WB/Costa Rica: 95,000 Youngsters, Many of Them from Low Income Backgrounds, to Access Innovative and High Quality University Education

Kimberly Watson, Editor in Chief
September 27, 2012 /

Almost 100,000 young Costa Ricans will benefit from innovative and better university education, as a result of a US$200 million loan aimed at strengthening the scientific, technological and academic capacities of the four public universities that comprise Costa Rica’s National Council of Rectors (CONARE), which was approved today by the World Bank Board of Directors.

The “Improving Higher Education in Costa Rica” Project will help those universities invest in infrastructure, equipment and human resources, accommodate more undergraduate and graduate students, increase the number of accredited university degrees and strengthen their innovation, scientific and technological development programs.

Participating institutions — The University of Costa Rica (UCR), the State Distance Education University (UNED), the Costa Rican Technological Institute (ITCR) and the National University (UNA) — are currently home to 47 percent of Costa Rica’s university population. This plan thus benefits 95,000 students per year, 62 percent of which are women.

The project will finance infrastructure (construction of new buildings and construction or expansion of laboratories, residence halls and libraries), laboratory research center equipment, postgraduate training and education for academic staff and other officials.

“This is part of the 2011-2015 Higher Education Financing Agreement and will contribute to a Costa Rica that is more in tune with global dynamics. As well as promoting the development of innovation, science and technology in Costa Rica, the project will also allow underprivileged communities to gain greater access to quality public university education,” said Leonardo Garnier, Costa Rica’s Public Education Minister.

As a result of investments in infrastructure and equipment, the aforementioned universities will be able to receive some 15 percent more students in graduate careers (from 88,017 to 102,814) and almost 10 percent more in post-graduate careers (from 6,885 to 7,524). In the same fashion, the annual number of students graduating from all four universities will increase from 10,364 to 12,055, a 16 percent increase.

Moreover, in order to strengthen the quality of their curricula, these institutions will take steps to increase the number of officially accredited university degrees from 47 to 85.

“This project began autonomously on the basis of strategic institutional plans and will stand on the four pillars of the National State University Education Plan (PLANES) and the Special State University Education Fund (FEES), which mandated an expansion of student coverage and permanence, greater quality and relevance of education, support for innovation and scientific and technological developments and the development of different regions in the country, with a special focus on the underprivileged population,” said Sandra Leon, President of the National Council of Rectors (CONARE).

The UCR plan proposes a 50 percent increase in the number of accredited university degrees and a 21 percent increase of its student population in engineering, biology, IT, food technology and health sciences. The UCR will invest US$59.5 million (US$50 million from the loan and US$9.5 million in own resources) in infrastructure, in order to strengthen its scientific and technological developments, including nuclear and molecular research centers and energy efficiency, among others.

The UNED will invest US$55.8 million (US$50 million from the loan and US$5.8 million in own resources) to strengthen its distance education model, with more laboratories and digital resources for learning and the diversification of academic offerings, facilitating multimedia equipment to students from a vulnerable socio-economic background for their distance education. The goal is to increase the number of distance education university students by 12 percent and the number of officially accredited university degrees.

The ITCR has designed a US$57.7 million institutional improvement plan (US$50 million from the loan and US$7.7 million in own resources) that includes the construction and equipment of student residence halls, laboratories, academic units, libraries and student services. It will invest in infrastructure and equipment to create several engineering programs, among others, offering doctorate scholarships to its professors. The ITCR plan will increase the number of registered students by 14.5 percent, increase the number of accredited university degrees from 12 to 17 and foster technological innovation in engineering study plans.

Through its institutional improvement plan, the UNA will increase the number of freshman students by 16 percent and also increase the number of accredited university degrees. It will invest US$58.5 million (US$50 million from the loan and US$8.5 million in own resources) in building and purchasing equipment of student residence halls and services; as well as academic premises for new engineering and health programs, among others. It will establish an interdisciplinary observatory on climate change and development and will strengthen educational and pedagogical innovation, including permanent education.

“One of the priorities of Costa Rica’s development agenda is increasing the number of engineering, basic science, agricultural science, food and health graduates. This project, aimed at strengthening public higher education, is a key investment in Costa Rica’s human capital, which will allow the country to move forward toward the establishment of a more innovative, dynamic and prosperous society, with a strong emphasis on inclusive and sustainable growth,” said Felipe Jaramillo, World Bank Director for Central America.

The Project, totaling US$249.11 million, will be financed through a US$200 million World Bank loan and a US$49.11 million contribution from the four universities, the CONARE and the National Higher Education Accreditation System (SINAES).

With a US$17.31 million component, contributed by the Government of Costa Rica, the CONARE and SINAES, the Project will also help to strengthen the SINAES in order to consolidate the higher education quality improvement system and support the creation of a Labor Professions Observatory (OLAP) and the CONARE’s Information System.

The US$200 million loan for the “Improving Higher Education in Costa Rica” Project has a 30-year maturity period, including a 5-year grace period. The Project will be carried out over a period of five years.

 

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