by Daniel Reisner and Rachel Clift
Ford IFP’s model of access and equity in higher education was unique for a number of reasons. In addition to enhancing Fellows’ knowledge and skills, it emphasized their capacity to serve as transformational leaders in their home countries. And by working closely with partner organizations in 22 countries, IFP was able to focus its recruitment and selection efforts on previously excluded beneficiaries.
In short, these were individuals who had a great deal to offer their communities, but because of socio-economic or other disadvantages, they did not have sufficient access to the kinds of higher education opportunities that would help them realize their full potential.
Of the more than 4,300 IFP Fellows worldwide, one thousand are from marginalized populations in five Latin American countries. And while the global IFP program prepares to cease operations in September 2013, its model for access and equity is now being echoed by organizations and government programs throughout Latin America, where IFP’s legacy stands to serve future generations.
In Brazil, IFP’s international partner the Carlos Chagas Foundation (CCF) is working with the Ford Foundation’s Brazil office to develop Projeto Equidade. This program will fund and monitor pre-academic training programs at 15 Brazilian universities with the goals of improving access to higher education and diversifying the ranks of graduate school programs to include deserving candidates from underrepresented social segments within the country.
Each school was awarded up to R$100,000 over three years to prepare these students for the graduate school admissions process. This commitment is particularly relevant in light of Brazil’s recent Supreme Court ruling that unanimously upheld the right of universities to improve access to higher education and redress racial inequality and discrimination using affirmative action in the admissions process.
In Mexico, IFP’s International Partner CIESAS is administering a new educational program supported by the Comisión Nacional para el Desarrollo de los Pueblos Indígenas (CDI) and CONACYT, the Mexican government’s scholarship agency. Programa de Fortalecimiento Académico para Indígenas provides scholarships to indigenous students for masters and doctoral programs. Similar to IFP, the selection process will emphasize academic achievement, leadership and social commitment, and will include pre-academic training and ongoing student support. (The Mexican government recently agreed to provide $8 million pesos to fund pre-academic training to an initial cohort of 50 indigenous students.)
At the May 12, 2012 launch ceremony, IFP Mexico Alumna Mikeas Sánchez recognized the pioneering work of IFP and the importance of the continuation program, stating, “Widening the access to higher education should be a priority task in the context of public policies made to protect the rights of indigenous peoples.” IFP Executive Director Joan Dassin also noted that the new continuation program would help to sustain IFP in Mexico as a new program adapted to national priorities.
The IFP model is also proving sustainable in Peru. Alumni Raul Choque and Ada Pacheco are leading Beca 18, a scholarship program that was established by the Peruvian government based on the original design work of Cecilia Israel, former IFP director in Peru. Beca 18 is aimed at public high school graduates from backgrounds of poverty that have been accepted to a college or career institute to pursue degrees in the fields of science and technology.
Beca 18 – which has received significant national news coverage, and is now airing promotional videos – selects Fellows from Peru’s border areas, south-central Peru and indigenous, Afro-Peruvian and Andean communities.
Its mission is to expand access to education and create future leaders for local communities and the nation. Scholarship recipients sign a pledge with the Ministry of Education called “Service Commitment Peru,” that requires Fellows to provide professional or technical services, preferably in their region of origin, for up to 3 years.
On a smaller scale, IFP Chile Alumni Marisol Prado and Maribel Mora are currently working to implement the Equidad Educativa scholarship at the University of Chile. Intended for students that come from economically vulnerable situations, the scholarship covers tuition and annual fees for career or undergraduate programs at the university.
Though Chile has had sustained economic growth, the country is marked by high income inequality and unequal access to education. To create greater equality in admissions, factors such as family income, graduation ranking and social vulnerability of schools were considered alongside traditional criteria such as the University Selection Test (PSU).
The University of Chile’s Rector Victor Perez Vera recently commented that the school supports the scholarship because of its commitment to equality and diversity in education, remarking, “We are training people who will change a country that is extremely unfair.” Ms. Mora and Rosa Devés, a Professor at the University of Chile, expanded on this point by stating that “education focused on homogeneous groups reproduces existing social inequalities, while the education in diverse contexts generates professionals which are more effective in their actions and more democratic in their participation.”
Having experienced firsthand the transformative nature of education, IFP Fellows from around the world have embraced the concept of “paying it forward” to the next generation. The educational programs taking root in Latin America promise to forge an IFP legacy that extends beyond the individual and into societies at large.
To watch videos about Beca 18, the groundbreaking educational program in Peru, please visit the IFP YouTube Channel.
Photos, top to bottom:
IFP Brazil Cohort 2010; CONACYT, the Mexican government’s scholarship agency, signs off on Programa de Fortalecimiento Académico para Indígenas; Mikeas Sanchez at CONACYT meeting in Mexico, May 2012; El Peruano newspaper covers Beca 18.