A Conceptual Proposal for the Creation of the
Global University for Central America (GUCA)

Subject: Global University for Central America
Date: Mon, 06 Sep 1999 10:48:57 -0500
From: Jose Brenes <jbrenes@cariari.ucr.ac.cr>
To: utsumi@SOLAR.RTD.UTK.EDU

1. INTRODUCTION

Central America has changed. In the brief span of time elapsed since the first Esquipulas agreements, the Central Americans have achieved almost a stop to the political violence that has afflicted several countries of the region; democracies have been established and renovated; respect for human rights has reached new heights, and a new regional integration system has been defined.

The declaration issued at the XV Ordinary Meeting of Central American Presidents reflects the effort to change the Central American isthmus, within each of the constituent countries, and at the regional level by means of the Central American Integration System, acting as legal-political framework, complemented, since 1994, by an integral strategy for sustainable development in Central America, which marks a change in the schemes of our individual and collective attitudes, as well as of the policies and actions towards sustainability of the political, economical, social, cultural and environmental aspects of our societies.

This initiative known as the Central American Alliance for Sustainable Development is a national and regional strategy, whereby we assume responsibility for a better and more efficient use of the resources in our region.

Such resources, especially human ones, are essential to reach the sustainable development goal of bettering and guaranteeing the quality of human life, a goal that requires important investments in human resources, access to education, and the establishment of technical and professional involvements that contribute to equitable economic growth, which in turn leads to a successful war against poverty.

With this perspective in mind, we have given a high priority to basic education, information and qualifications with the conviction that "the development of human resources is simultaneously a basic condition to increase productivity as well as a vehicle for a fairer society."

However, the latest natural disasters, mainly Mitch, has made an impact on Nicaragua and Honduras, set back their progress. Human and financial resources, initially meant to develop industry and agriculture now have to be used for fixing infrastructure damage. European countries have lent their efforts to help achieve such goals, tailored to make a definitive impact in some areas, by developing projects in a orderly manner. City layout, school and clinic locations will now be accomplished in a planned way.

A country like Costa Rica, which suffered much less, and which has shown a high educational level may now be a source for continuous educational programs broadcast to rural areas in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Honduras. A common language, and similarity of problems in the region will make this easier to do.

2. NATURE AND OBJECTIVES

The Global University for Central America is conceived as a confederation of Central American universities and regional institutions, which will jointly develop university level and adult education programs aimed at offering members of different communities in the region courses which will improve careers prospects offered by local universities, utilizing qualified human resources in the area. It will also seek to help improve medical care by improving nurse training, and eventually transmitting actual medical data.

GUCA has these four main objectives:

1. To provide and offer non-traditional curricula and courses of interdisciplinary and multi-disciplinary character which will make use of the technological and scientific base existing in the region, with the goal of contributing to the analysis and solution of specific problems on the way to reaching sustainable development in Central America, such as governability, disaster prevention, nutritional safety, linkage to the international economy, and so forth. This effort will complement developments carried out by individual Central American universities and regional research institutions.

2. To provide an opportunity to those who cannot study abroad to engage in technical careers in great demand in the area due to integration and sustainable development, in a joint effort with North American and European universities which offer curricula and courses via satellite.

3. To complement other efforts carried out in programs targeted to diminish illiteracy, provide education for women, and the study of languages, health, agriculture, and so forth.

4. To offer curricula and courses in subjects where Central America has comparative advantages to other parts of the world.

It is expected that this approach will help diminish some of the negative perceptions towards certain countries, basically that some groups are nourished by the efforts of the others, without giving anything back.

Eventually GUCA programs may reach academic status by means of the regional universities turning them into a vehicle to promote freer professional mobility in the region, and contributing to the integration process.

In addition to satellite technology, where suitable, regular class schemes, as well as regular mail, courier, E-Mail, conferences, video-conferences, etc. will be used. The final choice will depend on how affordable the education will be for the given population.

3. ORGANIZATION

The organizational side can be viewed as consisting of:

An Advisory Committee (Board of Trustees): constituted by well-known people, in and out of the region, related to the use of distributed information. It will be made up of nine members, representing the public, academic, and private sectors. Those from the academic sector will be chosen from the universities which have excelled in the region. Those from the private and public sectors will be chosen by academic personnel who have had strong contact with those sectors, in order to guarantee that the needs of those two sectors will be well represented.

