BROWNSVILLE, RGV – The U.S. does one million dollars of trade per minute with Mexico but when it comes to student, professor and research exchanges the relationship is weak, says Mexico’s Consul to Brownsville.

Rodolfo Quilantán Arenas says that to help rectify this, and to assist a federal policy initiative signed by Presidents Obama and Peña Nieto last year, the UT System and UT-RGV will be signing a Memorandum of Understanding with leading higher education institutions in Mexico at a ceremony in Brownsville in a couple of months.

This week, Dr. Randall Charbeneau, an assistant vice chancellor at the UT System and Dr. Fredrick Jenet, director of Advanced Radio Astronomy (CARA) at the UT-Brownsville are in Mexico City to prepare the groundwork for the MOU. They are meeting with representatives from 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) help implement the Bilateral Forum of Higher Education, Innovation and Research (FOBESII) signed by Obama and Peña Nieto in Mexico City in May 2013.

Dr. Jenet, specifically, wants to foster better relationships with higher education institutions in Mexico in readiness for the building of the SpaceX commercial rocket launching site in Brownsville.

“Mexico has an extraordinary commercial and economic relationship with the United States, one of the most important in the world, but the relationship on education and research is far too low,” said Quilantán Arenas, in an exclusive interview with RGV Public Radio and the Rio Grande Guardian.

“Both presidents, Enrique Peña Nieto and Barack Obama agreed in May last year, in Mexico City, that if we want North America to be the most competitive and economic global region in the world we need to improve education and research collaboration.”

Rodolfo Quilantán Arenas, Consul of Mexico in Brownsville.
Rodolfo Quilantán Arenas, Consul of Mexico in Brownsville.

In his interview, Quilantán Arenas spoke about the visit to Mexico City by UT System and UTB administrators and educators. “They are going to sign a letter of intent to set up all the basics in order to sign, in two months, and MOU in Brownsville in the presence of the new president of UT-RGV (Guy Bailey) and maybe the chancellor of the UT System, Francisco Cigarroa, before he leaves office. Under this MOU, Mexican universities will be able to send students, professors and researchers to U.S. universities in order to help in attaining the particular challenge set by presidents Peña Nieto and Obama the having 100,000 students in an exchange program by the year 2018.”

Quilantán Arenas gave an example of how pitifully low the number of student exchanges is between the U.S. and Mexico. He said South Korea, which has a population less than half the size of Mexico, sends far, far, more of its students to the U.S. than Mexico does. South Korea has a population of 50 million people and sends 70,000 students a year to the U.S. Mexico has a population of 114 million people and only sends 14,000 students a year to the U.S. The U.S. only sends about 4,000 students a year to Mexico.

The accord signed by Obama and Peña Nieto calls for 100,000 Mexican students to be studying in the U.S. and 50,000 U.S. students to be studying in a Mexico by 2018.

Jenny LaCoste-Caputo, executive director of public affairs, said the UT System will make a statement about the student exchange program once Dr. Charbeneau returns from Mexico City.