I write from Colombia where this week I led a delegation from the Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences to visit international colleagues at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia (UNAL) in Bogota. With staff from our Departments of Education, Psychology, PoLIS and Health we used the visit to strengthen ties and to seek opportunities to collaborate and broadcast shared research and teaching agendas. As one of the University strategic partners, a visit to UNAL has been a great opportunity to view the many changes that are happening within Colombia.
These changes are dominated by the peace agreement between the Colombian Government and the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) signed in 2016 following the rejection of a peace deal in a national referendum in the Summer. At the same time, as a middle income country with considerable historical socio-economic cleavages between the rich and poor, urban and rural, as well as ideological divides between Left and Right, Colombia has a great opportunity for change but many challenges that may take as long to fix as they have been around.
Celebrating its 150th anniversary in the same year that the University of Bath is celebrating its 50th anniversary, UNAL is the largest university in Colombia with 8 campuses and 2 research stations throughout the country. The delegation from Bath met with UNAL colleagues at the Human Sciences Faculty and the Medical Sciences Faculty.
In the Human Sciences Faculty, Jorge Marco and I met colleagues working with the FARC camps and local communities, focusing on communication, education and local approaches to peace-making. Santiago Sanchez, Trevor Grimshaw and Andres Sandoval from our Department of Education, met colleagues in the Institute for Education and the Departments of Linguistics and Modern Languages.
In the Medical Sciences Faculty, Jo Cranwell, Nikki Caghill and Abby Tabor from the Department for Health and Sally Adams from the Department of Psychology met with UNAL researchers working on the public health challenges facing Colombia, particularly in the area of tobacco and alcohol control, inequalities in health, and pain research.
Furthermore, several colleagues met with researchers from the Departments of Electrical Engineering, Physics and Chemical Engineering to look at the ways the University are seeking to overcome some of the technological challenges of the war, such as identifying and destroying landmines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
The delegation also took part in a Development and Alumni Relations event on 29 March which included alumni, current placement students, prospective students, and local researchers as well as guests from local businesses and the British Embassy in Colombia. Trevor Grimshaw and Santiago Sanchez showcased their current research on global English and inequalities in Education.
Overall, the Delegation came away with two points. The first is that researchers are doing very interesting and relevant work in applied research on many of the problems that face Colombia but are by all means not limited to Colombia. The second is that the post-conflict environment represents a much more complex period as the problems of inequalities, land ownership and use, education and public health, which were often grievances in the civil war, are now facing the Colombian government and society with a legacy longer than the war itself. UNAL, as well as other universities in Colombia, has been invited to play a key role in attempting to overcome these challenges and the University of Bath has much to offer and gain from this process of social transition and peace building.
My thanks to the UNAL Department of External Relations who helped make the trip possible, and to University of Bath International Relations Office and the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences.