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Latin American representatives visit Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences

Each year, Latin American diplomats meet the researchers and students from Leiden University who specialise in their region. This year, they visited the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences. ‘The social and behavioural sciences have improved our understanding of social unrest.’

‘Here you can see where Latin America countries excel in terms of scientific research,’ says Ludo Waltman (Professor of Quantitative Science Studies) as, at the touch of a button, the screen fills with different sized coloured circles. ‘I conducted a large-scale data analysis of the leading international journals, and what you see is that the continent shines in crop protection, health-care systems and palaeontology.’

As Waltman goes through his slides, the differences between the countries become clearer. Brazil leads in behavioural sciences such as psychology, whereas Chilean researchers publish a great deal about education and archaeology. And the Argentinians? They prove to publish a surprising amount about their own country. This comes as no surprise to the Latin Americans present: the room erupts into laughter.

Ludo Waltman

More student and staff exchanges

This is already the sixth meeting that the GRULAC regional group has organised in which delegates from Latin American countries get to take a look at Leiden University. After successful editions at other faculties – at the Faculty of Governance and Global Affairs last year, for instance – the diplomats this year are the guests of the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences (FSW). This is the ideal opportunity to find out about research at Leiden and to investigate whether collaboration might be possible with Latin American universities.

‘Good partnerships are essential to Leiden University,’ says FSW Dean Paul Wouters. ‘Latin America is one of our focus areas [see below, ed.]. We already have partnerships with around 90 universities from the region. And we also encourage student and staff exchanges because these enrich our programmes and research. At present, 163 Latin American PhD candidates are working in Leiden, for instance, a significant increase in comparison with earlier years.’

First lady as alumna

One former PhD candidate at Leiden University is Josette Altmann Borbón, one of the most influential women in Costa Rica. She was first lady of the country in the 1990s, and since 2016 has been secretary-general of Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (FLASCO), an autonomous organisation for the social and behavioural sciences in Latin America and the Caribbean. At the meeting, this famous alumna explains why the social and behavioural sciences play an important role in understanding social unrest, the ongoing demonstrations in Chile, for instance. ‘In Latin America – but elsewhere too of course – people’s experiences often prove more important than the cold figures about progress and prosperity. The social and behavioural sciences are best at documenting these experiences.’

Josette Altmann Borbón

Preventive intervention

Earlier in the day, the guests visited LUBEC [in Dutch], a new centre at which psychological and pedagogical research go hand in hand with diagnosis and treatment. Professor Hanna Swaab gave them a peek behind the scenes at the Preventive Intervention team, where, at the instigation of the Municipality of Leiden, researchers look into ways to keep young people on the straight and narrow.

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Latin America as focus area

Latin America has been one of the focus areas of Leiden University since 2014, together with Indonesia and China. The University has a long tradition of knowledge of this region. Leiden archaeologists and linguists, for example, have extensive knowledge of the indigenous cultures and languages of the continent. There are also many exchanges with the region in the field of social sciences, medicine and natural sciences. In recent years, delegations from Leiden University have made visits to Mexico, Brazil and Chile.

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