MEXICO CITY — Mexico wants its future entrepreneurs to speak English, and it’s looking to Tucson to help teach them.
In the next two years, Mexico plans to send more than 30,000 more students to study in the U.S. And Mexican leaders may do more to recruit professors and students from the United States.
Representatives from Tucson met with federal officials in Mexico City last week to ensure the University of Arizona and Pima Community College are on their radar.
Martha Navarro Albo, deputy director of academic cooperation for the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the country has sent about 70,000 students to U.S. schools in the past two years as part of the national 100,000 Strong Educational Exchange Initiative, of which she is the coordinator. The most pressing issue, she said, is for the students to become bicultural and bilingual.
“Less than 1 percent of the youth in Mexico speaks English,” Navarro said. “That is a concern.”
Exposure to the growing tech startup models in the U.S. could encourage students to think beyond jobs assembling widgets or components for foreign manufacturers operating in Mexico, such as the automobile and aerospace industries.
“The socializing is an important component” to sending students to the U.S., Navarro said. “Our goal is to promote new ideas in them.”
If finances are a barrier to students living abroad, officials proposed that PCC and UA bring professors to Mexico to help with English skills.
Salvador Jara Guerrero, Mexico’s undersecretary of higher education, said the two countries should explore a dual-degree program, where students could get 60 percent of their academics in Mexico and 40 percent in the U.S. He also suggested U.S. students studying in Mexico could have the positive effect of introducing the language to peers.
“We are exploring interest in such a partnership,” PCC Chancellor Lee Lambert said. He said the college has received about 150 students from Mexico in the past three years and hopes to increase that number each semester.
In a meeting with Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, Mexico’s undersecretary for North America, Paulo Carreño King, said internships and twin workforce programs need to be implemented between Tucson and Mexico. He noted that Texas and California both have cross-border education initiatives.
Rothschild told him the university is conducting a search for a new president and that expanding south will be a priority for the new person.
“That is good,” Carreño said. “Tucson is in my heart; it was the first U.S. city I ever visited.”
His father’s family is from Hermosillo, and his grandparents have a home in Tucson.
“I am quite familiar,” Carreño said. “Tucson and Mexico share a long relationship, and there’s still room to grow and improve.”
Mexico has made increasing the number of engineering graduates a national priority, but officials say they need to have a reason to stay in Mexico and not seek employment abroad.
Between 2006 and 2012, Mexico built 140 new universities with 120 of them dedicated to the science of engineering, according to the report, “Engineering and Economic Growth: A Global View.”
From 2008 to 2012, Mexico tripled the number of engineering graduates to 71,300, or 0.06 percent of the population, compared with 0.04 percent in the U.S., the report shows.