Vidart is an Industrial Engineer graduated from UDELAR, PhD in Computer Science (University of Grenoble - France) and was a founding professor of CECUR (Centro de Computación de la Universidad de la República) in 1967. He was, since its creation in 1985, director of ESLAI (Escuela Superior Latinoamericana de Informática) in Argentina and the first person in charge of the Computer Science Area of PEDECIBA in 1986. Honorary Professor of the Faculty of Engineering of the University of the Republic. In his rich academic career, Jorge Vidart has given more than 40 lectures on computer science topics, was a member of the Programme Committee of 14 international conferences and has more than 20 publications.
University computing in Uruguay had an early start at the regional level, and its technological development was pioneering in the country with respect to the use of computers.
According to the publication, the Centro de Computación de la Universidad de la República (CCUR) began its activities in 1967, with a small teaching staff of two assistants and several assistants (a team that included the author). During this stage, the use of computer science in research and development projects was promoted and the first university degree in the area was created, which began to operate in 1968. The first computer was purchased through a public tender. The winner of the tender was an IBM 360 model 44, specially designed for university use due to its processing speed.
The middle age, as the author calls it, is characterised by the political context of the time (1973) in which the Uruguayan civil-military dictatorship intervened in the University, producing a series of changes that resulted, in Vidart's words, in a loss of impetus for the degree course and a strengthening of technical subjects to the detriment of theoretical ones.
After the restoration of democracy in 1985, the CCUR had ceased to be a central body of the University to become an Institute of the Faculty of Engineering, and was renamed the Institute of Computing (INCO), at this time there was a substantial renewal of the teaching staff and a return of those teachers who had been part, prior to the time of the dictatorship.
In 1986, however, the outlook for INCO was very worrying. The need for a new curriculum, the lack of research groups, as well as the increase in student enrolment were some of the main challenges it faced.
Fifteen years later, at the turn of the century, Uruguay "discovered" that it had become the leading software exporter in Latin America, with foreign sales of some 100 million dollars. How was it possible that a sector that had received no official support, as other sectors had, could emerge as a regional leader and open up a new export stream of non-traditional products and services for the country? Journalists at the time highlighted the opinions of exporting entrepreneurs who pointed out that the key to such results lay in the availability of excellent university professionals with first-class, up-to-date training.
The reinstallation of democracy in Uruguay led to a rethinking of the country's strategic future, and many agreed that science and technology would play a major role as indispensable sources of development.
The Programme for the Development of Basic Sciences (PEDECIBA) which, after a revision, included Computer Science as a fifth discipline in addition to the traditional basic sciences, counted on the presence of renowned researchers from all disciplines, which allowed its director, Dr. Caldeiro Barcia, to create a prestigious programme, based essentially on Uruguayans living abroad.
The incorporation of Computer Science into PEDECIBA was a fundamental factor in the development of the discipline in Uruguay. Teacher training was promoted (including training abroad), areas of work and research were defined, and in 1988 Informática created the "Magister en Informática" within PEDECIBA.
In a continuous process of growth and increase of objectives, the Computer Science area of PEDECIBA created a Doctorate in 1995. Both this postgraduate programme and the Master's programme have acquired a regional reputation and some students from neighbouring countries come to study there.
The Escuela Superior Latinoamericana de Informática (ESLAI) was created with the objective of creating a centre of the highest regional level, which would annually take on some 30 Latin American students with two years of university studies, selected by means of a very rigorous admission exam, and a 3-year training in the fundamental subjects of the computer science discipline, under the direction of the author of this note for the duration of the project.
ESLAI was located near the city of La Plata, and offered a rigorous academic training programme. It had a small and select group of Argentinean professors as teachers, and the support of international programmes that made it possible to have, on a temporary basis, teachers from various countries, including Italy, France, Spain, England, Holland, Sweden, Germany, USA, Brazil, Chile and Venezuela.
Unfortunately, without political support, ESLAI had to close in September 1990.
A modo de cierre
The process of gestation and maturation of Informatics in Uruguay took place thanks to a sustained growth, with clear objectives, and a strong commitment of the academic actors involved, who, despite the urgencies of each moment, developed the ability to take advantage of each favourable circumstance and to define new paths with clear goals.Access the full article
For further details, we also present the publication made in July 2013 by Enlaces magazine (issue 10: 61-73), the institutional magazine of the Julio Ricaldoni Foundation: http://www.ricaldoni.org.uy/images/61-73.pdf