we will study next. MARCA in Spanish (Regional Academic Mobility for Accredited Courses) encompasses Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay and was created in 2006. This is the only academic cooperation within MERCOSUR, and students’ mobility is the main component. Every two years, one of the countries takes charge of the program (Brazil is currently the institutional coordinator). Universities of at least two different countries have to build a project, valid for two years, and exchange students can stay at the partner university for 1 or 2 semesters – may they study, carry out traineeships or researches. The number of financed mobilities per project depends on each country separately (5 for Argentina, 10 for Brazil, etc.). The amounts also depend on the country, but the home country usually covers the flight ticket and the insurance costs, while the host country finances the monthly allowances. The amounts are set by the countries themselves and differ from one country to another. An Argentinian student going to Brazil will hence get a monthly allowance of US$1.233/month, plus US$2.003 for the costs occurred by the installation, in addition to the insurance and the flight ticket: that is for a period of time of six months US$9.401. A Brazilian student in Argentina will get US$1.770/month, plus US$580 for the installation costs, and the insurance and the flight tickets (US$11.200). Generally speaking, the cost of life in Argentina is more expensive than in Brazil, but the amount that a student gets is still very generous. In that respect, MARCA looks a lot like Erasmus Mundus. Regarding the call 2015-2016, 15 projects have been selected, implying 35 Argentinian university courses, 16 in Bolivia, 38 from Brazil, 5 Chilean, 6 from Uruguay, and 10 in Paraguay. Note that all six Uruguayans courses are taught in the same university (the University of the Republic).

The Organization of Ibero-American States for Education, Science and Culture (OEI) is not a proper regional integration system, but it is an intergovernmental organization relevant for the education field. It was created in 1949 (before the EU that is), but became what it is nowadays in 1985. Within its framework, the Exchange and Academic Mobility Program (PIMA in Spanish), coordinated by Spain, is of interest since it grants scholarships since 2000. The program contributes to the Ibero-American Knowledge Area (EIC in Spanish). Most Spanish and Portuguese speaking countries in Latin America took part in it in 2015, plus Spain (this makes up for 19 countries, and a total of 67 universities), but any university belonging to a Spanish or Portuguese speaking country can participate in it providing that it is part of the OEI. In total, 273 scholarships were granted in that same year (165 between Spain and Latin America, and 108 between Latin American HEIs), the home university being in charge of selecting the students. It appears very similar to MARCA: a minimum of three universities from three different countries have to gather together and build a project in one single field of knowledge; they are hence organized by thematic reds and exchange students/interns can only carry-out a one-semester mobility at most within a host university that is a member of the same thematic red as their home university. There is unfortunately no information available regarding the amount granted to the students since it depends on every project, but a clue is that the scholarships are not meant to cover all costs of the mobility, they are only a supplement intended to cover the additional costs related to moving abroad, so it cannot be as much as MARCA. So, if you are a student and have to choose between MARCA and PIMA, I suggest you try MARCA!

Finally, the Pacific Alliance (which is not a regional integration system either) has an academic cooperation program, called Student and academic platform, consisting in four yearly calls country by country – and not one call for all countries altogether. Each of the four countries involved decides which amount students get, and it hence depends on the countries where your home and host universities are situated – but we are talking about high amounts anyways. There is a reciprocity principle when it comes to the students flows since approximately 100 scholarships are available in every country. One of the peculiarities of this program is that universities have nothing to do with the selection of the students: one governmental agency in every country is responsible for the selection (a student has to apply to his/her home country’s national agency, and the selection is made by the agency of the country of the host university the student is applying to). Unlike MARCA  and PIMA, not only universities can take part in the program, but institutes and other types of HEIs as well depending on what each country decides – which is a good point. In addition, various fields of studies have been deemed as priorities: business, finances, international trade, public administration, political sciences, hospitality, economics, international relations, environment and climate change, innovation, sciences and technology, and engineering. Finally, it is worth adding that various types of mobilities can be taken into consideration: student mobility (one semester for undergraduates) and academic mobility (from three weeks up to one year for PhD students, researchers and teachers). For more information and critics about this program – yes, I like criticizing – please see the post La cooperación universitaria en el marco de la Alianza del Pacífico from April, 10th 2016.

