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Plan Padrinos: Business Schools in Colombia Heed Call to Action

In a time of crisis, business school leaders in Colombia helped spearhead an effort to support other higher ed institutions' transition to online learning.

The COVID-19 pandemic presented an unprecedented challenge for the more than 300 institutions of higher education in Colombia. As the pandemic spread and the threat of a full shutdown loomed, many of the country’s universities grappled with their lack of preparation to transition from in-person to virtual learning. It seemed as though the academic year was doomed and the future was bleak.

But in an enviable example of agility and collaboration, some of Colombia’s top universities, represented by several AACSB member schools, and the country’s Ministry of Education put together “Plan Padrinos,” an initiative aimed at helping schools that lacked resources to continue operating in a virtual environment.

“It was a moment in which we all had to come together, put our differences aside, and get results for the sake of the students,” said Diego Mazo Cuervo, rector at Fundación Universitaria CEIPA in Medellín, and one of the first to propose the plan. “So it was our duty to collaborate on this program and get this program going. We weren’t going to let the coronavirus beat us.”

Aside from infrastructural challenges related to internet connectivity, especially in the rural regions of Colombia, many schools lacked basic online learning tools and, most important, trained faculty to use those tools effectively. Furthermore, much of the curriculum at many rural institutions was not designed for an online environment. Some schools had to scramble for funding to invest in the hardware they would need to make an orderly transition. But other, less tangible resources that could not be purchased, like experience and knowledge, were not readily available for many schools in the country.

Luis Fernando Pérez, Colombia’s deputy minister of education who oversees the higher education institutions and spearheaded the initiative on behalf of the government, explained that the concept was to get the bigger, more established institutions of higher learning to “sponsor” smaller schools with fewer resources so they could more effectively transition to an online environment; hence the name Plan Padrinos, which translates to “The Godfather Plan.”

“It is not business as usual when the government is asking academia to join forces in something like this, but I think we all have a sense of purpose, and our commitment is to education. So it was very satisfying to get such a positive response,” said Pérez during an AACSB Latin America and Caribbean webinar that took place in July.

Pérez said that the focus of the program was not only on rural institutions of higher learning but also on Colombia’s vocational and technical colleges, which rely heavily on experiential learning rather than in-classroom instruction.

Mazo Cuervo, from CEIPA, said that his school supported several universities in the Antioquia region and shared best practices as well as trained some of the faculty on how to implement virtual curriculum, and most importantly, to establish assurance of learning mechanisms.

For his part, Daniel Leal, from Universidad EAFIT in Medellín, which sponsored four schools in Cartagena, Ciénaga, Pasto, and Medellín, said the proposal was similar to condensing two years of planning into one month.

“We had to devise a curriculum, work with the institutions to assess what was needed, devise methods, train faculty. But in the end, we were able to put together a plan which impacted more than 17,000 students last semester, and more than 500 faculty received training that otherwise they wouldn’t have received,” said Leal, who is the director of EAFIT’s Center for Learning Excellence.

Plan Padrinos, thus far, has been a major success for Colombia’s higher education system. According to data from the Ministry of Education, around 126 universities and institutions of higher learning are participating in the program, which has impacted 62 percent of the country’s public universities. In total, 30 universities are serving as “allied universities.”

Mazo Cuervo feels the initiative has been a success, and, as a new academic year opens, he feels the institutions of higher learning in Colombia are in a much better position now than they were six months ago.

He remarks on the positive impact of the project, saying, “If there is a silver lining to this pandemic, it is that this opportunity has strengthened the bonds within Colombia’s system of higher education. We have come together as universities and answered the call and put education ahead of anything else.”


Javier Maymi-PerezJavier A. Maymí-Pérez is the manager of membership for Latin America and the Caribbean and is based in the Tampa, Florida, office.