Boise State University

As Idaho ties to Basque Country grow, could a transoceanic campus be next?

Inaki Goirizelia, left, former president of the University of the Basque Country and visiting administrator in residence at Boise State, meets with students at BSU.
Inaki Goirizelia, left, former president of the University of the Basque Country and visiting administrator in residence at Boise State, meets with students at BSU. Provided by Boise State

I have two distinguished guest authors for this month’s column: Iñaki Goirizelaia and Marty Schimpf. Goirizelaia is a visiting professor and the Eloise Garmendia Bieter Chair at Boise State University, and former president of the University of the Basque Country. Schimpf is Boise State’s provost and vice president for academic affairs.

For a long time, Basque people have migrated to the United States and to Idaho. Basque immigrants in the past mostly settled as sheepherders with very hard working conditions. However, the living conditions at that time in the Basque Country, including political and cultural aspects, were even harder. Today, Basque people are known for their hard work and strong values.

A new era in the history of the Basque people began with the death of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco in 1975 and the re-establishment of a Basque government and parliament in 1980. In the decades since, circumstances for the Basque people in their homeland have improved greatly. Thanks to policies established by the Basque government, the Basque people can celebrate important achievements in education, science, health care, culture, technology and innovation. These are key to understanding today’s Basque society.

The Human Development Index established by the United Nations places the Basque Country in eighth place, similar to the position held by the U.S. This index measures three dimensions: health, education and standard of living. Furthermore, the Basque region is one of the most innovative in Europe, based on the European Regional Innovation Scoreboard.

Basques have accomplished these results without forgetting their roots and culture. In fact, Basque culture and language are now stronger than ever, with nearly 2 million Basque speakers around the world, including 800,000 emigrants out of the 10 million that make up the Basque diaspora. Basque is now an official language, and as the oldest language in Europe, it has overcome what was once an extreme threat of extinction.

Today, the Basque Country and Idaho are poised to strengthen their relationship through commercial agreements and more formal ties among their universities. The state and the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce have signed agreements with the government of Bizkaia and the Bilbao Chamber of Commerce. A Bizkaian commercial mission in 2016 brought many people to Idaho looking for expansion and workforce development. Next month, 18 Idaho companies will participate in an Idaho commercial mission to visit Basque companies, research centers and universities.

More steps are needed. One of the most important is what we call bidirectional knowledge-based immigration — the sharing of information and ideas through movement from one country to another. Knowledge-based immigration was first pioneered by Boise State University when Pat Bieter led the creation of a Boise State campus in Oñati in 1974. This project, which started during the Franco dictatorships and before the University of the Basque Country was even created, established a university campus in the Basque Country.

Bieter’s pioneering idea became a very successful program. Hundreds of students with Basque ancestry have taken part. The project contributed to the strengthening of relations between the Basque Country and Boise. Several students returned to a new life in the Basque Country as American immigrants. Today, Boise State University houses a Basque studies program.

Expanding bidirectional knowledge-based immigration can further improve relations between the Basque Country and Idaho. Better knowledge and understanding of each other’s social and economic structures will catalyze the growth of commercial agreements for the benefit of both societies, which share so much in our approach to life and family.

Boise State University and the University of the Basque Country are exploring new ways to build educational and research partnerships. Because knowledge is key to such efforts, both institutions are educating young professionals who better understand the world of knowledge-based immigration.

The concept of a transoceanic campus, where academic life will take form through real and virtual environments, is the new challenge for both universities. We are looking at dual degrees, student exchange, internships in the private sector, research cooperation and more. This new concept of “campus” will provide fertile ground for facilitating bidirectional knowledge-based immigration that could open doors for new cultural and commercial agreements.

Preparing future employees and community leaders with a global vision will benefit our communities and nourish the decades-long relationship between Idaho and the Basque Country.

Mark Rudin is vice president for research and economic development at Boise State, where he oversees the Office of Sponsored Programs, the Office of Research Compliance, and other administrative and technical offices. His column looks at the state of scientific discovery and economic development in Idaho.