Campuses in the United States and Mexico are seeking new partnerships to promote student mobility, based on a bi-national framework known as FOBESII that presidents Barack Obama and Enrique Peña Nieto signed last year. Last week, at a signing ceremony for the latest agreement — between Idaho State University (ISU) and the Autonomous University of Ciudad Juaréz (UACJ) — TBR sat down with Ana Luisa Fajer Flores, director general for North America at the Mexican secretariat for foreign relations.

Fajer’s previous posting was as the Mexican Consul in St. Paul, Minn. She has also served as director general for Africa and the Middle East and advisor to the Foreign Secretary and has worked at the National Migration Institute, the Center for Investigation and National Security (CISEN), the Mexican Council of International Affairs and the Mexican Senate.

Fajer was in Meridian to deliver remarks at the ISU-UACJ signing ceremony.

TBR: What is FOBESII? Read Consul Guillermo Ordorica’s guest opinion on the collaboration.

FAJER: President Obama visited Mexico on 2 May 2013 and both presidents decided to take advantage of the great potential regarding education, economics, innovation and competitiveness because we are aware that we have to play a much more active role in promoting a prosperous, dynamic and competitive region in North America. So this is the rationale behind this idea of launching FOBESII as one of the three mechanisms that we launched on that day.

FOBESII means “Bilateral Forum on Higher Education, Innovation and Research” and the main goal is to promote more mobility between Mexico and the United States in terms of students, academics, research but also to build up the workforce to respond to the strategic needs of both countries, for instance aerospace, autos, water, biotech, medical science, medical devices. All of these sectors need a workforce that is ready. FOBESII is the acronym in Spanish, but everybody is calling it FOBESII.

TBR: What are the next steps for the Forum?

Ana Luisa Fajer, SRE

Nathaniel Hoffman / TBR
Ana Luisa Fajer, SRE

FAJER: When Vice President (Joe) Biden went to Mexico in September, we committed to organize six bilateral workshops on outreach, the potential of the border, the development of the workforce, innovation and research. And languages. Language is a big piece of what we are doing because what we have observed is that you may have the money but they don’t speak Spanish, or you may have the money here but they don’t speak English.

But we are also focusing on the strengths of the universities. In this case the UACJ is very strong in medicine and you are strong in medicine here at the Meridian campus. So it’s like joining efforts, looking for a potential joint project of research and also exchanging students to know more about how you deal with certain fields in medicine and for students here at ISU to go there and study community medicine.

TBR: How many joint projects are in place now?

FAJER: There are several but this is very important because it’s very specific. It focuses on medicine, it focuses on English and there are scholarships from one side and the other side, so this is a very good agreement. This is a very concrete one. It’s focusing on a need. It’s focusing on a strength and they have money to put into this project as well. And it’s because it’s a good project; that’s why the universities are investing in it.

TBR: What is the funding model for FOBESII?

The ISU-UACJ Collaboration

As part of the agreement between Idaho State University and the Autonomous University of Ciudad Juárez, 25 ISU students will travel to Juárez with scholarships to study community medicine and UACJ students and faculty will study English in Meridian. “As an institution of higher learning, our mission is advance the academic and educational experiences of our students and faculty,” said Laura Woodworth-Ney, ISU provost and vice president of academic affairs. “This program is designed to enhance ISU’s academic objectives, including preparing our students to work in a global society.”

FAJER:  FOBESII is not a fund; it’s a forum. This is important because the “F” could distract attention. But the resources are from the public and private sectors. If there’s a good project in terms of research or in terms of promoting mobility, the private sector is willing to invest in that, from our side. The U.S. has to do their own work and they are doing that through the 100,000 Strong (in the Americas) campaign, even though it’s for all of Latin America. We will contribute to the 100,000 Strong because we are proposing to send 100,000 Mexicans to the U.S. by the year 2018. That doesn’t mean that all of these students are coming here to get a degree. They might get a degree or come for a short stay like the ones that are coming here from UACJ.

This is the kind of mobility that can grow in the future. If you start by staying here for a semester than you might be interested in staying here for a master’s or a Ph.D., and in Mexico there is money to sponsor or to give scholarships to those students who want to pursue graduate studies in the U.S. The thing is that you have to propose a good project to get this. So CONACYT, the national council on science and technology in Mexico, is part of FOBESII and it’s part of Proyecta 100,000 as well as our Ministry of Education. Our Ministry of Education has money as well for scholarships and they are willing to support students who want to study English, but also to get a degree, a master’s degree or Ph.D. They are also very strong in supporting the teachers of English here.

TBR: Where in Mexico might U.S. students study?

FAJER: UNAM is the largest university in Mexico; UNAM is very powerful in this (medicine) as a public university. The private universities as well, like La Salle, for instance, it’s very strong in medicine. Also in the private sector, Tecnológico de Monterrey. And the University of Guadalajara is very strong in medicine as well.

