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. Forty years later, he is now in Finland again thanks to a co-operation agreement signed between UTEC and UPM for the construction of Uruguay’s Southwest Regional Technological Institute (RTI).
Following the agreement signed in February 2015, RTI opened its doors to students this spring in Fray Bentos. The co-operation 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.
The RTI will have the capacity to accommodate 2,000 students from the south-western coastal region of Uruguay.
“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 RTI 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 RTI courses. “Research projects and product development in co-operation 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 RTI started at the end of January 2016. Currently, the RTI has over 80 students studying mechatronics. By 2017, UTEC plans to expand its educational offering in Fray Bentos with new careers such as Biomedical Engineering and Information Technologies.
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 three-year plan of activities was agreed with these universities. As a result of this collaboration, Innovation Week took place in Uruguay in August 2016 with the participation of Finnish lecturers. “We need more innovators and entrepreneurs to facilitate mobility between different degree offerings,” explains Silveira. The first Finnish tutors started working at RTI in April.
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 co-operation works, people will respond in a positive way. The natural course of evolution is to move forward. I believe that this co-operation policy will contribute to improving the quality of life in the region, not only in Fray Bentos,” he concludes.
The unique location of RTI 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 the First and Second World Wars.
Founding of Technological University of Uruguay is part of UPM’s ”Biofore Share and Care” programme. The programme focuses on projects that are relevant to both UPM’s business and responsibility goals. The focus areas are: Reading & Learning, Engaging with communities, Responsible water use and Boosting bioinnovations.