Indigenous Intercultural University

Project description

Title: Indigenous Intercultural University (IIU)
Commissioned by: German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)
Countries: Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Colombia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru and Spain
Lead executing agency: Fondo para el Desarrollo de los Pueblos Indígenas de América Latina y El Caribe, headquartered in La Paz, Bolivia
Overall term: 2005 to 2017



Many Latin American countries have introduced new laws that recognise indigenous populations as part of their multicultural society. This legislation has strengthened the influence and rights of indigenous organisations. However, there are still very few educational institutions that expressly aim to empower indigenous men and women to participate effectively in governmental, economic and social structures by institutionally embedding courses on Indigenous Studies in their curricula.

Present-day education systems often fail to meet indigenous people’s educational and training needs. Courses in Indigenous Studies are not designed to support the increasingly important role that indigenous peoples now play in today’s social and political processes. Consequently, these education programmes cannot help native peoples to enforce their internationally recognised indigenous rights. In fact, higher education establishments rarely include any courses on traditional indigenous knowledge at all. The upshot: valuable potential for intercultural dialogue is not being exploited. Furthermore, indigenous women still have a lower level of education than their male counterparts and therefore need more and better access to higher education.


The network of Indigenous Intercultural Universities (IIU) has developed sustainable structures. Indigenous peoples have access to qualified university education that includes indigenous knowledge and a focus on gender equality.

Qualified experts and leaders capable of assuming tasks in indigenous and intercultural affairs are available to assist indigenous organisations and Latin American governments.



The virtual IIU network consists of four sub-networks – indigenous universities (RUIICAY), conventional universities (RECAA), graduates (REUII) and the Itinerant Indigenous Faculty (CII). In all, it comprises twenty-five conventional, indigenous and intercultural universities, most of which are located in Latin America, although there is also one in Spain. Other network members include indigenous wise men and women and IIU graduates. The academic offering includes continuing education courses lasting from three to eight months, as well as one-year specialist programmes and two-year Master’s courses.

The project provides the IIU network with the technical, organisational and financial support required to establish and run postgraduate courses geared specifically to the needs of indigenous students. Furthermore, it promotes intercultural and inter-epistemic spaces for dialogue; helps strengthen the CII; fosters the Indigenous Fund’s organisational development; advocates knowledge management and promotes sustainable management of the IIU network.

The IIU offers blended learning courses for men and women who are generally unable to attend university due to their working, living or income situations. Most of the course takes place online as distance learning. There are two attendance phases at which indigenous faculty experts from all over Latin America teach modules on the history, worldview, traditions and knowledge of indigenous peoples. The project’s most important innovation is its focus on integration into existing universities. By strengthening and supporting the graduate network, the project is making a decisive contribution to the sustainability of these collective educational processes. At the same time, it is also deepening the knowledge dialogue between Western-oriented academics and indigenous leaders and wise men and women.

The IIU currently offers courses on the following subjects: Indigenous Law, Intercultural Medicine, Intercultural Bilingual Education, Governance and Public Policy, International Cooperation, Self-Determined Development, Preservation of Indigenous Languages, and Strengthening the Leadership Skills of Indigenous Women. Strengthening and supporting the graduates’ network is decisive in terms of securing the sustainability of these collective educational processes and also strengthening the work of indigenous experts and leaders.

In the last two years, project support for the IIU has concentrated on strengthening institutional, financial and academic sustainability of the network. Systematisation of the IIU’s unique experiences ensures they can be harnessed by political decision makers in the region.


The postgraduate courses have been well received by academics and indigenous leaders, as is demonstrated by the number of applicants and the participants (numbering almost 1,000) who have graduated since the project was initiated ten years ago. Applicants and graduates, more than 50% of whom are women, are from 20 different countries and represent over 90 indigenous peoples. Results of an alumni survey of 40% of graduates showed that every graduate had assumed a position as a qualified expert or leader as at the end of 2010. 90% of the survey participants work in indigenous and international organisations, government or academic institutions. More than half hold managerial positions.

Acknowledgement for the CII is on the rise in the region; it is now considered a good example of alternative models for higher education. The IIU network is also a recognised project partner for European universities. The appointment of the CII as the UNESCO Chair for Indigenous Peoples in Latin America has advanced the institutionalisation of the IIU – a key step towards securing the sustainability of the network.

Additional information