Latin America: Higher Education in Crisis

October 27, 2011

CL Society 72: Parents

A recent article in the Economist (10/8/11) entitled “Universities in Latin America, The struggle to make the grade,” reports on the overall health of the institutions of higher education in the region and the prognosis is not good. Although there are some giant and reputable universities in Latin America, innovation and excellence in higher education has not been the hallmark of the region. Teaching techniques are deemed old-fashioned, research contribution and output has been subpar and the drop out rate of students continues to rise.

Quacquarelli Symonds, an education consultancy, on October 4, 2011 published the first regional ranking of Latin American universities by “combining measures of reputation, research output, academics’ qualifications and staff-student ratio. Of the 200 top universities, 65 are in Brazil, 35 in Mexico, 25 apiece in Argentina and Chile and 20 in Colombia. The University of Sao Paulo, the richest and biggest university in Brazil’s richest state, came top.” For a breakdown of the ranking, go to this link http://www.economist.com/node/21531468.

All and all, the University of Sao Paulo appears to be the only institution getting the high marks, especially in its scientific research endeavors making it a world leader in tropical medicine, bio-fuels and parasitology. Their success is attributed to public support it receives from the government as well as private funding and international collaborative efforts with other institutions and research organizations.

Some of the problems attributed to the failing health of the Latin American universities appear to be the following:

• the insular nature of the institutions that discourage hiring faculty from abroad but recruit their own students to faculty positions rather than persuading them to seek positions in the business and industrial sectors;

• old-fashioned / out-dated curriculum;

• absence of recognition/reward such as funding/promotion to faculty for excellence in teaching, innovation or research;

• institutions are not held accountable (e.g. loss of funding) for poor academic performance and student
dropout rate.

There is a big rise in demand in Latin America for quality education at universities that are both affordable and accessible. Perhaps the University of Sao Paulo will serve as a positive example of one such institution that has succeeded in all these aspects. The rigid rules of the past need to give way to flexibility in hiring, promotion and compensation of faculty as well as an overhaul of curriculum and infrastructure which support and rewards research and innovation.

Alan A. Saidi
Sr. VP & COO, ACEI, Inc.
http://www.acei1.com

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