José María Vázquez García-Peñuela (Oviedo, 1959) is a doctor in Law and Canon Law and a professor of State Ecclesiastical Law. He has developed most of his academic work at the University of Granada and at the University of Almería, where he was dean of the Faculty of Law and Vice-rector for Internationalization and Development Cooperation. In 2009 he was appointed rector of the International University of La Rioja (UNIR), which has 38,777 students and 1,843 teachers and researchers, and teaches 22 degrees, 83 official master’s degrees and 74 own degrees.
What are UNIR’s strengths compared to other online education and training centers?
In my opinion, we have a faculty very committed to their teaching and research work. We also have our own didactics that have proven to be effective insofar as it makes the student work on their learning on a daily basis, for which the figure of the personal Tutor is essential. Those who keep their activities up to date and work on the study materials in the scheduled times do not usually have difficulties to pass the final exam, which is an essential requirement to pass.
How can students’ needs be adequately met in such a changing and competitive job market?
We strive to constantly take the pulse of the needs that society presents with regard to the professionals who have to provide it with the goods and services of today’s life, in which the well-being of increasingly wide ranges of the population is presented as an integral element of the common good of the first magnitude. Regular dialogue with schools and other professional groups, with economic, social and cultural actors provides us with data for a continuous process of updating the materials and study plans, which are modified as many times as necessary.
How do they get a personalized education when the modality on-line does not allow face-to-face contact between teachers and students?
Actually, it does allow it; what it does not admit is sharing a small physical space such as a classroom or an office. The experience of our students is that UNIR’s didactic modality provides them with a closeness with the teaching staff that they have rarely had in the traditional teaching modality.
The training program that we make available to our teachers is very rich and intense. We have various indicators (apart from the student surveys that, obviously, we also carry out) to detect teachers who do not perform as expected and we give them specific and personalized training to cover their deficiencies. If these means do not give the expected result, we do without, of course, those teachers.
When it comes to research, we have an ambitious plan of our own with a relatively high budget for our teaching staff to do research. This plan, along with other incentives for specific research achievements, is one of the reasons why our university presents, among all private universities in Spain, the best index of six-year research periods per teacher. On the other hand, in recent years the increase in results in the Web of Science it has been really very important.
Expand our catalog of degrees in areas in which an overly conservative view considers that online teaching is not adequate, and gradually apply technological innovations likely to improve our teaching method.
A very relevant role by allowing access to higher education to people who otherwise could not receive it and, also, by making the ideal of uninterrupted training of professionals really feasible throughout their professional practice.