These are the only three international cooperation systems that promote international mobility in the LAC region, but only one of them is actually part of a sub-regional integration system – with the UNASUR on its way thanks to the creation in 2012 of the South American Council for Education (CSE). The SICA, the ALBA, the ACS, the CAN, and all other regional integration attempts do not seem to consider academic cooperation and students’ mobility a priority.

 

Erasmus: changing lives, opening minds” is the official slogan of the Erasmus programme and it is meant to represent the values that it stands for. Well, it could not be more right. I personally benefited twice from the program, and from three other national programs, all of which allowed me to study, work and carry-out traineeships abroad. I know I was lucky that I was born on that side of the Atlantic when it comes to this kind of opportunities, but it was not easy to always start fresh and go somewhere new. I partied a lot, but I also worked my as off. I can now speak fluently German, English and Spanish, in addition to my mother tongue French, and know my way in Portuguese. These make up for five languages. I now work in the international cooperation field, and programs like Erasmus have highly contributed – and still contribute – to this. It also gave me some values that are essential in our globalized world: independence, flexibility, autonomy, and most importantly great interpersonal skills. I am a convinced Europhile, I believe that building bridges between cultures and nations through regional integration is possible and needs to be worked on in a clever manner: the new generation should be trusted because its perception of other countries is actually more up-to-date than old bureaucratic officials that have never lived abroad – or at least not in the last 20 years. Also, this type of program can contribute to the improvement of education: by welcoming foreign students, universities gain experience and can adapt and improve their courses offer.

The internationalization of education is a task that concerns all LAC countries – or so they say out loud. They seem to be coming up with sub-regional integration systems every day – barely exaggerating it. We are not even talking about political or economic integration here, but a mere intergovernmental cooperation promoting students exchanges at continental level – just like the programs implemented in the LAC region that we have studied, but with the features of Erasmus. Students would hence benefit from classes taught in Spanish, Portuguese, English, Dutch, French, German in some cases, and could even learn indigenous languages. What is not to like there? That does not seem to be as hard as agreeing on everything as it is the case for UNASUR: countries could simply decide which HEIs can participate, give funds to a General Secretariat that would divide it between all countries’ participating HEIs, and HEIs would simply have to sign a bilateral agreement. Of course, it is harder than that, but with a bit of an effort and money, it is doable. That would actually allow students to improve their skills by learning things they could not learn in their own country, trigger an interest within the young generation in creating a regional integration system that could actually work, and hence unite peoples. How scary, right?

AquaKnow, a platform for a common good: water

I would like to write about a tool that is essential if an actor wants to start a project in the framework of a European program about environmental issues, but we need to remember that there is more than just one tool, there are many others.

Aquaknow, as the European Commission defined it, is a collaborative workspace and content management system dedicated to technical and scientific knowledge for the sustainable development of the water sector.

Aquaknow’s platform is managed by the Joint Research Center (JRC), which is the main research institution within the European system. The JRC works in close collaboration with the European Commission’s DG Development and Cooperation (DEVCO). To make things easier, know that the first one is the technical component and that DEVCO applies the political and strategic positions coming from the Council of  the EU. For that matter, DEVCO is tasked with designing cooperation programs.

The first reason for Aquaknow to exist is to help the work of the JRC. We could list some of its objectives: the JRC can obtain and supervise the information about how a project works and its results; obtain data from other willing environmental actors if they are interested in Aquaknow – such as NGOs, companies, researchers, etc.

On the other hand, Aquaknow can come in very handy to help checking and crossing data-information shared by different actors about a particular issue; it hence works as a way to confirm or infirm some of them; or use the information obtained by Aquaknow and compare it with another source of information such as another platform, another regional organization like the ECLAC, etc.

