Ingeniare. Revista chilena de ingeniería, vol. 15 No 1, 2007, pp. 4-5

EDITORIAL


QUALITY AND HIGHER EDUCATION: CHALLENGES IN THE TRAINING
OF ENGINEERS IN THE XXI CENTURY


Higher education in Chile has experienced remarkable success in both coverage increase and access improvement of most financially vulnerable groups. While only 15% of youngsters between 18 and 24 could gain admittance to higher education in 1.990, nowadays this figure is about 37%. Likewise, while less than 5% of low-income youngsters could reach higher education in 1.990, nowadays this participation is close to 15%. At present, more than 24.000 students graduate each year. This figure was not even 9.000 in 1.995.

The increasing consolidation of the system of private institutions as well as the implementation of public policies, have allowed a meaningful quantitative improvement. In contrast, the efforts in quality assurance have not been absent in the system since the work of the Consejo Superior de Educación (CSE), the pilot project of the Comisión Nacional de Acreditación de Pregrado (CNAP) and Posgrado (CONAP) has been a valuable and determined help to put the emphasis on the necessary equilibrium/balance between coverage and quality of higher education. For their part, some Ministry programmes such as Institutional Development Funds and, more recently, the Quality and Fairness in Higher Education Betterment Programme (Mejoramiento de la Calidad y Equidad de la Educación Superior, MECESUP) have allowed a qualitative step forward which is expected to be seen from Arica to Punta Arenas.

Objective previous information shows a higher education which allows wider access to different economic sectors, and a series of actions intended to strengthen both quality and fairness. However, strategic challenges in this respect continue to be of a great significance.

Undoubtedly, it cannot be denied that in higher education there exists information asymmetry, professional training or the creation of knowledge which is not a strictly divisible, undifferentiated service. There is no perfect mobility of resources, the costs of change are meaningful, costs of transaction exist, and users who take a wrong decision may lose unique opportunities for personal and professional growth. More importantly, beyond the students' choosing a programme, there are dreams, illusions, people's lives and families who give themselves over  to look for social mobility.

Consequently, public faith must be guaranteed by the state. There must be a system which provides enough information to those who choose to study certain kinds of professions in certain kinds of institutions. There must be a guarantee that the institutions, undergraduate and postgraduate programmes satisfactorily fulfil quality standards which allow them to create knowledge, disseminate this knowledge, and train professionals and advanced human capital with adequate levels of competence. Furthermore, it is possible to sustain that the imperatives which emerge from the participation of our country in great international markets suppose growing demands in the training of advanced human capital, and in the creation and application of knowledge. Without question, in the society of knowledge human capital and its capacities for creating, transmitting, and applying knowledge constitute the essential source of the competitive advantage for each nation, their organizations and their populations.

Consequently, the appearance and consolidation of a national system of quality assurance is a strategic imperative for the country. This imperative has been tackled successfully by generating Law Nº 20.129, which has reached a high degree of consensus in wide sectors of society. Therefore, today begins -stronger than ever before - an unavoidable emphasis on higher education quality.

In this context, the challenges for the Comisión Nacional de Acreditación (CAN-Chile) are greater and require team work, within a framework of pluralism and respect for diversity, with intellectual vigour, with long-term vision, and having the country as a final goal. Finally, the Comisión Nacional de Acreditación (CNA-Chile) has to articulate its goals with the Consejo Superior de Educación and with the División de Educación Superior of the Ministry of Education to consolidate a national system of quality assurance which responds to the national requirements, and contributes to facilitate the competitive participation of Chile internationally.

The field of engineering is not exempt from these challenges. In fact, this international participation in great international markets has greater demands in the training of professionals in the fields of Science Engineering and Applied Engineering. For Chile to be able to generate added value to its exportations, it is required that manufacturing industry, services, and markets of knowledge should advance. Chilean engineers are expected to become the leading protagonists in this dimension. Therefore, professionals are required to have a solid knowledge of basic science, and in their corresponding specialities, but without losing sight of   the demands that the current society imposes such as social abilities, entrepreneurial capacities, English language mastery, ethics, capacity to innovate and lead team work.

In the society of knowledge, engineers are not only great masters of speciality contents and experts in basic sciences they are rather people with talent and great capacities that can be used in favour of an organization so as to decisively contribute to the development of the country.

Quality in the training of engineers in the XXI century refers to the consolidation of professionals with knowledge, abilities and skills that must be put together in the interest of organizations, entrepreneurship, and the country.


Manuel J. Donoso Muñoz
Vicerrector de Administración y Finanzas
Universidad de Tarapacá
Arica, Chile

Emilio R. Rodríguez Ponce
Presidente
Comisión Nacional de Acreditación
Arica, Chile