Indigenous Intercultural University

Project description

Title: Indigenous Intercultural University (IIU)
Commissioned by: German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)
Country: Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, 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

Indigenous Intercultural University (IIU): Building intercultural knowledge and dialogue on intercultural knowledge are both cornerstones of the work at the IIU; a student during a ritual, in Santiago, Chile 2013 © GIZ
Under new laws introduced in many Latin American countries, the indigenous population is now recognised as part of a multicultural society. At the same time, the influence and rights of indigenous organisations are being strengthened. However, there is still a lack of institutions that empower indigenous men and women through education, enabling them to participate effectively in governmental, economic and social structures, and that teach indigenous wisdom and knowledge as an integral component of their curricula.

The courses on offer on indigenous topics at present are not geared towards promoting the increasingly important role of the indigenous population in current social and political processes or supporting implementation of internationally recognised indigenous rights. Furthermore, indigenous women still have a lower level of education than their male counterparts and need more and better access to higher education establishments. Traditional indigenous knowledge rarely finds a place in general higher education, with the result that valuable potential for intercultural dialogue is not being exploited.

The Indigenous Intercultural University (IIU) network has developed sustainable structures and can maintain its academic services in the medium term. The indigenous population has access to competent higher education that incorporates indigenous wisdom and knowledge on an equal basis and considers the topic of gender equality from an intercultural perspective. Well-qualified experts and managers are available to assist indigenous organisations and Latin American governments in working on indigenous and intercultural issues in their own societies.

Four networks belong to the virtual IIU macronetwork: indigenous universities (RUIICAY), conventional universities (RECAA), graduates (REUII) and the indigenous faculty (CII). The members of these networks include 25 conventional and indigenous and intercultural universities, mostly located in Latin America and with one in Spain. They also embrace indigenous elders, men, women and IIU graduates. Three- to four-month courses, one-year diploma or specialisation courses and two-year master’s courses are offered.

The project provides these IIU networks with technical, organisational and financial support for establishing and running postgraduate courses that are geared towards the needs of indigenous students in particular. It also promotes intercultural and interdisciplinary spaces for dialogue, efforts to strengthen the indigenous faculty, the organisational development of the project partner, knowledge management and the sustainable management of the networks.

The courses are being run as blended learning courses combining distance learning with part-time attendance to enable men and women to study who are unable to attend university because of their work, living conditions or income. Most of the course is delivered online. In two attendance phases, indigenous experts from the indigenous faculty from across Latin America teach modules on the history, world view, traditions and knowledge of indigenous peoples.

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.

Measures to strengthen and support graduates through the graduate network contribute significantly to the sustainability of the collective educational processes and to building capacity among indigenous leaders.

During the final two years, the project will primarily promote the institutional, financial and academic sustainability of the network’s activities. IIU’s unique experience is also being systematically recorded to make it available to policy-makers in the region.

Academics and indigenous leaders have shown great interest in the postgraduate courses since they were introduced. The high number of applicants and the almost 1,000 graduates over the ten-year term of the project testify to this interest. These applicants and graduates, more than half of whom are women, come from 20 different countries and represent more than 90 indigenous peoples. A tracer study following the progress of 40 per cent of the graduates showed that, by the end of 2010, they had all found employment in technical, professional or managerial positions. Ninety per cent of the respondents are working for indigenous and international organisations or in government or academic institutions. Over half hold managerial positions.

There is also growing regional recognition of the indigenous faculty, which has now become a reference standard for alternative models of higher education. The network of indigenous universities is also a recognised project partner for European universities. The indigenous faculty has been recognised as a UNESCO chair in indigenous wisdom and knowledge since 2015. Institutionalisation of IIU’s own management structures is a milestone on the road towards ensuring the sustainability of the network’s activities.

Indigenous Intercultural University (IIU): The indigenous faculty strengthen alternative forms of teaching and learning. Workshop in Popayán, Colombia 2013 © GIZ


Claudia Stengel