Third, the platform can be seen as a first approach if the JRC wants to know what kinds of actors play relevant roles in water-related matters. In other words, it contributes to having a sample of actors that are interested in the problematic; maybe a small sample, but it could be important when the EU comes to designing a strategy.

That is why the platform is strongly recommended by WaterClima-LAC, which reckons that a consortium should share all its results, data, information, experiences, ideas, etc. Alternatively, a consortium can look for new partners.

The remaining issue is that these kinds of tools are more profitable to European companies than to other actors. It is clear that the JRC works in the best interests of its regions, and depending on the political position of Latin-American countries, it should probably be used as a tool to building the necessary infrastructure: aqueducts, ports, energy, food storage facilities, mines, or others.

It is also clear that only a researcher, a NGO, a CSO or a company with profit motives can obtain Aquaknow’s information. It is a good idea to work together in order to achieve a better world, but everybody should be willing to work towards a common objective regardless of the profit motives.

El interés de la Unión Europea (UE) por América Latina o el interés de América Latina (LAC) por la Unión Europea

Este es el primero de una serie de artículos que tienen por objeto realizar un análisis u ofrecer puntos de vista  de la relación birregional entre la Unión Europea y América Latina, para motivar el debate y el interés entre ambas regiones.

 Como nuestro título lo señala, ¿La Unión Europea sigue interesada por América Latina? o también nos deberíamos de preguntar si ¿América Latina sigue interesada por la Unión Europea? A pesar de los vínculos culturales que pueda tener Europa con el continente Americano, la complejidad de los problemas actuales limitan este acercamiento.

 En términos generales podemos destacar dos tipos de fenómenos que frenan la relación birregional: los de carácter endógeno y exógeno.

El lema de la UE fue <<Unión en la diversidad>> misma que es evidente no solo por la cantidad de países que integran el organismo, sino al interior de cada uno de los miembros, lo que genera una relación muy compleja. El ejemplo más palpable es adoptar como lengua oficial como el catalán o el celta, aunque hay muchas otras que no han sido adoptadas.

Geográficamente se identifican cinco regiones: norte, central, sureste, oeste y sur. Las cuales se van modificando a través del tiempo como consecuencia de los intereses geopolíticos de un contexto determinado. Por ejemplo, el peso político de incluir dentro de Europa Central a países que durante la Guerra Fría formaban parte de Europa de Este: Polonia, Hungría, Eslovaquia, Rep. Checa (antes Checoslovaquia).

Desde 2004 con la entrada de los países que estaban en la esfera de influencia de la Unión Soviética modificaron los intereses de la UE. Los nuevos miembros desean abordar en el seno de las Instituciones Europeas los temas relacionados a su desarrollo y los temas que tengan que ver con su frontera más próxima. Para ello, Polonia se convierte en un actor fundamental, que adoptará una estrategia atlantista y Rusia se convierte en una amenaza.

Podemos agregar, la crisis económica que afecta a los países periféricos de la Unión, misma que coadyuvó a dar un lugar de importancia a los movimientos euroescépticos y que afecto la confianza en las instituciones.

Para América Latina, los factores endógenos podemos enlistar son las crisis sociales, económicas y políticas; que no son exclusivas de países de izquierda o derecha, se presentan con diversos matices: la pobreza, la corrupción, la educación, entre otros, aunque la más destacada: es el narcotráfico que tiene un lugar dominante en todos los medios de comunicación.

Ahora bien, los factores exógenos que afectan el interés de la UE y LAC tenemos: la creciente importancia de China en la escena internacional y como actor que provocaría la continuación de la Gran crisis. China amplía su presencia en África y en América, en esta última con diferentes grados de penetración.

