UPM and UTEC: Uruguay’s first regional university builds on cooperation between industry and academia

The last time Rodolfo Silveira, one of the Managing Directors of the Technological University of Uruguay (UTEC), visited Finland was when he was living in Sweden and working on his PhD. 40 years later, he is now in Finland again thanks to a cooperation agreement signed between UTEC and UPM for the construction of Uruguay’s Southwest Regional Technological Institute (ITR).

Following the agreement signed in February 2015, ITR opened its doors to students this spring in Fray Bentos. The cooperation is a model between industry and academia, a synergy that maximises mutual benefit from each other’s capabilities. “We believe that the relationship between the university and the private sector is of great importance. UPM’s contribution has enabled us to build our first regional technological university. For us that is something very significant,” explains Silveira.

Uruguay’s south-western coastal region is home to a community of approximately 4,000 students who are now able to undertake their university studies without leaving their home towns. “It’s important to offer an opportunity to study in the interior of the country so that students don’t have to commute to the capital. Uruguay’s education system is heavily concentrated in the capital. Montevideo offers three times more educational opportunities than the other areas. In other words, this is part of a very ambitious project. But we know that one of UPM’s criteria is social responsibility, so it’s a win-win situation,” says Silveira.

According to Juha Kääriäinen, Vice President of UPM’s Uruguay operations, the investment is a gesture of UPM’s commitment to Uruguay. “It shows how our company strengthens the communities in which it operates by supporting education and the development of the local forestry sector. It is also important that we can hire highly qualified local talent in the future,” he says.

Kääriäinen adds that this investment in education “will create further development opportunities for generations to come, enhancing the overall competitiveness of the forestry industry in Uruguay in the future.” In 2015, UPM celebrated its 25th year in Uruguay, so the announcement on the new university was the icing on the anniversary cake.

Both teaching and R&D

The ITR students will be able to participate in internships and hands-on training in the agro-industrial sector. Both parties will encourage UPM technicians and professionals to participate in Fray Bentos ITR courses. “Research projects and product development in cooperation with the productive sector is one of the pillars of this university,” says Silveira proudly. “The expectation we have is that we’ll be engaged in both teaching and in research and development. Everything that Biofore represents is a good example of this. The added value and knowledge comes from research and development.”

Registration at ITR started at the end of January 2016. In April, 60 mechatronics students inaugurated the first part of the ITR venue. The university is still under construction but is scheduled to be completed by August 2016. In future, ITR will have capacity for 2,000 students.

The degrees that UTEC offers in all of its three regional universities are: Technician in Management of Milk Processing Systems, Licentiate Degree in Milk and Dairy Products, Licentiate in Analysis of Food Products, Technician in Renewable Energy, Technician in Mechatronics and Technical Degree in Information Technology. As of March 2017, Art and Creative Music as well as Biomedical Engineering will be added to the degree syllabus.

Changing people's mindsets

The purpose of Silveira’s trip to Finland was to explore opportunities to cooperate and to develop programmes together with Finnish universities. Silveira has had meetings with parliamentary representatives and with officials from the Universities of Applied Sciences TAMK in the city of Tampere, HAMK in Hämeenlinna, and JAMK in Jyväskylä. A 3-year plan of activities was agreed with these universities. As a result of this collaboration, Innovation Week will take place in Uruguay in August 2016 including the participation of Finnish lecturers. “We need more innovators and entrepreneurs to facilitate mobility between different degree offerings,” explains Silveira. The first Finnish tutors will start working at ITR in April.

"We believe that the relationship between the university and the private sector is of great importance. UPM’s contribution has enabled us to build our first regional technological university. For us that is something very significant," explains Silveira.

In turn, Silveira talks about “changing people’s mindsets” in order to generate more development opportunities for new generations. “If we are able to demonstrate that this model of cooperation works, people will respond in a positive way. The natural course of evolution is to move forward. I believe that this cooperation policy will contribute to improving the quality of life in the region, not only in Fray Bentos,” he concludes.

The unique location of ITR is worth a special mention; it is inside the premises of the former Anglo meat packing plant known to the locals as el Anglo. This cultural-industrial landmark is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Anglo Meat packing plant became world-renowned for many of its products that were also exported to Europe for soldiers during World War I and World War II.