Building a top technical university in Uruguay

2 May 2018

In a short time the Fray Bentos campus of the Technical University of Uruguay (UTEC) has become a modern seat of learning attracting students from all over the country.

“Knowledge is the fuel of the 21st century. I am convinced that the short term and long term development of Uruguay depends on knowledge-based exchange between high quality education and modern industrial production,” says Rodolfo Silveira, Director of UTEC.

Inaugurated in 2015, UTEC Fray Bentos is the most modern technical university campus in Uruguay specialising in mechatronics, renewable energies, information technology and biomedicine. UPM has been cooperating with the university from its early days.

In its first year there were only 45 undergraduates, but today it hosts over 1,000 students from all over of the country.

“We want to educate innovative people who are capable of changing the future of Uruguay. That’s why we have a strong emphasis on research and development,” Silveira says.

UTEC is developing its academic activities in close collaboration with the UPM Fray Bentos pulp mill.

“We are grateful to have such an important international company located here in Fray Bentos developing an industrial field that did not exist in Uruguay before. UPM is not only creating economic value but also demonstrating new skills that are necessary to be able to succeed in the 21st century,” Silveira adds.

Changing the river flow

“Traditionally, young people had to move to the capital Montevideo to study, and that was an economic challenge for many of them. Nowadays they can complete a university degree in their home region and stay close to their families,” explains Matias Martinez, UPM’s Communications Manager in Uruguay.

“UPM’s cooperation with UTEC demonstrates the company’s long term commitment to Uruguay and education. The collaboration is an advantage for UPM because we need a trained workforce but also skilled people for the future of the company,” he continues.

“Developing education is the best method to improve the standard of living in the region. Engagement is another way to share the profits of major scale industrial activity not only among local communities but also the whole country.”

UTEC’s new campus is located next to the Frigorífico Anglo, a historic former meat factory on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Thanks to the university, the formerly remote village is gradually transforming itself into a dynamic university town.

“Now the river is flowing backwards, as we have students coming from as far as Montevideo to live and study here in Fray Bentos. The increasing number of young people has a positive impact on city life. Our service sector is developing rapidly with new restaurants and bars, so we have a very lively, dynamic ambience here,” says Martinez.

UPM teaching team

UPM encourages its personnel to cooperate and share their knowledge with UTEC students.

“About 10 to 15 of us, mainly trained engineers from UPM and our partner companies operating on the site, are also teaching at UTEC. The collaboration is very important for the university because otherwise it would be difficult to get qualified full-time professors living and working in Fray Bentos,” says Santiago Tucci.

Tucci is senior project and maintenance engineer at the UPM Fray Bentos mill. He has a comprehensive view of the industry as he has been working for UPM since construction began at the site in 2006.

“At UTEC I teach electronics to first and second year students. My professional background is very much related to these subjects.”

At least once a year students come to the mill to complete work experience and apply their theoretical training in practice.

“The cooperation between UTEC and UPM Fray Bentos offers students a comprehensive view of highly developed industrial processes, technology and our working environment. We have few industrial facilities where it is possible to gain hands-on experience of maintenance technology. For technicians, this is a dream opportunity to discover and train for their future career,” he explains.

Most UTEC students are recent graduates of high schools or technical schools from different parts of the countryside and the capital.

Depending on their career, the students can become technologists or technicians or receive a bachelor’s degree. The first generation of UTEC students will complete their degree in spring 2018.

“After the degree, they can continue their studies to become engineers or start their professional career. They will have an excellent education and an opportunity to start working in any industrial field in Uruguay,” Tucci adds.

“UTEC is an important step promoting technical education. We have more modern training laboratories and facilities than any other technical university or school in Uruguay.”

Promoting equal opportunities

Giovanni Montini, 18, grew up in the countryside and has always been interested in machines and automation. At UTEC he is studying mechatronics.

“The subject is a fascinating combination of mechanics, electricity, automation, computers and also robots. I’m interested in both technology and design. Later I would like to complete a postgraduate degree in agroindustry in Germany, the homeland of technology.”

Victoria Pereira, 24, comes from Cerro Colorado, Florida. She has been studying at the university for the past 18 months.

“I have always been interested in mechanics but nowadays the career of a mechanic is totally different from what I know from my village. We are used to fixing old lorries like Leylands from 1952 or Fords from the 1980s. Nowadays cars are mainly automated, so to become a mechanic you have to study mechatronics,” she explains.

“In our country, agriculture is the most important production sector. To develop our industry, we need professionals with an academic background. Machines are becoming more sophisticated all the time, so we need educated people to take care of them.”

Joaquín Quinteros, 30, has been working at the UPM Fray Bentos pulp plant for roughly 10 years. Now he is tackling a new challenge by completing a degree in mechatronics at UTEC. “Mechatronic studies are directly relevant to the production processes at the plant, which involve mechanics, systems and automation,” he says.

Quinteros says that UPM has played an important role in the technological development of Uruguay over the past decade. “We have progressed a lot in technology and work safety issues but also in industrial processes. In this respect, I believe that UPM is making a valuable contribution through UTEC as well.”

Vesa Puoskari

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