La presencia de los Estados Unidos de América, LAC es su región de influencia por excelencia; los países de latinoamericano no podrán avanzar si no mantienen la línea propuesta por los Estados Unidos y, si esta no es acatada por un país, puede llevar a represalias; el ejemplo más representativo hasta hace poco fue Cuba y en la actualidad Venezuela. Además, una política de divide y vencerás es llevada a cabo, misma que se observa con los numerosos y diversos intentos de integración.

A pesar de lo anterior, la Unión Europea no desea perder su lugar geoestratégica en LAC y esta última quiere continuar en los programas de cooperación de la Unión que se traducen en Inversión Extranjera Directa. Desde este punto de vista parece una estrategia de ganar-ganar.

Para concluir, el contexto interno e internacional no es tan favorable para ambas Partes. La atracción entre ambas no es estable y se tiene que trabajar para lograrlo y así construir bases más sólidas y en particular en América Latina.

The Brexit and the relations with Latin America and the Caribbean

It has been quite trendy lately – no, I am not talking about Leo’s Oscar: The UK is to vote in a popular referendum on June, 23rd 2016 on whether it wants to stay in the EU or leave it. The so-called “Brexit”, like Brangelina, is a popular telenovela. While I personally believe it is not so unlikely that Brits say “No” to Europe, redefining Britain’s relationships with the world would not be a piece of cake. While I agree that we have been misinformed about the case and that finding a detailed investigation on the financial benefits/disasters that an exit would trigger is as hard as finding brains in Kim Kardashian’s body – it probably exists but it is kept secret – the British Cabinet Office recently released a vague report on the possible outcomes of a Brexit. Well, my friends, it does not look very bright. Sure, the Cabinet Office follows orders from Prime Minister David Cameron – who is campaigning for a “Yes” to staying in the EU – but the report seems about fair: it concludes that it would take more than a decade for the UK to renegotiate its commercial relations and treaties with its most precious allies – that is the EU, the USA, Canada, India and China mostly. But: what would become of its relations with Latin America?

First, what needs to be understood here – and again that is a complex matter given the lack of public information – is that its effective withdrawal from the EU would at least take months, during which it would be hard – if not impossible – to engage in commercial negotiations with Latin America right away. Many LAC-countries have trade agreements with the EU as a whole (that includes the UK), but not with the UK specifically. Now, the first question that pops into one’s mind is as follows: would every single LAC country see enough benefits to sign agreements with the UK? The answer is yes, of course. But what about the content? Everything would have to be renegotiated (from custom taxes to intellectual rights). The strength of the EU is its overall weight all countries combined, but taken one by one, it is a different matter. The UK would have to make sacrifices, and after leaving the EU because there were too many sacrifices involved, how many of these same sacrifices would it be ready to make and demand from its partners? That sounds like a whole lot of sacrifices to me! The UK would not be able to impose one-sided rules, because let’s be frank: it would not weigh more than come of its LAC counterparts that are much bigger in size; besides, it would desperately be in search of partners. You can argue all you want – as Ian Duncan Smith (the work and pensions Secretary) puts it: “The in campaign’s whole strategy seems to be about basically saying we’re too small, we’re too little… This country is the greatest on Earth” – the UK really IS small (hear France say that it still is a grande nation, yeah right).

This, to my mind, has a lot to do with the post-colonial era, and in the British case, the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth is not really worth anything anymore to anyone except the UK itself, which seems to be holding on to it like a bear to Leo DiCaprio – against all odds, the bear dies in case you did not know. Even Canada wants to free itself from the Queen. And you think the whole world wants to “be in a relationship” with you at any cost? International relations are no Facebook status. Go explore the globe, Sir Smith, and you are most likely to face a shock. You actually do not need to go far: go to Scotland, which will probably opt out from the UK to join the EU in a few years by the way. See what I mean? Leaving the EU might also eventually mean the end of the UK – and the notion of Commonwealth.

