Virtual university network: access to higher education for indigenous peoples in Latin America

More than 1,400 graduates from 19 countries have already participated in the e-learning courses offered by the Indigenous Intercultural University (IIU).

In theory, many indigenous people in Latin America now have the same opportunities as the rest of the population when it comes to education and participation in social and political processes. However, indigenous communities often lack qualified experts and managers in key positions to push forward and implement their rights. In general, higher education still incorporates very little traditional indigenous knowledge. Furthermore, many indigenous men and women are unable to attend conventional universities due to their working conditions or living or income situations.

The network of the Indigenous Intercultural University (IIU) is changing this by offering new university courses based on digital technology that are unique in the region. The IIU pools the knowledge, experience and academic expertise of around 25 indigenous and conventional universities in Latin America and Spain as well as indigenous organisations and experts. The courses are mainly completed online.

The IIU concept is very popular: since 2007 1,400 graduates (half of whom are women) have already completed a study programme or course in areas such as governance, intercultural medicine or indigenous rights. The graduates are from 19 Latin American countries and the Caribbean and represent around 140 different indigenous peoples. More than 60 per cent of the graduates currently work as experts or managers in indigenous or governmental organisations or transfer their knowledge to others as university lecturers.

The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH supported the development of the regional university network. On behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), GIZ provided advice on how to structure the study programmes and how to set up and firmly establish the regional, virtual network structure from a political, financial and academic perspective. The result has been a success: the Intercultural Indigenous Faculty (CII) was appointed a UNESCO Chair on indigenous peoples in Latin America in 2015 and is a shining example of alternative higher education models.

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