Board of Directors: Will be made up by representatives of those universities. They will be in charge of setting up the policies. They will also determine the priorities of each of the programs to be carried out according to the financial resources available, and their possible impact on society. The Board will also act as a bridge between the General Coordinator and the institutions represented.

General Coordinator: Will be proposed to the Board of Directors. Will be in charge of seeking financial support for the proposed projects, setting guidelines for the distribution of available funds, and checking that GUCA does its job. Will have the authority to contract, under private licensee schemes, those works that are occasionally needed, such as the installation of new equipment. The General Coordinator will be assisted by a small administrative staff, who will take care of information, statistics, as well as public information.

Academic Committee: Will establish the guidelines to select, analyze, recommend, and eventually approve the academic programs proposed to them by the specialized institutions, and seek realization of the accepted goals. With the idea of fulfilling the four goals declared above in the Nature and Objectives section, it is here proposed that small specialized Academic Councils be set up. They will consist of representatives of the regional institutions that have explicitly established goals in agreement with those of GUCA. The second, due to its nature, will be made up exclusively by representatives of universities who will have approved the objectives of this project. The third one will be established with representatives of other regional institutions, without excluding other non-government organizations willing to help GUCA. Given that this last objective is quite a wide one, in a later stage of this project guidelines on how such representatives will be chosen should be established in order to ensure the participation of groups which share its goals of providing affordable and accessible education to everyone.

4. DESIGN AND IMPLEMENTATION OF COURSES AND PROGRAMS

GUCA will identify among the regional universities, regional institutions, and specialized universities outside of the region, those courses and programs which will create the critical mass needed for the integral solution of some of the most pressing problems of the Central American region. GUCA will build up the technical capability to promote course dissemination and the ample discussion of relevant themes and problems.

The regional institutions will lead, within the frame of their expertise, the different programs and courses, seeking whenever necessary complementary support from the rest of the regional as well as extra-regional research and higher education institutions.

Courses and programs offered by institutions out of the area which can be adapted to the needs of the region, such as those prepared for the Amazonian region, as well as those outreach solutions developed anywhere in the world that could be adapted to the region will also be considered.

Conversely, GUCA may also offer Central American courses and programs to the rest of the world.

Programs to be developed.

In view of the above, and conscious that the application of this new technology requires time for the producers and users to adapt to it, it is proposed that the Project be initiated with the implementation of three or four projects actually in process, to which a satellite component will be added. The choosing of these projects has to be done considering that the institutions in charge have shown a high degree of commitment to this project, and have in the past proven capable of developing successful projects. Considering that they have already found some financial backing, that will help increase the chances of getting the extra push to add the satellite component.

Such projects may be:

A. With the financial help of the Kellogg Foundation, INCAP is now carrying out a Central American project with primary school teachers to cover themes related to nutritional safety among the general public. It is expected that educational videos resulting from this project can be broadcast by commercial TV stations, widening the covered area. The application of a satellite component to this project will help INCAP evaluate the pros and cons of using such a means for its Master's Program.

B. Programs to educate common people on basic hygienic practices, to prevent spreading of common diseases in the area will also be targeted.

C. Programs that will lead to improving labor conditions in the area, either by teaching safety measures that will avoid fatal effects such as those caused by misuse of fertilizers and pesticides, or by teaching undereducated people techniques to improve their income and raise their standard of living.

5. DEGREE VALIDATION

Those programs that will enable the student to take courses from different geographically distributed institutions, inter-disciplinary programs, very likely internationally, require foreseeing a mechanism by means of which both the courses as well as the program as a whole have to be validated, via the degree validation. A regional system such as CSUCA has lately embarked on in designing a Central American Evaluation and Validation System, could provide a good precedent to solve such a need.

6. INFRASTRUCTURE AND EQUIPMENT

Satellite: Given the fact that the TELSTAR 401 footprint does not reach Central America, some other satellite has to be considered.

The SOLIDARIDAD satellite has been used by other groups to broadcast compressed video, which makes it a good candidate. INTELSAT 325, or PanAmSat 1 may also be considered.

