State officials in the midst of a trade mission in South America hope to enhance ties with Brazil and Chile through connections at colleges and universities. Iowa Economic Development Authority director Debi Durham says the Iowa delegation has “spent a lot of time” during the trip touting student exchange programs.

“Brazil’s implementing this ‘science without borders’ program, so it provides a great backdrop for the governor to really talk about…how we can bring more students back and forth,” Durham says. Durham plans to talk with Iowa State University president Steven Leath today, to set up a meeting between Leath and officials in Brazil’s ministry of agriculture.

“They really are interested in a lot of the programming that (ISU offers),” Durham says, “so that was another area in which we really see great collabortion.” Students can obtain a tuition-free education at public universities in Brazil, but the country has a shortage of doctors and researchers and cannot meet its current demand for engineers. Durham and Branstad are nearing the end of a seven-day trade mission to Brazil and Chile.

The governor says Chile has a program for outstanding students who come to the United States to get a graduate degree. “They will basically pay their entire way…in agriculture, engineering and important fields like that,” Branstad says. “…There’s a lot of interest and I’m going to encourage (ISU) president Steven Leath to consider visiting Chile as well.”

Fifty-one percent of college-aged adults in Chile are enrolled in higher education, but for over a year students in Chile have been staging protests over the lack of government support for the country’s education system. Last year an estimated 100-thousand students, parents and professors took to the streets in one protest, the largest gathering in Chile since the days of the Augusto Pinchet dictatorship.

Leaders in Chile’s current democracy have proposed ending student loans through the country’s banks, with Chile’s government taking over the student loan system and lowering interest rates to two percent.