Brief history of ORT in Uruguay

Last updated: 03/04/14

By Charlotte de Grünberg - Director General- ORT Uruguay

The granting by the Ministry of Education of full university status to ORT Uruguay came after many years of development and consolidation of the institution. In order to understand the current ORT Uruguay activities, it may help to follow the historical development of ORT in the country.

ORT Uruguay is a member of World ORT whose history can be traced back to St. Petersburg in Russia where it was founded in 1880. Few organisations can pride themselves of such an active, significant and continuous existence for more than 134 years. Much has changed since then, yet the original spirit remains. ORT Uruguay still offers quality education and training adapted to the local needs.ORT Uruguay is in the forefront of methodological innovation both for learning and for teaching as well as in its use of new technologies. At the same time ORT Uruguay is specially sensitive to the disadvantaged and impoverished communities offering them education and training adapted to their specific needs.

ORT Uruguay was founded in 1942 in Montevideo, by members of the Uruguayan Jewish community that wanted to help the waves of immigrants fleeing from Europe, by teaching them a trade in order to allow their insertion in the Uruguayan economy. The activities started on rented premises.

During the fifties, sixties and seventies, ORT Uruguay strengthened and expanded its educational project to the whole society while at the same time specialising in more advanced technological areas and providing vocational training to the technicians and professionals that the country needed.

In the eighties ORT Uruguay grew fast to become a key institution in the country regarding training in Electronics, Telecommunications and Computer Science. Both the number of students and ORT´s development in terms of facilities and technology resources showed continuous growth in this period. In 1989, ORT turned into the largest non-governmental organisation for technical education in Uruguay (Educational Statistics Yearbook, Ministry of Education and Culture of Uruguay, 1990).

In the seventies, three Jewish K-9 day-schools in Montevideo existed which were in the process of becoming a full K-12 network (from Kindergarden to matriculation). In order not to compete but rather to complete the Jewish educational system in the country, a decision was made in the early eighties to focus ORT Uruguay activities in supporting the existing Jewish schools and teaching technical and higher education courses.

Bernard Wand-Polak

In 1985, ORT Uruguay requested the tertiary level recognition of its System Analysis and Electronics degrees to the Ministry of Education and Culture. These areas of study eventually became part of the Bernard Wand-Polak School of Engineering in 1996. Official recognition of the System Analysis degree was the first one, ever, to be granted to a nongovernmental educational institution in the country.

Bernard Wand-Polak was World ORT Director for Latin America between 1967 and 1983. In the sixties and seventies, he was well known for his vision on the importance that Information Technology and Electronics would have for countries’ development. Under his leadership ORT computer centres were established in Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Uruguay.

In the eighties, ORT Uruguay started to expand and diversify its educational programmes according to the needs of the Uruguayan economy and society. In 1988 the Management School was founded. It was the first management school established in the country and was later transformed into the School of Administration and Social Sciences. Since 1996, this School has been ranked among the thirty best business schools in Latin America by América Economía magazine and it has been a leader in the modernisation of management education in our country.

In 1995, the Uruguayan government enacted the first legal framework for private universities in the country. In February 1996 ORT was the first Uruguayan institution to request legal authorisation to function as a private university. This authorisation was granted in September 1996. In this way, ORT Uruguay was the first institution recognized as a private university within the new legal framework and became Universidad ORT Uruguay.

Before its official recognition as a University, ORT Uruguay was already perceived as such by the Uruguayan society due to its resources, dimensions, teachers, graduates and study programmes.

In 1995, ORT Uruguay started the first university degree in Design in Uruguay. In 1996 ORT Uruguay started teaching in the field of Communications Studies: Journalism, Audio-visual Production, Advertising, Sound Engineering and Digital Animation. All these degrees are taught at the School of Communications and Design.

After obtaining official recognition, two new academic departments were created: the Institute of Education in 1998 and the School of Architecture in 1999. The Department of Jewish Studies was restructured in 2003, consolidating many years of activities in this field.

Universidad ORT Uruguay has been engaged in research and development activities in the field of education for over 20 years. Experimental projects in the fields of Educational Computing were recognised locally and internationally, receiving among others the Computer Science National Award in 1980 and the Regional Centre for the Teaching of Computer Science Silver Award from Spain in 1984. In 1996 ORT Uruguay established a programme of academic cooperation with Harvard Graduate School of Education and started offering postgraduate programmes in the field of education. In 1998, these programmes became part of the Institute of Education.

In 1999, the School of Architecture was launched to offer undergraduate programmes in Architecture as well as postgraduate courses and technical degrees in the fields of Architecture, Building and Construction and Interior Design. ORT Uruguay University is the only private university that offers an officially recognized degree in Architecture.