The final selection should be done after very carefully considering aspects such as:

a) Broadcast costs, per hour, per month.

b) Broadcast power of the footprint, in order to chose the right antenna, and its cost.

c) Existence of international cooperation treaties that may lower the costs.

d) Versatility of the broadcast schedule available in proportion to the cost.

e) Possible uses that the satellite will be put to, and needs of the different projects.

It cannot be forgotten that due to lack of experience, it may be advisable to initially sign an agreement for a given number of hours, before considering a dedicated channel, considering the fact that technology changes so fast that obsolescence becomes a factor.

The emphasis on satellite technology given in this project, that due to cost considerations is a one-to-many transmission, does not imply ruling out other technologies that may help make the relation between producers and users more interactive. The use of traditional elements such as regular mail (paper, or cassettes recorded by the users), telephone, FAX, as well as Multimedia and INTERNET will be promoted wherever possible.

Satellite was chosen because it has proven to be a good means to reach large numbers of people in a relatively short time. However the needs in the area are many and very diverse, so while systems such as INTERNET 2 could be implemented, other communication methods have also to be considered. Among those, installation of Internet Cottages in different communities to promote exchange of views amongst their different populations, to develop democratic thinking, as well as the use of wireless units to reach out to distant rural areas may also be considered.

The choice will be made taking into account the financial as well as human resources available each moment.

7. BUDGETARY CONSIDERATIONS

In the Satellite case:

7.1. Reception equipment: Pending reconfirmation with NTU officials, it is expected that every ROU (Reception only unit) will cost some $8,000, distributed as follows:

2.4 meter antenna $ 2.000
Decoder $ 3.000
2 Video recorders $ 1.000
2 TV 29" monitors $ 2.000

Here a single channel decoder has been considered. Such an option seeks to lower costs, foreseeing that a single channel will be enough until satellite broadcasting is adopted as a regular practice at every site. Estimating an initial need of 6 such ROU per country, we estimate:

TOTAL $288.000

7.2 Broadcast Equipment: It is estimated that one broadcast unit per country will suffice, which implies some $275.000 each, distributed as follows:

Directional 4.5 meter antenna (Ku Band) $40.000
Controller $15.000
3 gate transmitter/receptor $10.000
300 watt amplifier $50.000
Stable phase converter $18.000
QPSK Modulator $ 6.500
Encoder $80.000
Maintenance Kit $28.000
Monitoring equipment $ 7.000
SUB-TOTAL $254.000
Reception Integrator (NSTC) $ 3.000
Time-base corrector $ 3.000
Video-Master $ 7.000
Video duplicators $ 4.000
SUB-TOTAL $17.000
TOTAL FOR ONE UNIT $271.000
TOTAL FOR CENTRAL AMERICA $1,626.000

7.3 Operational costs: It is estimated that the General Coordinator's office involves the following yearly expenses:

General Coordinator Salary $48.000
Bilingual Executive Secretary $ 9.600
Stationary $ 2.000
Telephone calls $ 1.200
Consulting $10.000
Other expenses $ 5.000
SUB-TOTAL $75.800
Office set up 2 personal PC ($2.500 X 2) $ 5.000
Laser printer $ 1.500
FAX $ 500
Furniture $ 4.000
SUB-TOTAL $11.000

7.4 Satellite bandwidth: It is expected that a single compressed digital video satellite channel will be required for up-linking, at a cost of $18.000 monthly, or $216.000 yearly.

7.5 Project stages

Stage 1: The first stage, with a duration of a year, will include office set-up, up-link from one Central American country, and three reception only units (one for university, one for the private sector, and one for the public sector) per country, as well as training of the site operators.

Up-link $271.000
Reception only units ($8.000 X 18) $144.000
Satellite space segment $216.000
Coordinator office -- Installation $ 11.000
Operation $ 76.000
Operator training $ 11.000
TOTAL STAGE 1 $729.000

****************************************

Prof. Jose Brenes Andre
President of Consta Rica Fulbright Association
Full professor, M.Eng.P., Physics Professor
Escuela de Fisica, Universidad de Costa Rica
San Pedro, Costa Rica
506-253-5323 x5394
jbrenes@cariari.ucr.ac.cr
CU-SeeMe IP address 163.178.110.22


Editing and Web page by Steve McCarty
Updated on 1/17/03, Kagawa Junior College, Japan
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