BROWNSVILLE, RGV – Today, Dr. Randall Charbeneau, Assistant Vice Chancellor of the University of Texas System and Dr. Fredrick Jenet, Director of the UTB-Center for Advanced Radio Astronomy (CARA) are in Mexico City, to discuss with its Mexican counterparts international cooperation on the Bilateral Forum of Higher Education, Innovation and Research (FOBESII), a program announced on May 2013 by presidents Enrique Peña Nieto and Barack Obama.

Through FOBESII, Mexico and the U.S. agreed that higher education, innovation and research are a key driving force which will promote human resources and economic development to ensure that both nations can compete globally, making North America more competitive. FOBESII is a top priority on the bilateral relation, because the level of academic, technical and scientific exchange between both countries cannot be compared with the intensity of its trade and political relationship (In 2013 the total trade between Mexico and the U.S. reached 507 billion dollars, averaging about one billion a day, representing one million dollars per minute).

Mexico with its 116 million inhabitants only sends 14,000 students a year to the U.S. and 4,000 US students take courses for academic credit in Mexico each year. To put it into perspective, Mexico ranks 9th as a country of origin for international students in the U.S. below countries such as South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan and Vietnam. In the U.S., Mexico ranks 13th as a destination country and 4th in Latin America, after Costa Rica, Argentina and Brazil. India and China, the most populated countries in the world, send 100,000 and 200,000 students per year to the US, respectively. These numbers also become a concern when compared with a staggering 72,000 students South Korea sends to the U.S. each year having a total population of 50 million.

Within the framework of FOBESII, Dr. Charbeneau and Dr. Jenet support the objectives of the Mexican proposal, Proyecta 100,000, that sets the goal of sending 100,000 Mexican students to study in the US and 50,000 students to study in a Mexico by 2018. This program complements the initiative by president Obama called 100,000 Strong in the Americas which seeks to send 100,000 students to study at Latin America universities and vice versa.

Dr. Charbeneau and Dr. Jenet will gather with representatives of the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, Instituto Politecnico Nacional, Instituto de Astrofisica, Optica y Electronica, Agencia Espacial Mexicana and CONACYT (National Council of Science and Technology). The academics seek to promote cooperation between the University of Texas System and Mexican universities to substantially increase student mobility and academic exchanges. Additionally, due to the arrival of SPACEX, the California-based Space Exploration Technologies Corporation new private launch site at Brownsville, Texas, they want to identify and to develop short and long term shared visions in the areas of what is called STEM education and research, commercial development, training and education on space exploration.

The University of Texas System – one of the highest quality public university systems in the U.S., with its nine universities, six health institutions and world class faculty members – shares Mexico’s vision that collaboration on higher education, innovation and research are key priorities to build a competitive and prosperous region that highlights knowledge as a strategic factor for integration. The creation of the new U.T. System university in the Rio Grande Valley is an adequate response to integrate the needs of the rapidly growing tech sector in the valley, particularly the needs of SPACEX.

Doctor Jenet expressed to me that the timing couldn’t be better to obtain a partnership that will allow CARA to welcome Mexican students into the space science programs, near and deep space exploration, and research and technology development. I undoubtedly agree with him and I hope that academic exchanges and student mobility between the U.T. System and Mexican universities increase in a substantial manner.

Rodolfo Quilantan-Arenas is Consul of Mexico in Brownsville.