University of California President Janet Napolitano recently announced a new initiative to strengthen research ties between the UC and Mexico.
Napolitano announced the initiative March 6 at a symposium UC San Diego hosted and dedicated to the 20th anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement. The initiative will mainly include research exchanges, which have received declining financial backing in recent years.
UC spokeswoman Dianne Klein said Napolitano’s interest in a strong relationship with Mexico is longstanding and related to the president’s history as two-time governor of Arizona. Different areas of research, including public policy and marine biology, could benefit from increased collaboration between the countries, Klein said.
The UC is also pursuing a relationship with Mexico because of the natural ties it has as a neighbor to the country, said David Kropf, director of administration for the UC Institute for Mexico and the United States at UC Riverside. Kropf said the institute’s director, Exequiel Ezcurra, is helping increase connections with Mexico.
The initiative is still under development with no specific programs in place yet, Klein said. On Feb. 21, Napolitano hosted a meeting with Undersecretary for North America Sergio Alcocer Martinez de Castro and Mexican diplomats from consulates in California to discuss the best ways to increase research and other connections.
UC Riverside Chancellor Kim Wilcox, UC Provost Aimee Dorr and others involved with this initiative are currently on a trip to meet with Mexican government, business and education officials, said Kris Lovekin, a UC Riverside spokeswoman.
Lovekin said Napolitano asked UC Riverside to head the initiative because of the school’s current involvement with Mexico through the UC Institute for Mexico and the United States, which was established in 1980. The institute’s objectives include facilitating research collaboration and student exchanges by securing funds for research with Mexico.
While Mexico’s war against drug cartels in the country might hinder research for some, it has not been a problem for researchers related to the institute, Kropf said. Instead, funding is the institute’s biggest limiting factor for the institute, he said.
“It’s all based on available funding. We could do twice what we do now if the funding was available,” Kropf said.
UCLA has a long history of collaborating with Mexican institutions, said Rubén Hernández-León, director of the Center for Mexican Studies at UCLA. He added that at least 75 faculty members conduct research relating to Mexico in some way.
“Although agreements are important, a lot of the research and the teaching and the exchanges are driven by the faculty who have relationships with Mexican institutions,” Hernández-León said.
Recently, UCLA has not been able to send as many students to Mexico as it usually does, Hernández-León said.
Funding as well as a slow down in applications to go to Mexico are partially responsible, despite efforts by faculty to save money and fundraise, he said. He added that the violence in Mexico is not a main factor, but has not helped the situation.
The high cost of UC tuition can be an obstacle for middle-class students in Mexico. Mostly only students from wealthier families can afford an education in the U.S., said Edward Leamer, director of the UCLA Anderson Forecast.
“The best bridge investment I know is to have
your kids come to the United States and have them study in this country,” Leamer said. “We build bridges between countries when we exchange students.”
UCLA’s academic ties with Mexico are still evolving. In November, researchers from El Colegio de la Frontera Norte in Tijuana drove to UCLA to make presentations to the Center for Mexican Studies, and collaborations are ongoing, Hernández-Léon said.
UCLA is involved with Mexico in other capacities as well. Leamer represented UCLA when he travelled with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s delegation to Mexico. The group of officials, academics and businesspeople worked to promote trade between Mexico and Los Angeles.
Plans for the new UC initiative are still not concrete and there is no set date for programs to be established.