Call for papers 62

(January-June 2024)


Topic: Higher education and indigenous students: experiences, proposals and challenges*

Deadline for reception:  June 30, 2023



Yasmani Santana Colin
(ITESO, México)

Ibet Sosa Bautista
(Universidad Pedagógica Nacional, México)

Macarena Ossola
(CONICET-Universidad Nacional De Salta, Argentina)


In both Mexico and the rest of Latin America there has been reflection about the presence of indigenous students in the different models of higher education, ranging from conventional universities to educational proposals that go by a variety of names in different contexts: indigenous, intercultural, own education, ethnoeducation, among others. In recent years, some universities have been redefining (albeit in a very preliminary way) the homogenous image that has been constructed of the type of student they enroll; they have thus begun to highlight the diversity of identities that inhabit their classrooms, rooted in different social and cultural groups.

These transformations notwithstanding, the university continues to be a closed space, restricted for the most part to a limited group of people. In other words, access to higher education in Latin America remains a privilege. The demand for university admission among young people from different social sectors overwhelms the spaces offered by the national States. The discourse that posits a transition from university to pluriversity has served to construct a variety of proposals, some legitimized and financed by the State. Other projects have emerged from civil or community organizations, which propose educational alternatives that question such concepts as learning, content and evaluations; they formulate educational proposals that emerge from their long-standing legitimate struggles and also from the new issues that original peoples are facing today.

At the same time it is evident that access to higher education institutions, both conventional and intercultural, is still a complicated process, one that is unequal for the population in general, and particularly so for the members of indigenous communities. The shortage of available spaces in educational institutions, the costs, the lack of universities close to the communities, among other factors, compel young people to migrate from indigenous communities looking for access to higher education.

Historically, members of indigenous communities have resorted to migration to overcome different problems associated with structural poverty and the conditions of marginalization that their communities face. We can find many stories of insertion in urban life (Santana, 2022) and, specifically, in university life (Czarny, 2015) on the part of different indigenous peoples from around the country. These collective and individual stories manifest an imaginary about the expectations of access to professionalization; they also offer us a overview of the challenges to admission, the ways of learning, and the continuity of university formation. Furthermore, they serve to highlight the different disciplines of knowledge in which the students express their interests and make their contributions to their community and to society at large.

It is important to point out that very little work has been done on the linguistic aspect, which has led to a series of learning problems that persist from basic education to the university level. This makes for a highly irregular basic formation marked by multiple shortcomings, which helps to explain indigenous students’ difficulties in accessing and completing the higher levels of education. Indeed, the indigenous population that studies in universities is miniscule: it is estimated that only 1% to 3% of indigenous youth manage to reach these levels of schooling (Schmelkes, 2013; Hernández, 2018).

In spite of the complexities involved in gaining access to higher education, we find today an ever-growing presence of indigenous students who affirm their ethnic identity and thereby help to redefine and reshape such categories as gender, territory, indigenous, youth, feminism, and the social construction of women, both in their places of origin and in urban contexts. At the same time, the versatility of indigenous professionals is evident in the production of new discourses that emerge from their formation (Santana, 2022). Thus, we are interested in recovering the experiences of higher education from a diversity of perspectives and voices that can articulate the ways that young people identified as indigenous, native, rural or from original communities are inhabiting higher education institutions, and the ways these educational processes impact the discourses that emerge from the spaces they occupy in society, in their communities, or in the roles they choose to play.

In this way, we seek to explore the meanings that indigenous students give to their university formation; while we take as our starting point the existence of an imaginary of access to “better living conditions,” we also realize that there are multiple ways to understand the meaning of academic formation, ranging from individual projects to the construction of collective projects aimed at defending identity, territory and access to rights, and at achieving visibility and recognition for original cultures within national States.

For some indigenous students, admission to higher education brings with it a series of negotiations, along with tensions, between the students, their families, their communities, and the university spaces themselves. The physical distance between the students and their communities, made necessary because universities tend to be located in urban areas, has sometimes led to the implementation of new types of participation that draw on the skills and knowledge that the students acquire in their university formation. In many cases, however, this does not exempt them from fulfilling their traditional duties within their communities.

In addition, we are interested in reflecting on the learning processes that students experience in the different university models where the presence of students from indigenous communities strains the traditional forms of teaching-learning, and underscores the need to develop different teaching models, which inevitably forces us to rethink learning processes as well.

It is important to emphasize the recognition of “unconventional ways of learning and teaching,” proposals that have not been properly acknowledged in the Western paradigm, which seeks to perpetuate a monocultural and monolingual logic that subordinates other ways of understanding the world based on different kinds of contextualized, multilingual and intercultural learning.

In line with these observations, this number of Sinéctica aims to publish theoretical discussions and research papers on the relationship between indigenous students and higher education. At the same time, the intention is to shed light on the different dimensions of the interactions between indigenous students and higher education, as addressed in theoretical discussions, research papers and collective initiatives.

 The topics we propose are the following:

  • Indigenous students’ experiences of university formation in urban contexts
  • Experiences of intercultural university education
  • Teaching indigenous students
  • Contribution of affirmative action policies to indigenous students’ access to, and completion of, professional studies
  • Indigenous students’ lived experiences in university settings
  • Higher education’s expectations of students from original peoples
  • Proposals for higher education with an intercultural, anti-racist or decolonial focus
  • Indigenous student organizations in different models of higher education
  • Learning achieved by indigenous students in higher education
  • Dialogue between academic and community-based knowledge, as experienced by university students
  • The role of language and academic literacy in indigenous university students


  Bibliographical references

Czarny, G. (2015). Jóvenes indígenas y universidades convencionales. In E. Díaz, E. Gigante y G. Ornelas (coords.). Diversidad, ciudadanía y educación (pp. 135-156). Universidad Pedagógica Nacional.

Hernández, S. (2018). Proyectos políticos, educación superior intercultural y modernización educativa en Ecuador y México [doctoral thesis, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México]. Digital repository of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. 

Santana, Y. (2022). La formación universitaria como elemento en la construcción de identidades, de posicionamiento político y de activismo. In Y. Santana (coord.). Caminares comunitarios y académicos: narrativas de profesionistas indígenas que tensionan imaginarios (pp. 17-34). Universidad Iberoamericana.

Schmelkes, S. (2013) Educación para un México intercultural. Sinéctica, núm. 40.

Zapata, C. (2008). Los intelectuales indígenas y el discurso anticolonialista. Discursos y Prácticas, Vol. 1, No. 2, pp. 113-140.