Leading innovative and socially-oriented technological education for 21st Century Mexico

Report Post

By Dr Mario Alberto Rodríguez Casas • General Director, Instituto Politécnico Nacional, Mexico

Higher education in Mexico includes three types of degrees: associate degree, undergraduate, and postgraduate studies. These correspond to levels 5, 6 and 7 of UNESCO’s International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED). The institutions that offer these studies, public and private, very diverse among themselves, are classified as universities, technological institutes and teacher training schools. In 2017, the Mexican Higher Education System comprised a total of 5,4551 institutions and a total enrollment of 4,561,7922 students, with a gender distribution close to 50/50.

In Mexico, higher education has shown a dynamic growth, reaching level 6 of education (ISCED) for 38% of the population between 20 and 24 years of age. Although enrollment in the public sector continues to predominate, private institutions are growing faster, reaching 35% of total enrollment.

The Instituto Politécnico Nacional (IPN) is part of the Mexican higher education system. It is a public education institution, oriented to high quality technological studies and widely considered to be the second scientific force of Mexico.

Building a better country: IPN’s essence and pertinence.

IPN is Mexico’s leading public technological education institution. It was created to contribute to the reconstruction of post-revolutionary Mexico through technological education, for the country to achieve greater economic independence and better living conditions for Mexicans. It is an institution of the Mexican State that has maintained the social meaning of its mission throughout its 83 years of existence. More than one million IPN alumni from these years provide evidence of its relevance. They perform activities in teaching, research, business development, public administration and much more.

IPN maintains its national relevance through high-quality education, the development of strategic research lines aimed at supporting the country’s progress and coverage throughout almost the entire national territory. Along with its main campuses, which are located in Mexico City, IPN is present in 32 locations across 21 Mexican states.

IPN offers 272 academic programs: 155 at graduate level, 66 at undergraduate level and 51 at high school level. Of this portfolio, 238 are in-classroom programs, while the remaining 34 are distance and mixed modality programs. In 2018, the educational offer was strengthened with the incorporation of the National School of Library Science and Archival Studies and with a degree in Energy Engineering that includes fields of knowledge centered on renewable energies, energy efficiency, and sustainability.

The quality of programs has made them worthy of external recognition. Currently, IPN has 103 postgraduate academic programs listed in Mexico’s National Registry of Quality Postgraduate Programs (Padrón Nacional de Posgrados de Calidad – PNPC) of the National Science and Technology Council (Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología – CONACyT) Three have double accreditation, raising the number of accreditations to 106. An additional 52 undergraduate programs and two high school programs further add to the total accredited programs.

During 2018, IPN reengineered its school admissions process and achieved an increase of 18.64% of candidates assigned to undergraduate level with respect to 2017, from 25,464 to 30,210 applicants to the in-class, distance-education and mixed modalities1, without impact to its assigned budget. IPN’s 182,050 students are taught by 15,587 faculty of whom 1,216 are part of the National Researcher System (Sistema Nacional de Investigadores).

To complement students’ formative experiences, IPN has implemented student mobility schemes within a framework of 225 agreements with national and foreign universities and institutions allowing students to study in different centers of higher education in Mexico and abroad, and students from other Mexican and foreign schools to take courses at IPN. Non-academic program activities, such as foreign language learning, arts and culture, and sports are just as important. Therefore, IPN offers a wide and varied scope of complementary options and courses both to its students and the general community.

Research is carried out by means of networks specialised in biotechnology, environment studies, nanoscience, micro and nanotechnology, economic development, telecommunications, health, robotics and mechatronics. Such networks serve as multidisciplinary spaces to carry out basic and applied research, create plans and programs for networked postgraduate courses and form human resources of excellence, all according to the country’s economic and social development needs.

IPN’s Center for Nanoscience and Micro and Nanotechnology offers the public, social and private sectors of Mexico and beyond, technological development services and high-tech instrumentation, with the aim of promoting applied research and technological development in these areas, and the generation of novel, high-impact, scientific knowledge.

Students: the fundamental axis of the IPN Educational Model.