Under an agreement with the California Institute for the Arts (CalArts), a new four-years undergraduate program (BA) in Digital Animation started in 2010. The program is supported by regular visits of CalArts professors, including world-renowned specialists in the field. As part of the development of the area, an annual International Animation Film Festival started in 2007. The Festival has grown and achieved global recognition: in the 7th. edition, which took place in September 2013, 233 works from 44 countries were received for participation.

In 2010, a new undergraduate four-year (BSc) program in Biotechnology was started with a state-of-the-art teaching laboratory. The program is oriented towards the productive chains based in living organisms, which are the basis of the Uruguayan economy. The new program quickly gained national recognition, and fosters collaboration with industries in R&D activities and entrepreneurial skills in its graduates.

The Institute of Education started the first Doctorate in Education in July 2012. The program was recognized by the Council for Private Tertiary Education in 2013. It integrates an international network of researchers, and focuses its research activities on relevant fields for national educators. The program has attracted students from several Latin American countries.

Universidad ORT Uruguay is currently the largest non-governmental University in the country (2012 Ministry of Education Statistics Yearbook). In its four specialized schools and Institute of Education, 63 technical courses and undergraduate and graduate degrees in Architecture, Engineering, Biotechnology, Business, Economics, International Relations, Design, Animation, Communications and Education are taught.

Universidad ORT Uruguay is a member of the International Association of Universities and the “Unión de Universidades de America Latina” and has academic agreements with over 150 universities in Latin America, North America, Europe, Asia and Israel.

The academic staff consists of around 1300 teachers and researchers, many of them with full time appointments and postgraduate training, including more than 170 Ph.Ds. and doctoral candidates.

Universidad ORT Uruguay carries out applied research in all its schools in close contact with enterprises and research centres. An extensive network of international agreements facilitates the exchange of teachers and students and allows for joint research.

A formal student exchange unit was established in 2004 based on bilateral agreements. More than 100 foreign students attend ORT courses each year.

A collaborative program with Harbin Normal University is bringing each year to ORT Uruguay a regular flow of Chinese students. The students take courses of a joint Spanish Language program, developed with the Chinese university, and also participate in other courses as exchange students. They stay for a full academic year in Montevideo. The first generation of 42 students was received in September 2012; it was the first such collaboration activity of any Uruguayan university with a Chinese institution.

Students and teachers have access to two specialized libraries with over 94.000 books and periodical publications. E-books, thesis and articles in a large variety of areas are available through global bibliographic data bases. Reading halls and team workspaces equipped with Wi-Fi are also available.

The technological infrastructure of academic support includes more than 1200 last generation computers connected to high speed-networks as well as Electronics, Telecommunications and Photography labs and Radio and TV studios for professional production, state of the art biotechnology laboratories and design technology centers.

ORT Uruguay won in 2012 a competitive grant from the National Agency for Innovation and Research that enabled the installation of a 3D printing laboratory. The lab was inaugurated in June 2013. It has two 3D printers, a 2D laser cutter and a numerically-controlled milling machine, which integrate with CAD software to quickly produce complex prototypes and mechanical parts. This laboratory is the first of its kind in the country; it is a complement to existing facilities in the School of Design.

Students and graduates are given support in their job search and business creation. Thousands of graduates are successful in their professional fields and many of them work in enterprises created by themselves. In cooperation with the Technological Laboratory of Uruguay (LATU) and with support of the International Development Bank (IDB), Universidad ORT Uruguay launched in 2001 the first business incubator in Uruguay oriented to foster emerging entrepreneurs and enterprises in the fields of Telecommunications and Computer Science.

A variety of sports activities take place around the year which include basketball, football, futsal, handball, hockey, swimming, tennis and volleyball.

In the last five years the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship was established to foster entrepreneurial attitudes and promote further launching of innovative high tech business ventures by students and graduates.

Historically committed to offering quality education and guided by the principle of equal opportunity, Universidad ORT Uruguay sponsors a scholarship programme which benefits more than 4.000 students per year. This allows for an inclusive and heterogeneous composition of the student body where young people from different social backgrounds and regions interact and study together.

In late 2013, a pilot Massive Open On-line Course (MOOC) was developed by Universidad ORT Uruguay for the Ceibal program. Ceibal is the entity that implements one-laptop-per-child access and connectivity for the whole of the Uruguayan basic education. It was the first such course developed in the country, and one of the first in the continent to target Spanish-speaking teenagers. The course allows anyone to learn basic computer programming in the Scratch language. The pilot edition had an enrollment of 1290 students. Further work in MOOC development is carried out in collaboration with the University of Edinburgh.

In an ever changing world where professions evolve quickly, some trades disappear and new ones are born everyday, ORT seeks to give its students the best education and invests all its resources to achieve that goal. Many people have contributed to the success of Universidad ORT Uruguay: volunteer workers and professionals have devoted time, resources and their commitment to make ORT the great organisation we know today. It is a remarkable history, full of life that constitutes both a good omen and a challenge for the future.

2008 Graduation Ceremony at the Solis Theatre

Video: 70 years of ORT in Uruguay