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Franco-Mexican cooperation: 2016 off to a busy start

Between preliminary leads on scientific collaborations, plans for student exchanges, and other connections, the partnerships formed in 2015 between Sorbonne University and various Mexican institutions are starting to take shape. We review the goals and latest developments.

visuel unam

2015: two strategic agreements

Rapidly-growing Mexico has adopted a voluntary policy of looking abroad to strengthen its higher education and research sectors. France is one of its special partners in this effort, and Sorbonne University has chosen the country as one of its high-priority development regions, forming two strategic partnerships with Mexican institutions in 2015. 

The first aims to develop its scientific and educational cooperation with a prestigious institution, the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (Unam). The school is the largest and one of the best universities in Latin America, featuring top-notch laboratories, and is home to much of Mexico’s research capacity. 

The second agreement was signed with the Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnologia (Conacyt), the entity in charge of government research in Mexico, which will fund transfer grants for Mexican students writing their thesis at a Sorbonne University institution.

Key points


Mexico

120 million+ population, the world’s 15th-largest economy, and the second-largest in Latin America after Brazil

Franco-Mexican student exchanges

Third-most popular destination for Mexican students after the United States and Spain: France

Second-most foreign students in Mexico after the United States: France

Unam

More than 220,000 students at the undergraduate, master’s, and PhD levels

50% of Mexico’s research

One-third of the country’s scientific publications

Much older ties

The soil from which these two partnerships sprouted is especially fertile, given that some Sorbonne University members already had solid bilateral connections with Mexican institutions.

The Development Research Institute (IRD) has had a presence in Mexico for 40 years and has many scientific cooperation agreements with Unam (in ocean science, ecology, geophysics, biotechnology, chemistry, and the human and social sciences). In 2015, the IRD even opened an office on the Unam campus, which also represents Sorbonne University as a whole.

Meanwhile, UTC is a founding member of the first international Franco-Mexican mixed unit, Lafmia (the Franco-Mexican laboratory for computer science and automatics), which was created in 2008 and has two Mexican partners: the Instituto politécnico nacional and Conacyt.

In addition, some Sorbonne University institution researchers are already in contact with Mexican scientists. Researchers at Paris-Sorbonne and the Local Heritage & Governance mixed research unit (CNRS, IRD, MNHN), for example, are working with Unam anthropologists on the subject of diet.

2016: a series of scientific seminars

These preexisting connections facilitated the alliance between Sorbonne University and Unam.

In the first half of 2016, the two institutions held several interdisciplinary seminars. The most recent was a prospective workshop, “Climate change and transformations in society,” held in Mexico on June 13 and 14, which brought together researchers in the life sciences and social sciences from Unam, IRD (the sponsor of the initiative), CNRS, the National Museum of Natural History, and Paris-Sorbonne.

“Mexico is one of the most vulnerable regions in the world when it comes to erratic weather,” explains Alessandro Rizzo, representative of IRD and Sorbonne University at Unam. “The aim of the workshop was to identify potential areas for cooperation on issues related to the climate and reducing the risks of disaster. For example, we have considered forming a task force on climate change and its past, current, and future impacts, and creating an international summer school on the topic.”

On May 30-31, another seminar drew researchers in medicine, engineering, and the human and social sciences to Paris to discuss the topic of “Aging: mobility, autonomy, and adaptation.” Finally, on January 28-29, Sorbonne University and Unam held a seminar in Mexico, “Food cultures: transfers, evolutions, and health,” which attracted specialists in anthropology, geography, sociology, history, and integrative biology. The aim of these two events was again to foster the emergence of joint scientific and educational projects.

New possibilities: two master’s projects with Unam

As a result of these initial discussions, two master’s projects are currently being considered. The first involves creating a vision sciences program, supported by the Institute for Vision, within the master’s 2 in integrative biology and physiology (BIP) program at UPMC (1), and a matching program at Unam, which also has high-level laboratories in the field.

“The idea of cooperating with Unam in this area germinated several years ago, on the initiative of Alvaro Rendon, a professor emeritus of the Institute for Vision who is also Mexican,” explains Patricia Serradas, head of the BIP master’s program. “The partnership between Sorbonne University and Unam helped accelerate the process, and both programs may open in the fall of 2017. They will help increase student exchanges between our two universities.”

The second project in the works is an international master’s in the geography of food at both Paris-Sorbonne and Unam, based on the model of the master’s in diet and food cultures at Paris-Sorbonne.

(1) For now, vision science is an elective within the neuroscience program for the BIP master’s.

A UTC outpost in Mexico, and possible synergies with Unam

For its part, UTC is launching an initial two-year university program in the fall of 2016 at the Lycée Franco-Mexicain in Mexico, in partnership with the Instituto politécnico nacional (IPN). This program, identical to the one offered in Compiègne, is the first step in the UTC engineering program.

“With more and more French companies becoming increasingly active in Mexico, we need to train bicultural engineers and researchers,” explains Olivier Schoefs, Director of International Relations at UTC. “This project is not part of the partnership between Sorbonne University and Unam, but we wanted to integrate it into that partnership to create more opportunities for our students. After their two years in Mexico, they’ll be able to continue their studies at UTC or a partner university. Those already involved include IPN in Mexico, but we want it to include Unam as well. Eventually, we would like to strengthen our existing scientific collaborations with Unam and develop new ones. After all, if we want to attract UTC research professors to our Mexican location, they need to be able to continue their research there.”

Coming soon: the first Mexican PhD students in Paris

Finally, the agreement signed with Conacyt to fund Mexican students writing a thesis at Sorbonne University has also taken shape. In the Spring, UPMC proposed 17 thesis topics in a wide variety of fields ranging from ecology, biology, chemistry, and physics to engineering sciences. The first PhD students will arrive in the fall of 2016. 

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