Francisco Javier Gil: "Universities should be as representative as society, and that does not happen"

January 14, 2019
Communications Colunga Foundation

The academic of the University of Santiago, Chile (USACH) refers to the inclusion in education and the challenges of the academy to connect with the environment in which it operates.

Photo: Church of Santiago 

How has your relationship with Colunga been?

Five years ago we approached Colunga to be able to grant scholarships to our students, very young students from very poor schools, that is our focus. And the problem is that these children are very good students, but they have to work and that makes their performance in the university not so good. We wanted to be able to grant a scholarship as good as the best one in Chile, which is the scholarship vocation of professor and the board of directors agreed.

 We did this with two different cohorts, and we also paid for an investigation to evaluate the effect of having or not having the scholarship. The result, as expected, is that the children increase the retention rate, increase the grades, because they do not have to work. The impact of "Becas Nueva Esperanza, Nuevo Futuro" was very positive, and we are happy and grateful for the contribution that Colunga made during the two years of support.

How do you see that it is the link between universities and civil society organizations?

Low. The main reason is that we do not know each other very much. They have distance from us, as if by studying more we are like another category, it gives them shyness to approach us.

And we, the universities, unfortunately we are constantly looking at the navel and we do not see what is happening outside the walls, we are very engrossed: in our publications, in our development as scientists.

Photo: Church of Santiago

What would be the value of approaching them?

All organizations have a specificity: universities, companies, we are all specialists in something. And what universities specialize in is knowledge, in thinking, that is our task. We have to think about the society in which we are and feel it. If we do not, we fail. And for the moment we are thinking ourselves, the system pulls us there because they measure us by the number of publications we have. Here in Chile, you link to the context is not considered within the evaluation systems.

And how does this gap impact the formation of students, during their time at the University?

It is that we are rarely forming citizens, we are training specialists, professionals in an area, I do not know if we form citizens. We do not train them because for universities to reach that state, they should be as diverse as the country they are serving. Universities should be as representative as society, and that does not happen. When we get to that we will have the concerns of different sectors of society in the university and they will be visible.

What role do you see that civil society organizations are doing?

I believe that they are fulfilling a tremendous role, many of the initiatives like América Solidaria, Un Techo para Chile, do not come from State policies. The propaedeutics and the PACE do not come from state policies, the gratuity, which was implemented more or less, and that has a lot of problems, but it is a step in the right direction, it does not come from State policies, it is born from society civil. The issue of the inclusion of homosexuals and lesbians is civil society that raises its hand and says something is happening here, abuse of women, SENAME, intrafamily violence. The one that is experiencing the pains of Chile is the civil society, and they are the ones who have raised their hands.

Colunga has dedicated efforts to strengthen civil society organizations, articulate and weave networks, meeting spaces and social innovation. Where do you think I should go?

If I had to take an option, I would opt for innovation because there are many things still pending for this society to be more inclusive, more respectful. An NGO, organized civil society, can influence both to reach the State budget. So, if you give me a choice, I would do it in research and innovation, to know the impact in Chile and abroad. Have evidence and also look out.

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