Artículo publicado recientemente sobre la educación terciaria en América Latina, sus perspectivas y problemas, con mención especial del caso chileno.
LATIN AMERICA: Pressures on marred HE systems
Chrissie Long, University World News, 08 January 2012, Issue: 203
Higher education systems in Latin America continue to lag behind much of the rest of the world in quality, graduation rates and coverage, and most analysts do not expect those issues to go away in 2012.
The region’s universities were recently accused by the Economist of being “hardly synonymous with excellence”. The article described Latin America’s research output as unimpressive and its teaching techniques as old-fashioned, and talked of students dropping out in droves.
Not one university in Latin American made the 2011 top 100 list in the Times Higher Education world ranking and only one, the University of São Paolo in Brazil, made the top 200. Higher education institutions in Latin America were also largely absent from the Academic Ranking for World Universities, compiled by Shanghai Jiao Tong University, which listed only two among its top 200.
Philip Altbach, director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College in the US, said universities in Latin America had “come a long way, especially in access. But when compared to universities in the United States and Asia, I would still only give them a C+”.
A marred model
The higher education model in Latin America is what’s holding the region back, said José Joaquín Brunner, a leading higher education analyst from Chile. The university experience traditionally rests in the hands of one or two large publically funded institutions with few credible alternatives in the private sector, he added.
But as university populations swell and government budgets are squeezed, it has become more and more difficult for public universities to provide a quality education.
“Over the course of the past two or three decades, it has been made clear that the state alone cannot finance such a vast, complex and expensive undertaking,” Brunner said.
“The greatest challenge is sustainability and how our universities can be financed in a sustainable manner – both in the medium and long term – in a way that not only takes into account quality, but responds to the necessities of national development.”
Growth of private provision
While some stakeholders have responded by demanding greater taxpayer investment in institutions of higher learning, hoping to protect their longstanding and prestigious public schools, others have turned to an eager and growing private sector, looking toward investors to take the burden off public universities.
With online learning, private franchises and cross-border education, private higher education centres have been opening at impressive rates across South and Central America. Between 1995 and 2002, the percentage of private Latin American universities grew from 53.7% to 69.2% and enrolment in private institutions increased from 38.1% to 47.5%.
With such a tangle of private education offerings, Brunner said a system of accreditation needed to be developed that protected student populations from sub-par experiences and high price tags.
The growth of the private sector in education has not been without resistance.
Fearing high tuition fees and unequal access, students launched a movement aimed at keeping higher education in the public sector. In 2011, thousands of Chilean students took to the streets with protest signs that read ‘Don’t sell education’ and ‘Students or clients?’
“The university cannot be a business and education cannot be a commodity,” said the 23-year-old former leader of the Student Federation of Chile, Camila Vallejo, who was named a person who mattered in Time Magazine’s Person of the Year in 2011.
“We need a new commitment to public universities so that the university is an institution for all Chileans, not just the few.”
Under her leadership, violent protests broke out in the streets of Santiago, stores were looted along the main thoroughfare and thousands banged on pots and pans in demonstrations that many say mirrored the pro-democracy marches in the 1980s when Augusto Pinochet was in power.
On 24 November the protests in Chile inspired copycat movements in more than 14 countries including Colombia, Guatemala, Peru, Venezuela and Honduras, with students calling for high quality, free public education.
“Chile had one of the most well-known forms of financing on the continent,” said Marcial Rubio, rector at the Pontificia Universidad Catolica of Peru. “Now very serious doubts exist as to whether the model can be maintained and imitated. The conflicts of Chile have been a watershed event, inspiring movements in other areas, mainly Colombia.”
While free university education may be the ideal, analysts like Altbach agree that it is not realistic: “I am sympathetic to their perspective,” Altbach said. “But privatisation is inevitable because the state does not or will not or cannot provide the kind of access and quality that today’s world demands.”
Brunner said that not only would debate over public-private education continue into the new year, but policy-makers would struggle to balance issues of private education accreditation and public university transparency and accountability.
The University of Toronto’s Jane Knight, who analyses international education policy, said the explosion of private education was part of a greater internationalisation. In a 2005 report for the World Bank, she wrote that trade liberalisation, an influx of private investment and the globalising economy have all been catalysts in the shift toward private education.
“New franchise arrangements, foreign or satellite campuses, on-line delivery and increased recruitment of fee-paying students are examples of a more commercial approach to internationalisation,” she said.
“The fact that education is now one of the 12 service sectors in the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) is proof that importing and exporting education and training programmes and education services is a potentially lucrative trade area.”
Internationalisation is also pushing Latin America to look for alliances with higher education institutions across borders and creating multicultural classrooms as students look abroad to fill their needs.
The year 2011 witnessed several such alliances. Education leaders in Latin America established ties with countries in the Middle East following a forum in Colombia in November and representatives from 14 countries created a network to encourage female leadership in higher education.
Leftist nations also moved forward with a plan to coordinate higher learning under the banner of ALBA, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of our America, known for its strong stance against neo-liberal systems and its anti-US agenda.
Knight said: “Strategic alliances can be seen as both a rationale for and a means of achieving internationalisation. The number of bilateral or multilateral educational agreements has increased exponentially in the past decade.”
While analysts agree that higher education leaders in Latin America are putting forth the building blocks for improved institutions through such alliances, accreditation and internationalisation, they also say shaping a quality system is a process that will take time.
Jamil Salmi, tertiary education coordinator at the World Bank, told University World News that onlookers would be hard-pressed to see change in 2012.
“Very few governments in Latin America have a national strategy for the development of their higher education system, including a sustainable financing strategy,” he said. “Higher education is highly politicised in the region, with strong resistance to change that may challenge vested interests and privileges.”
Disclaimer: All reader responses posted on this site are those of the reader ONLY and NOT those of University World News or Higher Education Web Publishing, their associated trademarks, websites and services. University World News or Higher Education Web Publishing does not necessarily endorse, support, sanction, encourage, verify or agree with any comments, opinions or statements or other content provided by readers.