Puentes UC: A bridge between university and society
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Universities have contributed to society in different ways. Public contributions constitute not only an opportunity to create public value in society, but also to strengthen the comprehensive education of students. The university's public contribution involves the creation of opportunities to link the available technical capacity with those real needs that can be adressed by the university.
Puentes (meaning 'bridge') UC is a program at the Catholic University of Chile, created in 2002. It has established a succesful model to link the university with local government, allowing students to develop academic projects that address pressing public challenges, as well as develop useful products for local government management.
The Puentes UC model of professional facilitation assists local governments to filter their demands, identifying those that present an appropriate opportunity for student involvement. Subsequently, Puentes UC invites students to develop projects which address these demands as part of their courses, internships or theses, and supports them during the execution of their projects. The program's management model works to ensure that local government receive useful technical proposals, and students benefit from a satisfying educational experience.
To date, 2,747 projects have been carried out in 23 municipalities, with the participation of 17,504 students and more than 300 academics.
The Puentes UC model, originally conceived of as a means to work with local governments near the university's campus, has been extended to rural municipalities in other regions of the country, and to new public institutions such as the Gendarmería (Chile's penitentiary service). The potential of this linking model has thus been demonstrated, and can be applied in new realms of cooperation between the university and society.
This article describes in detail the Puentes UC model, and its historical evolution. It then discusses outcomes and achievements, both for university and municipality, and provides some examples of completed projects. The final section analyses the most important learnings and challenges for the program.
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