ORT Uruguay’s astonishing success


It has been a long, hard struggle for ORT Uruguay to become the internationally respected university that it is “モ but its quest to be best is getting easier, says its Director General, Charlotte de Grunberg. “We have had to overcome considerable prejudice: that we’re “リtoo’ technological, and for being private in a country where by tradition there was only one university “モ we had everything against us,”? Professor de Grunberg said.

But the university, which officially broke the state monopoly on further education in 1995, is now counted among the world’s top 500 tertiary institutions; the number of PhDs on faculty has increased by at least 20 per cent over the past four years, and it now has some 10,000 Jewish and non-Jewish students, an increase of 15 per cent since 2008; a United Nations study showed that half of all the computer-related workers in Uruguay were trained by ORT.

“The struggle has been harsh “モ but it’s getting easier,”? she said.

Emblems of the university’s seemingly inexorable rise were on display this week as World ORT Director General and CEO Robert Singer made his first visit there in four years.

In a whistle-stop tour of the campus, Mr Singer saw samples of work done by undergraduates of Latin America’s only Animation and Videogames degree course and met the continent’s first group of Chinese exchange students to learn there under a landmark agreement signed with Harbin Normal University.

On display, were first-hand insights into the unique contribution to Uruguayan economic development made by the university’s biotechnology department and attended the formal inauguration of the new library serving the architecture, management, economics and international relations departments at the Pocitos campus.

“Being aware of the extraordinary development which ORT Uruguay University has undergone cannot prepare you for seeing the results with your own eyes. Theirs has been an astonishing achievement in introducing new, innovative and productive learning, research and capability of a high, and increasing, quality to the benefit of Uruguay in particular and South America as a whole,”? World ORT Representative in Latin America Isidoro Gorodischer said.

Mr Singer was particularly impressed on meeting a group of 45 students from China’s Harbin Normal University who are near the end of a two-year stint learning Spanish at ORT, the result of Uruguay’s first international student exchange programme. The students made a presentation, in English, of their hometown’s Jewish history “モ it was once home to some 15,000 Russian Jews and was where former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was born.

“This programme could be a bridge between Uruguay and China and between the Jewish people and the Chinese people,”? Mr Singer told the group.

During his stay in Montevideo, Mr Singer met the Israeli Ambassador, Dori Goren, the President of the Central Jewish Committee of Uruguay, Roberto Cyjon, and President of ORT Uruguay, Rafael Rosenberg.

Uruguay’s Minister for Education and Culture, Dr Ricardo Ehrlich also took the opportunity to meet with Mr Singer. Dr Ehrlich was at ORT Uruguay in 2010 for the inauguration of the university’s first degree course in biotechnology “モ a pioneering development which necessitated significant public investment in the creation of a suitably equipped laboratory.

The biotechnology department currently has four on-going funded research projects, three of them undertaken in collaboration with leading biotech companies, and has built close links with world class scientists such as Cambridge University’s Herchel Smith Professor of Biochemistry, Peter Leadlay, and Professor Frank Schulz at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Physiology.

Exciting work is also being done by students at the digital animation department, the only one of its kind in South America. The department benefits from a collaboration agreement ORT Uruguay reached with the prestigious California Institute of the Arts in 2009.

“These are emblematic of our success,”? said ORT Uruguay University Rector Dr Jorge Grunberg. “Biotech and digital animation are completely new disciplines for Uruguay and highly exceptional in Latin America. They illustrate our strategy: not to duplicate degrees that others offer, such as law, but to innovate.”?

An export-oriented agricultural sector contributes 10 per cent of Uruguayan Gross Domestic Product but the value of these commodities could be increased with the application of biotechnological expertise.

“There is nothing wrong with being an agricultural producer if you work at the high value end of the market,”? Dr Grunberg said. “If you have the best vaccines, the best seeds, the best technology for trackable cattle collars and for genetically modified food “モ that’s where the value is… Biotechnology has a future: it can become an export industry in its own right in the medium to long term.”?

Digital animation is key to an ever increasing number of economically significant applications “モ from movies to advertising, video games and on-line games, mobile telephones and digital television.

“The main stumbling block to the development of Latin America’s incipient digital animation industry is the lack of suitably qualified professionals. So this is our contribution to a whole new industry: we’re helping to train a whole new workforce and this is what ORT has been all about since its founding in 1880.”?