We all know that the exchange of students between Mexico and the U.S. enriches both countries and the relationship between them, so it’s baffling there isn’t more cross-border student mobility—Mexico is ranked tenth among places of origin for international students in the United States and eleventh for its popularity as a study abroad destination for U.S. students. In today’s Knowledge Transfers, we explore existing barriers to student exchanges and some noteworthy efforts to overcome them.
• CASE IN POINT: UT System and educational accessibility
ConTex is a joint initiative between the University of Texas system and Mexico’s Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología (CONACYT) that includes funding for doctoral fellowships, postdoctoral fellowships, collaborative research grants, visiting graduate research training and faculty fellows. Another program, the UT system’s Tuition Assistance for Mexican Students, “provides a waiver of the nonresident portion of a student’s tuition bill” for Mexican citizens and residents with demonstrated financial need.
• NUMBERS TO KNOW: Community colleges, parent buy-in, representation
- 7th: Mexico’s ranking in the list of top 10 study abroad destinations for U.S. students from community colleges, according to the 2020 Open Doors report. The top ranked destination is Spain.
- 45 percent: The percent of Mexican parents who “would consider university abroad for their child”, according to 2017 research from HSBC’s “The Value of Education” series.
- 31 percent: The proportion of U.S. students studying abroad who belong to a racial or ethnic minority group, according to Open Doors 2018/2019 data. That’s up from 20 percent in 2008/09.
• BIG QUESTIONS: What’s the impact of student exchange, and how can we scale it?
Hazel Blackmore is the executive director of the Comisión México-Estados Unidos para el Intercambio Educativo y Cultural (COMEXUS), which administers the Fulbright-García Robles program. Knowledge Transfers spoke to Blackmore about the impact of the program. Our conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Knowledge Transfers: In its 30 years of operation, COMEXUS has facilitated exchanges for close to 5,000 Mexican and U.S. students and researchers. Take me into that number—what have been the quantifiable impacts of that exchange on both countries?
Blackmore: I am convinced that Mexico and the US know more about each other thanks to the program.
There are certain people that have been part of the program as grantees that now are alumni and that now impact the bilateral relationship on a day-to-day basis. We had a number of grantees that participated in the first NAFTA negotiations, especially on the Mexican side. It was very important for them to have had the opportunity to study in the U.S., to make networks in the U.S. … because that helped them when it came time to negotiate.
More recently, out of the last six Mexican ambassadors to the U.S., four have been alumni—Arturo Sarukhán, Miguel Basáñez, Gerónimo Gutiérrez and Martha Bárcena … On the US side, Gabrielle Giffords, a former congresswoman from Arizona, had a grant in Chihuahua.
Many of the grantees that come on either the binational business program or the English Teaching Assistant program are of Mexican heritage, not necessarily born in Mexico, but second, third, fourth generation, they have heard about Mexico, they have close communities of Mexican descent…What is very exciting for us is when we learn that they go back [to the U.S] and they become council members for their communities or members of the boards of education of their communities.
Maybe the biggest impact that we have had is in research. We have had lots of researchers that come and go…and they have this ongoing and growing relationship on an enormous diversity of topics.
Knowledge Transfers: You mentioned it’s a priority to make sure that Mexican-American students are represented in your exchanges. Tell me more about why and how you’ve made that a priority.
Blackmore: We have a priority not only for this population, but with other populations [as well]. We do want to have a more diverse program in general, both on the Mexican side and on the U.S. side.
For many years there have been different efforts to include groups that usually didn’t participate in international education—unfortunately, Mexican Americans are one of those groups. When recruiting is done in the US, there are several ways that we’re trying to reach minority-serving institutions. We have organized seminars for their international education administrators, brought them down to Mexico, taken them to different universities to learn what higher education is in Mexico, what it looks like…so they are better prepared to advise their students when they are in the U.S.
Having the opportunity to have a greater number of Mexican-American grantees in Mexico has been very important…they rediscover Mexico in their own eyes, and with their own experience.
Knowledge Transfers: The vast majority of students will not get to participate in the Fulbright-García Robles program. How might we go about scaling these sorts of academic exchanges? Is there a way to make some of the benefits of the Fulbright-García Robles program more accessible to other students?
Blackmore: I would say both countries have a history of trying to make these opportunities larger.
The U.S. has several initiatives, one that is very important is EducationUSA, a service from the State Department with 26 centers in Mexico. They give one-on-one, in-person information about higher education in the U.S.
There is the 100,000 Strong initiative, where they are giving grants to universities in the US and in Mexico to do programming, and that has a multiplier effect—you start with this seed money, and then create an initiative that can grow.
There’s a program that prepares students before they arrive to higher education that’s called Jóvenes en Acción… It’s co-founded by the Mexican government and the U.S. government and the Mexican private sector, and geared toward high school students that live in at-risk communities.
Some years ago [the Mexican government] had Proyecta 100,000, where they were sending students and teachers for five to six weeks to the U.S. to study English. This is one of the things we see—you need information, so you work on Education USA, you need English, so you work on giving grants. The other thing that the Mexican government did was a lot of training with English teachers, and we have the Fulbright English Teaching Assistants. So, you work on the English part, and then you can start talking about more academic exchanges—you really have to build up a critical mass of students.
• KNOWLEDGE-TRANSFERER TO FOLLOW: Raul Pacheco-Vega is an associate professor at the Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (FLACSO) Sede México. He researches environmental politics in North America, and as the founder of #ScholarSunday, his Twitter is recognized as an example for how academics can leverage social media.
* Spotlight by Mia Armstrong, coordinator of Convergence Lab at Arizona State University (disclosure: Mia is a Fulbright-García Robles scholar). Arizona State University, named the most innovative university in the U.S. by U.S. News and World Report, is committed to collaborating with Mexico to address shared challenges and opportunities and to innovate toward a better future in our region. Twitter: @ASU_MX