WHILE a noisy debate rages over creating the world's largest
consumer market with the North American Free Trade Agreement
(NAFTA), university-level educators are quietly bridging borders to
create the North American classroom.
Among academic institutions on the United States-Mexico border,
faculty exchanges and joint research projects have a long history.
Similar linkages can be found among Canadian and US institutions.
Now - encouraged in part by NAFTA - educators in all three nations
are striving for a new level of intercommunication and academic
"Economic integration without a deepening of our educational
and cultural dimension poses an unacceptable risk: a collision of
values that could well lead to more discord than we would have had
without NAFTA," said Joseph Duffey, US Information Agency (USIA)
director, at a trinational conference on higher education in
Vancouver last month.
Four $100,000 grants
The Vancouver conference was attended by some 270
representatives from universities, business, and government. The US
announced four $100,000 grants to four groups of Mexican, US, and
Canadian universities to develop or enhance trilateral exchange
programs and to specifically support projects dealing with history,
economics, international trade, and the environment.
The Mexican government-funded National Autonomous University of
Mexico (UNAM) also announced that for the first time it would chip
in 5 million pesos (about $1.64 million) in scholarships for
Mexican students and professors to study in Canada and the US.
The UNAM, along with many Mexican public universities, has a
reputation for being leftist and anti-US. Many educators here worry
that Mexico may, in the name of NAFTA and modernization, be
sacrificing its cultural values and educational programs to those
of its northern neighbors. At Vancouver, Mexico's Undersecretary of
Higher Education Antonio Gago Huguet warned against the
"temptation of homogenization."
But attitudes are changing here, says Enrique Cardenas, rector
of the Puebla-based University of the Americas (UDLA). "A year
ago, the UNAM wasn't talking about student exchanges, only faculty.
This 5-million-peso scholarship is an amazing change. But it fits
the trend in the Mexican academic community," says Cardenas, whose
institution has a well-developed US studies and exchange program.
"There are asymmetries between the academic institutions of the
three nations," Cardenas says. "But collaboration can improve all
parties. If that is true economically, it's more true
For many Mexican institutions, the academic horizon has not gone
beyond the US, its No.1 trading partner. With NAFTA, that's now
changing. In May, the UNAM's four-year-old Center for Research on
the United States decided to embrace Canadian studies. It is now
the Center for Research on North America - the first of its kind.
At the Vancouver meeting, the UDLA cemented a student and
teacher exchange agreement with the University of British Columbia.
And the Autonomous University of Baja California announced a pact
with Canada's Simon Fraser University. …