In engineering, UNAM is very strong as well, but also engineering is very strong at UACJ. At the border, there are other universities, like UABC (Baja California); they are part of FOBESII as well. Universidad de Hidalgo, Universidad San Luis Potosí, Universidad de Sonora. Querétaro has a university for aerospace; they are very committed to this dynamic between industry and academia.

With the secondary (energy) law passing in Mexico, there’s going to be a big need for engineers at different levels. For instance, there will be a need for drillers and they can come here to the community colleges. That’s another potential field to explore and actually, within the FOBESII and this Proyecta 100,000, there are 300 students from our technical universities and our polytechnic universities who will come to the community colleges and technical colleges here in the U.S. Not Idaho at this time, but they are coming to California and to Texas and to Arizona. They are coming to the U.S. for four months and they are going to be trained.

TBR: Who are your counterparts in U.S. State Department and other agencies?

FOBESII Mexican Consultation Group Report

Read the Mexican FOBESII Consultation Group Report. Mexico lags far behind China, India, Canada and five other nations for number of students at U.S. colleges and universities.

FAJER: Our counterpart is the Mexico Desk. Evan Ryan is the representative at the State Department who is responsible for promoting this mobility for FOBESII. She is the counterpart of my boss, who is the undersecretary for North American Affairs. There is also Kelly Keiderling who is at the DOS as well, involved in FOBESII. They work in the education and culture division at DOS. There is also the NSF (National Science Foundation), Dr. France Córdova, the director of NSF. FOBESII was launched formally two months ago in the presence of France Córdova from NSF, Secretary (John) Kerry and (Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs) Roberta Jacobson and Ricardo Zuniga from the White House. And from our side there was Secretary (José Antonio) Meade who is our foreign minister. There was Dr. (Enrique) Cabrero, who is the head of CONACYT, which is the counterpart of NSF and they there was Secretary (Emilio) Chuayffet, who is the secretary of education in Mexico. It’s very ambitious, but it’s really something that will change structurally the whole thing.

TBR: What is meant by mobility?

FAJER: Mobility is sending exchanges — students, academic, research exchanges. That means that we have to provide scholarships to send students from the universities here to the universities in the U.S. and the other way around because we are willing to receive 50,000 students from the U.S. to our universities. Because we have not just the food and the color and fun people, but also quality as well.

TBR: Are there plans to incorporate the “Dreamers,” the young migrants who are granted temporary stays of deportation in the U.S. into FOBESII?

FAJER: That’s part of the demographics, that’s part of the mobility that we are going to attract. We are planning to have a group of Dreamers coming to Mexico, meeting with the president and also to attract them to learn about Mexico because they don’t know Mexico. They know Mexico through the nostalgic view of their parents and grandparents. They are trained here they have been living here. But in Mexico you can get a lot of things, quality in education, culture. They left the country very small.

TBR: What is the role of FOBESII in improving North American value chains?

FAJER: Cadenas de valor. The value chains are very integrated between the U.S. and Mexico and Canada. One product can cross the borders eight times and actually a product can have 40 percent U.S. content and that’s important because when you are buying a product that very certainly will have 40 percent U.S. content, so you are buying part American. In terms of manufacturing we are doing well but we have to go beyond that, to design together, for instance, to be much more sophisticated and we need workforce to do that, we need training and we need to share the expertise.

Now we are sending 100 student entrepreneurs to Silicon Valley to get their training in entrepreneurship and in IT. That’s one example that FOBESII is allowing to happen.

Through FOBESII, one of the pillars is precisely to train the appropriate workforce to respond to the needs of the strategic sectors. According to our Secretary of energy, Mexico needs 40,000 engineers and we have to train them and the best place to train them is in the U.S. Fifty of the most important universities in the world are located here and we are friends, we are neighbors, we are partners, so it’s natural that we promote this.

study abroad, via FOBESII

FOBESII Mexican Consultation Group
Study abroad in the Americas, from the FOBESII report.

Obviously we have to work out several issues, visas, security concerns, in-state tuition or convenient costs, because it’s expensive to study in the U.S. That’s part of the discussions that are taking place. It’s happening.

TBR: How are these campus agreement being negotiated?

FAJER: You have the universities and the governments and the governments are facilitating the whole effort. What Consul Guillermo Ordorica (in Boise) is doing is facilitating ISU and UACJ talks, they agree on a pilot project and then it will just grow. It’s doable and it’s natural.

TBR: What are the strategic regional issues that are common to both nations?

FAJER: If you think about value chains, you can identify precise needs. For instance aerospace is one of the industries that are really strategic and it links the three countries, not just Mexico and the U.S., but also Canada. The plan will be to enlarge this strategy to include Canada. That is why we have a mechanism called NALS, North American Leaders Summit. Every year, the three leaders get together, the two presidents and the prime minister of Canada and one of the main objectives is to be more competitive, to make North America the most competitive region in the world. In order to be more competitive we have to work together more and we have to have the proper people, the trained people who will respond to the need for competitiveness. That is why we are working on the border issues, the regional issues, logistic corridors in order to be more efficient. Education is at the basis of all this.

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The views and opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of Boise State University or the School of Public Service.