A model research university

The withdrawal of the projected law which sought to reform Act 30/1992 gives hope for building a large-scale higher education project for Colombia, leading to the creation of an institutional model forcing a transformation of current Higher Education Institutions (HEI), thereby making them into entities promoting the economic prosperity and social progress demanded by Colombia and many nations throughout the world. The Universidad Nacional de Colombia will have to adopt a protagonist role in constructing this new social project and become its guarantor so that it incorporates tools and mechanisms for suitably funding public higher education, thereby leading to the expansion of quality coverage.

A new law must also allow for researchers to be trained/ educated in Colombia who are able to create knowledge/know-how and ensure that they are on a level with the best and most renowned scientists from research centers and the world's most prestigious universities. This means that there must be institutions which promote cutting-edge research and which are capable of making discoveries having the greatest impact on the scientific world. Understand the dimension involving the great challenges awaiting Colombia and the world means that we must renew our desire to train the most competent graduates and researchers who will be/are able to address the core problems currently facing humanity. For example, the disasters caused by climate change and global warming demand competent researchers who are able to study the complexities involved in such phenomena and who are able to formulate solutions to avoid or mitigate their consequences. The population's exponential growth and consequent consumption of non-renewable resources will seriously jeopardise quality of our environment, essential for the humanity and living species survival.

A projected Colombian Higher Education Act aimed at training/ forming such new human capital which the new society of knowledge so desperately needs and suitably launching them onto a globalised world must rely on Colombia's "alma mater", this being the Universidad Nacional de Colombia which has relevant and unquestionable leadership in all its bodies, rightly fitting the challenges and opportunities which must be faced in the 21st century. The vocation of a national university like ours must be to ensure that all its available resources and human talent are geared towards the transmission, production and renewal of cutting-edge knowledge in all fields of knowledge, carrying out technological innovation and commitment to building a more equitable and environmentally-sustainable nation.

The Universidad Nacional de Colombia must set itself the goal of being recognised around the world as a world-class public university, as a university which may be able to compete with the most prestigious universities worldwide within a period of ten years and as a research university dedicated to creating knowledge, to patenting it and marketing it through research, development and innovation (R+D + I). The challenges awaiting institutions like the Universidad Nacional de Colombia within the context of the reforms and transformations currently occurring in Colombia and in many countries worldwide will tend to be the formation of world-class researchers, prepared with such vocation from when they are undergraduates, and admitting highly-qualified nationally and internationally prepared postgraduate researchers having the potential to create knowledge and develop innovation. Colombia cannot open up its markets and wish to become inserted in a globalised world without radically committing itself to a project aimed at reforming higher education allowing it to have at least one public higher education institution dedicated to high quality research as an ongoing national project and ours, the Universidad Nacional de Colombia, is called on to take up this challenge, with the full support of the national government and Colombian society.

The Universidad Nacional de Colombia will require its human talent (regardless of origin) and both students and academic and administrative staff to be rigorously selected to enable it to become the model for a research university in Colombia, admitting the brightest and best qualified minds committed to research and knowledge application for a sustainable economic and social development in Colombia. The quality of its academic production/scholarship will be reflected in the number of patents that are marketed locally and globally, representing an important source of income in the future, as well as in material published in the most prestigious international scientific journals where, without doubt, Ingeniería e Investigación is headed, this being the journal published by the Universidad Nacional de Colombia's School of Engineering. The foregoing implies thinking about an institutional funding model which takes into account the magnitude of the investment required to achieve and sustain itself in a privileged position in the global scholarly field.

Beyond unrestricted transparency in the use of its resources, a university such as the Universidad Nacional de Colombia cannot be constructed on the basis of limited resources if it wishes to reach the honourable position of becoming a world-class university, but rather on the certainty of the great social benefits which this type of institution should offer the country. Several investigations and experience worldwide have shown that a suitable flow of public resources is necessary to sustain the particular conditions involved in producing know-how/ knowledge in such institutions.

The decision at stake in the new draft Higher Education Law is far-reaching and its construction was therefore undertaken with the participation of the Universidad Nacional de Colombia's academic bodies, but above all, so that such law will allow our "alma mater", with the help of students, teachers and administrative staff, to become a new Universidad Nacional de Colombia and world-class model for higher education in Colombia which is up to the challenges of the 21st century.

Fortunately we have many examples of countries which have quickly understood what a world-class university should be and which have proposed achieving such goal. I would like to motivate people to read a book entitled, "The Road to Academic Excellence", edited by the World Bank's International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which presents the example of 10 world-class universities showing the way forward and challenges and effort which were needed for them to become recognised as being world-class institutions.

Engineering Faculty
Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Bogotá, D.C.