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Social movements have transformed reality

Could you imagine a university where the students learn many languages and professors are not only devoted to the intellectual production of Nasa, Guambiano, Yanacona, Coconuco, Ambalueño, Embera iapidara, Polindara and Inga indigenous communities but also of mestizos and people of other ethnicities? An institution with a pluriverse education model, which allowed students (indigenous and mestizo) to have access to knowledge and knowledge dialogue to live in harmony with Mother Earth, agriculture, healthcare and traditional knowledge?

Surely this university is not found in traditional classrooms but in open fields, where it turns into a learning space. This is how suggestive the indigenous educational system idea is; a study case of Andrés Felipe Mora’s Universidad Nacional de Colombia (UNal) Political Studies and Foreign Relationships Doctoral thesis project, over the incidence and transforming potential of experiences such as UAIIN and the Colombian student movement between 1998 and 2014.

Deeply transforming the “university” as an institution inherited from Colonial times is the idea of the indigenous people of the Province of Cauca. This university is the basis to consolidate a proper indigenous educational system; UAIIN is innovative and represents the emancipation which not only resists extermination processes and coloniality, produced since the time of the Spanish conquest but also contradicts the effect provoked by the ruling economic model.

Similarly, in 2011, MANE as a social movement questioned the rigor of Law 30 of 1992 (which organized higher education) due to the lack of correspondence amongst its ordinances over funding, autonomy and welfare and the new realities of higher education. For this it produced a “student movement minimal program” which included:

  • Funding, democracy, and autonomy
  • Welfare
  • Academic quality
  • Democratic freedoms
  • Strengthening of the relationship between the university and society 


The research process for Mora’s doctoral thesis entitled, “Social policy and social transformation: Justice and social movements in higher education in Colombia 1998-2014,” took several stages: documentary analysis, participating observation, semi-structured interviews, and fieldwork. During the interviews, the term interculturality appeared and is now used by the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC, for its Spanish acronym). “It is about beginning with knowing of self and integrating knowledge externally.” This is the difference with etnoeducation, where Indians perceive it as “conceded from power.” “In face of the differences with their white educators, Indians begin to create their own educational system,” says Mora.

“It is different to have a right conceded than to earn it with your own battles. Indians begin to recover their own language and ancestral knowledge both in medicine as in economical and communitarian management. As a consequence of this, UAIIN was conceived in 1995, with the participation of nine indigenous tribes, each one with its own language and traditions and with the purpose of recovering all this knowledge, which process requires much research,” added Mora.

According to Mora, the indigenous people hope than any mestizo or from other ethnicities can go to this university to achieve a co-transformation of those who are different. This co-transformation means a change of community, horizontally, and not an imposition of ones over the others. There are several indigenous universities in Latin America, such as in Bolivia and Peru, but they are private and are for Indians for Indians, therefore interculturality is not very clear.

One of the contributions of this research project is to make the Indians from Cauca visible by creating at least 12 higher education academic programs (including a master’s program), incorporating 1400 students of which almost 900 have graduated. Also, 55% of the professors are Indians and 45% mestizo with experience and education in indigenous processes and specializations required such as language, history, anthropology, pedagogy, and worldview.

The power of students

In Colombia, the processes of student movements have helped to contain the abuse of power of the university reform of 2012, stemming from the Chilean model which was already in crisis. Among the achievements of MANE is the capability to organize and oppose the government and express the need of the student population to offset exclusion and social inequity.

The thesis project studies how the student movement and UAIIN tried to overcome the exclusions and inequality situations induced by social class relationships, ethnical pertinence, gender, regional origin, international dependence, impairment, and epistemicide.

“What I wanted was to try to establish when social policy can be transforming. For this, I want to see how theory allows understanding of the processes of exclusion and inequality. We need to establish a difference between change and social transformation. Change improves the situation without solving the structural causes of inequality while transformation shows how to overcome the situations of inequality for which people are at a disadvantage in face of others. Transformation is linked to collective action, while change is related to personal merit,” said Mora.

 “Society is what produces these disadvantages, not the individual, as we are led to believe. The big question is: What to do with societies which produce poor people? A possible response would be “change in itself coincides with a change in condition.”

According to UNal Professor and Mora’s Thesis Director Leopoldo Múnera, along with professor Matthieu de Nanteuil of the Universidad Católica de Lovaina, “The doctoral thesis of Mora has a more systemic and rigorous study of the social policy than ever before done in Colombia in the first 15 years of the twenty-first century. Furthermore, from a theoretical and interpretative framework over the relationship between justice and social change, which is innovative among a social sciences standpoint and great heuristic wealth, it analyzes the transforming potential of social movements such as that of MANE or societies such as that of the Inter-Cultural Indigenous Autonomous Universityof Cauca”.

Read the thesis its entirety in Spanish here

Listen to this radio program again (in Spanish) on the web page of UN Radio

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