Cultural Diversity and Interculturality in Higher Education in Latin America




Información General


What is the Project on Cultural Diversity and Interculturality in Higher Education in Latin America and what has it accomplished since its creation?

The Project on Cultural Diversity and Interculturality in Higher Education in Latin America is a research project aimed at documenting and analyzing the experiences of higher education institutions (HEI) in Latin America that are committed to meeting the needs, demands and goals for higher education among indigenous and Afro-descendant communities.  The Project thereby seeks to lay the necessary groundwork to inform policy recommendations, generate criteria for the production of statistics and indicators on the field’s development, identify topics of interest for new research projects, and contribute to the development of sustainable collaboration mechanisms between the institutions studied and others with similar interests.   This IESALC Project was launched in July of 2007.  To date, it has seen the valuable collaboration of 56 researchers from 11 Latin American countries, whose work has been coordinated by Dr. Daniel Mato.

The Project has completed 2 stages of work and its third stage is currently under way.

As a result of the first stage, in 2008 the book Cultural Diversity and Interculturality in Higher Education: Experiences in Latin America was published. This book contains 36 case studies; the majority of these focus on the description and analysis of specific HEI experiences in eleven Latin American countries while a few examine a group of interrelated experiences.  One of the studies has a regional scope as it describes and analyzes salient aspects of the context within which these experiences take place, points out distinctive elements of the main types of such experiences, and systematizes in an aggregate manner notable accomplishments as well as the main obstacles and challenges encountered.

Two types of mutually complementary objectives oriented the Project’s second stage, which began in August of 2008.  Each focused on a research project that subsequently yielded the publication of a concomitant book conveying the results obtained.

One of the research projects in the second stage addressed the interest in a deeper analysis of some important matters that the first stage was able to touch upon only briefly.  One of these, for example, was the particularities, obstacles and challenges inherent to the processes of building intercultural institutions of higher education (HEII), which was the main focus of the second volume, published in 2009, titled Intercultural Institutions of Higher Education in Latin America: Building Processes, Accomplishments, Innovations and Challenges.  This second book contains a set of eight essays that analyze the experiences of specific HEII (in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico and Nicaragua), which are preceded by an introductory study of a regional scope.  In addition to situating these experiences in the broader framework of the field in Latin America, the introductory study elaborates on the particularities of this set of experiences, their accomplishments, innovations and challenges; it also examines how its development and projection, according to each case, are conditioned by existing regulations as well as by prevailing elements of institutional, academic and professional cultures.   The main characteristic that all eight experiences studied in this second book have in common, and which sets them apart from the majority of the remaining cases studied in the first phase, is that these are institutions that intended by design and from their inception to address the demands and objectives for higher education among indigenous communities in Latin America, even though all of them are also open to students from other social groups.

The other research project in this second stage had a different, yet convergent, goal from the other two projects described above.  This research focus yielded a third book for the Project, also published in 2009, titled Higher Education, Intercultural Collaboration and Sustainable Development/ Living Well: Experiences in Latin America.[i] This project sought to identify and describe the principal modalities of intercultural collaboration of different types of HEI with communities and/or organizations of indigenous peoples, through which a variety of objectives are successfully addressed such as the improvement of the quality of life of these peoples alongside the training of professionals and technicians that meet these communities’ needs and/or goals.  Thus, these are not the typical extension experiences in the most conventional historic sense of the concept. In order to produce information about this particular field of experiences, the Project proactively issued an Open Call to register experiences by Higher Education Institutions geared to the study and application of ethnic or local knowledge to local development and/or improvement of the quality of life of the participating populations.  To this end, the Project also created and disseminated a Registration Form containing around twenty questions geared to aiding in the effort of “mapping” the field and subsequently of characterizing the types of experiences within it.

Additionally, during this second stage the Regional Workshop on Cultural Diversity and Interculturality in Higher Education in Latin America was conducted in the city of Belo Horizonte, Brazil on August 6 and 7, 2009.  The participants of this workshop resolved to create the Forum for the Promotion of Cultural Diversity and Interculturality with Equity in Higher Education in Latin America.

