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Number: 71
Year: 2002
Author: Johann Van Reenen, Editor
Title: Digital Libraries and Virtual Workplaces. Important Initiatives for Latin America in the Information Age

Overview of the Ibero-American Science & Technology Education Consortium (ISTEC)

ISTEC is a non-profit organization comprised of educational, research, and industrial institutions throughout the Americas and the Iberian Peninsula. The Consortium was established in September 1990, to foster scientific, engineering, and technology education, joint international research and development efforts among its members, and to provide a cost-effective vehicle for the application of technology.

The idea evolved out of a needs-analysis study conducted by the University of New Mexico Electrical and Computer Engineering Department in Latin America. This study revealed the following obstacles to science and technology information (S&T) sharing and information technology (IT) developments in the region:
  • Lack of current information for planning and developing technology
  • Lack of expertise in the use of information
  • Lack of international cooperation in developing the critical mass needed for projects and joint efforts
  • Lack of interaction (lack of confidence and sometimes lack of information) between universities and industries
This situation has been improving steadily but at the time it was clear that a unifying organization was needed to bring S&T workers together across borders; national, social and economic.

With start-up funding from the State of New Mexico and selected IT companies, the ISTEC board created four initiatives to address the above obstacles:

1. The ACE Initiative champions continuing engineering and computer sciences education projects. The most important goals is to upgrade of human resources and curriculum development through on-site training, distance learning, and non-traditional exchange programs. The methodology involves on-site training, web-based education, video courses, satellite delivery, and “sandwich” graduate programs. The latter brings graduate students from Ibero-America together with experts from ISTEC member organizations to ensure excellence. Examples of outcomes so far include: 6 satellite courses to 250 institutions with ATEI,  short courses for Motorola, and 196 scientists trained in DIP with OAS support. Over 30,000 ftp grabs of the web-based DIP course have been documented. “Sandwich” programs with Spain, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Uruguay, Ecuador, Costa Rica and Mexico.

2. The Research and Development (R&D) Initiative focus on the development and enhancement of laboratory infrastructure at member organizations. The major goal is the design and installation of modular, flexible, and expandable laboratory facilities for education, training, and R&D with links with productive sector. Successful implementations include the deployment of Motorola microprocessors (680XX), microcontrollers (68HC11) and DSPs (56XXX, 96000) as well as equipment, software and expertise from companies such as  Nortel Networks, Fluke, and VeriBest. To date 29 Motorola facilities are in place with planned expansion to 58. Approximately 20,000 users have been trained since 1991. There are 9 facilities with laboratory equipment from Nortel Networks, 2 with Fluke and 1 with VeriBest. The latter are planning to expand to 12 facilities.

3. The Los Libertadores Initiative champions networks of excellence in the region. The main goal is to network Centers of Excellence equipped with the latest telecommunications and computer technology to provide real- time access to a world-wide system of expertise and knowledge. This requires partnerships among industries and governments to create an Ibero-American academic and R&D Internet backbone.

Towards this goal technical assistance in telecommunications and S&T legislation has been provided to Ecuador and Bolivia. Participation in regional policy conferences such as the IADB’s Informatics 2000 Conference is a part of ISTEC’s strategy. They also assist national, regional and international organizations to develop IT&T strategies for Ibero-America, but in particular for Latin America.

4.  The Library Linkages Initiative (LibLINK) is ISTEC’s information sharing and connectivity project. The next section will focus on this initiative and its efforts in developing digital library projects in Latin America.