Now, let’s jump to the relations with LAC countries and a bit of maths to prove my words:

10 biggest commercial partners of the UK in LA, values expressed in $US bln

Country Exportation Importation Balance of trade
Brazil 3.91 4.18 -0.27
Mexico 2.23 1.78 0.45
Chile 1.63 0.775 0.855
Colombia 0.535 1.5 -0.965
Argentina 0.598 0.822 -0.224
Peru 0.354 0.593 -0.239
Ecuador 0.401 0.221 0.18
Costa Rica 0.102 0.290 -0.188
Uruguay 0.184 0.125 0.059
Bolivia 0.0657 0.103 -0.0373
Total 10.0097 10.389 -0.3793

Source: Own conception based on figures and maps from the Observatory of Economic Complexity, year 2013

As we can see, in 2013 the UK had a total trade deficit of about $38M with its biggest LAC commercial partners. Although it does not seem to be much, it still represents nearly 1.86% of its total value of exports and imports combined in the region. While the balance trade is in the UK’s favour with Mexico and Chile, it is not with Brazil – its biggest partner in the region – Argentina and, above all, Colombia. Of course, none of these countries make it in the top ten of its worldwide partners – not even in the top twenty. There is no doubt that the EU is its biggest partner, and that it would remain so. The UK might rejoin the EFTA (just like it was a member before joining the EU) so that it would still be integrated into the European Economic Area, but the Brexit would still affect this partnership, making it necessary to strengthen its cooperation with some of its current partners.

Let’s take a look at the traded goods now: the UK exports mostly cars, medicaments, petroleum, and gold (“surprisingly” no manufactured foodstuffs make it very far), while it imports mostly the same goods in less quantity, which basically means that it imports a more diversified array of products than it exports. To put it in other words: it will have to export its surplus of cars, petroleum, gold and medicaments that would not be exported to there any longer: many LAC-countries have petroleum and gold, they can import more cars from Germany and the USA and medicaments from other European countries if they want, so to speak. The percentage of these British exportation goods in the country’s trade balance with the world does not even match the percentage of the same imported products in LAC-countries from Great Britain. In the meantime, the UK will still need the products that it imports from there. As a matter of fact, the loss of Britain as a partner would not be as catastrophic for LAC-countries as for the UK, both economically and politically: sure, LAC economies would have to go through the hassle of finding other partners, but it would be able to replace the UK while the latter figures out its new status. No one is irreplaceable – except Beyonce, although, a bit like the UK, she seems to be the only one to believe that.

Finally, there is a third element I can think of – and that is a more positive note for the UK. There is a reason why all agreements between the EU and LAC-countries have never really taken off despite clear commercial potential in both regions and the existence of bilateral agreements: the lack of understanding of each other culture, history and reality. The EU has this “I am developed and superior to you, so suck it and accept my terms” approach, whereas LAC-countries stubbornly refuse to negotiate with the EU block to block and hence as an equally mighty partner (they are not able to agree and speak as one voice), creating a de facto imbalance of power and blaming the EU for having more power as a whole than them as countries alone (to be fair they are not totally wrong). The UK would need to measure its actual weight as a country and not as part of a bigger ensemble. In that respect, it may greatly benefit from it because it would be something very appealing that the EU is not: it would be a country and would negotiate as such, not as a block.

So, apart from the fact that some of you Brits would eventually need to learn Spanish and Portuguese just like LAC-countries learn English – really, that is not a joke, I myself realized that my French would not take me anywhere near Latin or America – there will be short-term decisions to make: which partners can you really count on in that region as of now? The good thing is that you have not screwed them over too badly (well, still quite a bit). Pure economics is not everything: the attitude, I believe, plays a big part as well. The Brexit could be a chance to deepen ties between the UK and the developing economies of Latin America if addressed correctly, but not with people still thinking that Great Britain is the greatest nation of them all. This is exactly this attitude that the LAC region, which was once colonialized by Spain and Portugal among others, resents so much. That means the UK would need to swallow its pride. The world will not be a new playground for “colonial wannabee” ambitions, especially the LAC region: the UK would have to treat them as equals and with respect. And if in their minds that means lowering themselves, then so be it.