In response to this recommendation, IESALC created the Observatory on Cultural Diversity and Interculturality in the online forum Latin America and the Caribbean Area for Higher Education, ENLACES --which thus contains the Observatory. The goal of ENLACES is to become a platform for collaboration among intercultural institutions of Higher Education, especially those that support the development of academic programs aimed at acknowledging and valuing cultural diversity and promoting the development of interculturally equitable HEI and societies.

The Project’s third stage, currently under way, comprises five elements:

  • Strengthening the Observatory on Cultural Diversity and Interculturality by equipping the Forum to be an exchange and education network that enables members to work together and that disseminates and promotes research exercises that facilitate shared readings on shared and/or common issues. This component also seeks to implement follow up mechanisms on inclusion processes and experiences of interculturality with equity in Higher Education within Latin America.
  • Supporting the creation and reinforcement of research programs and projects and/or of those promoting good living carried out by HEII and/or units of “conventional” HEI with indigenous and/or Afro-descendant communities that include the participation and knowledge of these communities.  This will be accomplished through a Funding Competition to finance these types of programs and projects.
  • Conducting a study about public policies on higher education, science and technology, and innovation and their relationship to HEII and programs that promote cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue, paying special attention to the obstacles HEII face as they are established and then function and develop in their particular country’s context of regulations and public policy.  The results from this study will be conveyed in the Project’s fourth book.
  • Supporting the development of programs of study of Higher Education intercultural institutions (HEII) and of programs/projects of other institutions of Higher Education (HEI) collaborating interculturally with indigenous and Afro-descendant communities and which have a favorable impact on the improvement of these communities’ quality of life.   This objective will be accomplished through proposals that are currently in the design stage led by a Task Force constituted by specialists on the matter and with concrete interaction in different types of experiences in intercultural Higher Education.
  • Supporting the organization of academic and administrative management processes of theHEII and of the intercultural programs/projects within HEI.

For more information, please write to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or contact Jessica Gerdel via email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

[i] Based on the idea that society flourishes through a fundamental equilibrium among people and of people with the environment, the concept of “living well” is an integral part of the principles and practices of various indigenous peoples throughout Latin America (some of its variants are, for example, suma qamaña for the Aymara in Bolivia, sumaq kawsay for the Quichua in Ecuador, and ñande reko for the Guaraní people). An alternative to dominant Western paradigms of development, this perspective approaches the idea of development as a sense of engagement of the individual, and in a broader sense of cultures, with society and nature, which is understood as an integral element of life in society. Quality of life is thereby measured in terms of cooperative interaction between the human beings and their cultures and of these with the environment.  Within this framework, the diverse variants of the concept encompass the formulation of dynamic networks aimed at fostering democratic relations that promote reciprocity and harmonious coexistence, thereby ensuring the sustainability of both society and the environment.

Of Interest



Iniciativa Latinoamericana por la Diversidad Cultural y la Interculturalidad con Equidad en Educación Superior (2012)

Bajelo Aquí








Educación Superior y Pueblos Indígenas y Afrodescendientes en América Latina. Normas, Políticasy Prácticas. 2da. edición

Bajelo Aquí


Educación Superior y Pueblos Indígenas y Afrodescendientes en América Latina. Normas, políticas y prácticas (2012)

Bajelo Aquí


Educación Superior, Colaboración Intercultural y Desarrollo Sostenible/Buen Vivir. Experiencias en América Latina (2009)

Bajelo Aquí

Instituciones Interculturales de Educación Superior en América Latina. Procesos de Construcción, logros, innovaciones y desafíos (2009)

Bajelo Aquí


Diversidad Cultural e Interculturalidad en Educación Superior. Experiencias en América Latina (2008)

Bajelo aquí



Otros Documentos

Declaración de Belo Horizonte (2009)

Bajelo aquí.


Recomendaciones para el Establecimiento del Foro Regional para la Diversidad Cultural y la Promoción de la Interculturalidad en Educación Superior (2009)

Bajelo aquí.


Presentación del Proyecto en el IV Encuentro de Redes Universitarias y Consejos de Rectores de América Latina y el Caribe (2011)

Bajelo aquí.