Bright and talented students light up Latin America

A church in Salta

A church in Salta (Photo: Sandra Meiras)

By Sandra Meiras, Director International

At the Universidad de Chile recently, a young medical student talked me through her research into diseases of the gut and the molecular interactions going on inside our bodies.

She spoke with such clarity and skill that before she had finished I was mentally agreeing with her conclusions and marvelling at her ability to explain such a difficult subject to a non-expert.

The researcher is one of many bright and talented students to be found in Latin American universities who look set to make major contributions to their own countries and the world beyond.

In recent years the University of Sydney has expanded and diversified its links with Latin America. Our programs have focused on strengthening our research collaborations and increasing the opportunities for staff and student mobility.

Our efforts have been greatly helped by the Chilean Bicentennial Scholarships program and the Brazilian Science without Borders scholarships program, both excellent (and in the case of Chile, bipartisan) examples of government commitment to internationalising their tertiary education systems and preparing young people for life in a globalised world.

The emerging potential of countries like Brazil, Argentina and Chile was underlined when I visited the region recently with a delegation from the Sydney Medical School led by the Dean, Professor Bruce Robinson.

In all three countries we came across opportunities to advance our partnerships and develop programs that will encourage innovation, promote research and assist the development of specialist skills.

Our attention was focused on infectious diseases, and our team included Professor Cheryl Jones, an expert on infectious diseases in children, and Professor Jon Iredell, a specialist on antibiotic resistance.

The interest from Latin America was intense, opening up multiple possibilities for research collaboration. In Santiago de Chile we held a joint symposium with Universidad de Chile on infectious diseases, and in Valdivia the Sydney team met the Universidad Austral de Chile for an inaugural colloquium on medical and biomedical research.

We also had an opportunity to meet many talented students including 24 medical researchers at Universidad de Chile who gave presentations on their work.

In Brazil, the Universidad Federal do Rio Grande do Sul – one of Brazil's leading universities – boasts an impressive Faculty of Medicine, with a teaching hospital and highly capable medical students. They send and receive medical students from all over the world and are keen to link up with Sydney.

We also met up with partners from Universidad de Buenos Aires and Austral in Argentina. Towards the end of the trip I visited Salta, one of the most important historic provinces of Argentina. In the Cabildo, the original house of government which saw the birth of the democratic process in Argentina, several students were re-enacting political debates in one of its historic rooms. As Argentina celebrates 30 years of continuous democracy, it was a fitting place to end to my visit.