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Mexico’s first public bilingual university, which teaches many of its subjects in English, is seeing student success stories right across the board. Students who enrol at The Universidad Tecnologica el Retoño in the city of Aguascalientes are often from low-income backgrounds but through the university’s strong mobility programme they regularly go on to take courses in places as far away as Germany, Canada and the US. What are the secrets behind this success? Michel Valencia, who is head of the language department at the university, attributes it to a variety of factors - one of which is the university’s strong focus on English. She says: ‘Learning English gives students a different mindset. They get a better job or a better salary, but also see another way of living’.
Founded in 2012, the institution is Mexico’s first public bilingual university. It uses a number of English tests from Cambridge University Press & Assessment. They took this decision because as Valencia puts it ‘Cambridge is widely recognised and open doors in Mexico.’ This includes using Cambridge’s rapid AI powered online English test Linguaskill which they started using in 2018 to test students’ English progress before they graduate.
Central to the university’s approach is a model known as BIS or bilingual, international and sustainable. Through this model they teach a range of subjects in English including information and communication technologies, engineering and business marketing. It is a model that Valencia says helps students in Mexico get ready to face the new globalised world. ‘Very few people speak English here in Mexico,’ explains Valencia. ‘So what we're trying to do is to make our students more eligible for employability and help them be more international by not only speaking another language, but also by boosting cultural understanding.’ Interestingly she says that in the past, students saw English very much as an alternative but now it is a must.
Once students start their first term, only two of the subjects are taught in English, and this builds up to four in their second term. Cambridge products are used throughout the programme which Valencia says is designed to constantly test students’ English ‘just to make sure they’re really learning!’ Students are assessed at two main points in their journey. At the start of university they take the Cambridge placement test and the end their terms they are also tested to check their progress in English. For example students have to achieve level B1 by the end of their third term and Linguaskill plays a huge role in testing students before they graduate. Valencia says they chose to adopt Linguaskill because ‘It is an exam that it's going to guarantee that they are bilingual and that they can use English in real-life situations’.
However it was not easy choosing a test that met all of the university’s diverse requirements. ‘We really had a hard time trying to find the right exam because we wanted one which was widely recognised on an international scale,’ reflects Valencia. She continued: ‘We also wanted a test that could evaluate the four skills not only grammar, because the problem sometimes here in Mexico is that people take English from basic education, but they can’t actually use the language in real-life. It also had to be affordable and Linguaskill fulfilled all these requirements.’
But it is not all about English, points out Valencia. Students also have the chance to study a third language, which could be Japanese, French or German. The university decided to offer those languages because it is based in a state that has a growing powerful presence in the car manufacturing industry – and these third languages can help boost their it can help students employability in this sector.
Valencia is proud of her students and says: ‘We have seen a lot of successful stories among our students and that's really the basic thing that makes us think that we are on the right track’.
To find out more about Universidad Tecnologica el Retoño please visit: https://utr.edu.mx/