Contemporary societies with higher levels of social welfare and economic growth are those that have prioritised the formation of human capital and the development of science, technology and innovation, which are fundamental conditions for productivity and competitiveness in the global environment. IPN has focused its attention in fulfilling this premise. For IPN, the student is an integral being with a great diversity of capacities, aspirations and different ways of learning. Students are often conditioned by the social environment in which they develop. Training them certainly aims to satisfy the needs of the market, and to influence the economic development and social welfare of Mexico. It also aims to provide them with international quality skills that allow them to be competitive in a global, multicultural and rapidly changing environment, where they will need to know how to perform and make decisions based on knowledge, and where they will have the permanent need to re-learn and change.

Therefore, IPN’s Educational Model is based on processes focused on learning and on the fundamental principle of ‘education throughout life’. Students build their own knowledge with the support and guidance of their teachers: designing and defining their own trajectories, becoming active subjects of their academic formation rather than simply being passive receivers of information. The different schools that make up IPN are conceived as spaces of permanent learning where students deploy their ability to learn how to learn, to do, to interact, to become entrepreneurs. These are spaces where networked effort is promoted with the equally important participation of professors and researchers.

This educational model provides IPN’s alumni with the skills and abilities necessary to interact and influence highly competitive and innovative environments, for example: teamwork, communication, leadership, resilience, creativity, empathy, the ability to learn how to learn, and of course, those skills that are specific to each career or specialty.

The capacities that a student manages to acquire and develop must be permanently updated. Therefore, keeping close links with municipal, state and federal governments and maintaining close relationships with the productive sector, educational institutions and with society, are fundamental strategies that allow IPN to see if its institutional bearing is right and to glimpse the new horizons which should be anticipated, such as the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).

A renovated IPN for new scenarios.

The scientific and technological progress that has shaped 4IR, is an important reference for the development of the substantive and support functions of IPN, because it translates into new challenges of talent training, scientific and technological research, as well as the diverse needs of the labour market. In this sense, IPN advances in the design of more robust and comprehensive strategies that allow it to fulfill its tasks and take advantage of the opportunities brought by this new era. Internal processes have been improved so that they may become facilitators of quality and academic excellence, without this having a negative impact on the available resources.

Through the previously described networking and the facilities that IPN grants for the transfer of knowledge, a greater presence in the country has been achieved. IPN performs technological prospective studies on the specific needs of the market, the requirements of human talent 4.0 and the type of technical capabilities that a specific region demands to innovate and influence the industrial growth signaled by 4IR, also seeking economic growth and social welfare. IPN has also promoted actions in favor of sustainable development in the different regions of Mexico, particularly in matters of environmental care, attention to poverty and marginalisation, energy, gender equity and sustainable cities. IPN’s relationship with the environment complements academic excellence through the promotion of an entrepreneurial culture, as well as the creation of a new industry based on knowledge and technological innovation.

Within the framework of a 4IR that is modifying the traditional paradigms of social coexistence, education and work, educational institutions ratify their importance as the main trainers of human talent of excellence. The fulfillment of their mission must consider, perhaps as never before, laying the necessary bridges to unite economic growth with development and social welfare under inclusive and sustainable paradigms. It is an enterprise that requires, unquestionably, the commitment and collaboration of various sectors.

An enterprise with a long-term vision, allied with different sectors and actors, will be able to influence the formulation of public policies that allow Mexico’s public technological superior education to bring about greater levels of competitiveness and quality of life for current and future generations.

1 Institutions refers to the number of schools accounted for regardless of the number of units that comprise them, in: General Directorate of Planning, Programming and Educational Statistics, SEP, Main figures of the National Education System 2017-2018, SEP, Mexico, 2018.
2 It includes enrollment in both the in-classroom and distance-education modalities. Idem.

Dr Mario Alberto Rodríguez Casas is general director of the Instituto Politécnico Nacional. He is a biochemical engineer from the IPN National School of Biological Sciences and has a Master´s and a PhD specialising in biochemistry. He holds a Master´s in management and university policy from the Polytechnic University of Cataluña, and a Diploma in senior management from the Universities of Nebrija and Polytechnic of Cataluña. From 1987, he was head of the IPN Department of Biochemistry by the Division of Medical-Biological Sciences and the Academic Design Division and Educational Research, and has also served as director of the National School of Biological Sciences. Mario Alberto Rodríguez Casas has been both an undergraduate and postgraduate professor at IPN, at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and the Autonomous Metropolitan University (UAM). He is a researcher in the field of genetic engineering and advanced cancer immunotherapy, and author of five books.