Latin America may not be considered a first choice by international students for academic exchange, and global universities do not seem to consider this part of the world as a priority for the development of exchange partnerships. Why this is the case leads one to ask the following: is there a global understanding of the Latin American educational systems, quality of their programs or administration processes, or is it merely a matter of location? Perhaps, Latin America is seen more as a holiday hotspot rather than a strategic choice to strengthen career prospects.
There are some interesting facts about the region. Public expenditure in education is significant in Cuba and Bolivia where it makes up 9.1% and 6.1% of their national budget respectively. These represent higher proportions than in the USA (5.3%), UK (5.6%), and France (5.7%) in the same year of reference. Furthermore, Mexico, Costa Rica, Colombia, Brazil and Paraguay all invest at least 4% in education. Mexico, in particular, has made major and consistent investments in education during recent years; their proportion of GDP in 2005 was 5.5%.
In most cases, universities that profile in the QS World RankingTM Top 400 are based in Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Chile. For example, UNAM, Tecnologico de Monterrey, Universidad Austral, Universidad de Sao Paulo, UNICAMP and Universidad de Chile.
As indicated by the Chilean journal America Economia in their annual ranking for business schools in the region, there are highly qualified and recognised business schools for almost every country of the region among others, (see table below), that foster exchange programs with well known universities particularly in Europe and USA, such as ESADE in Spain, HEC in France, HHL in Germany and any others in the USA as Arizona State University, Tulane University, University of Texas at Austin among others.
|Colombia||Universidad de los Andes|
|Chile||Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (PUC)|
|Brazil||Fundação Getulio Vargas|
|México||Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM)|
|Venezuela||Instituto de Estudios Superiores de Administracion|
Latin-America’s largest populations are mainly concentrated in Brazil, Mexico, Colombia and Argentina, representing 70% of the region, with 396.5 million inhabitants. Despite the world economic crisis over the last year, the region has experienced an important growth of 4% GDP on average, with Peru, Panama and Argentina growing at 9.9%, 9.2% and 6.8% respectively.
Spanish is the second most spoken language in the world as mother tongue, after Chinese, by 329 million people in 44 countries and these figures will likely increase as there are already around 14 million students around the world learning Spanish as a second language by 2008**. This number will also rapidly increase since, in 2010, Brazil – one of the most populated and market oriented countries in the region – made Spanish a compulsory language to learn in classrooms from the age of 7. It is expected that in just a few short years an additional 41 million Brazilians under 17 will be able to read and speak Spanish. In the United States, Spanish is the primary language spoken at home by over 34 million people aged 5 or older, representing over 12% of the population. In states such as New Mexico, California and Texas more than 30% of the population speaks Spanish***.
After reviewing more than 600 universities in the region, the number of exchange programs that initiated by universities in Brazil and Mexico is quite striking. Some of the most progressive Latin American universities are demonstrating their openness to participate in the global education market by preparing their web sites in English for prospective international students, creating offices for international affairs and overseas student support and participating in regional agreements to exchange academics and students.
Overall, however, the internationalization of such programs has got off to a modest start in the region. It seems likely that language has been a barrier; however, governments and universities have dedicated great efforts to ensure the quality of the offered programmes than rather a broad coordinated strategy to brand the countries education system in Latin America and as a result individual candidates and partner institutions may find that the quality of many of the programs exceeds their expectations.
The governments of Brazil, Colombia and Chile are making great efforts to guarantee quality education by assessing and certifying universities and their programs against criteria that include infrastructure, student performance, and number of academic staff. Governments in conjunction with highly recognised universities might coordinate efforts to create paperless, efficient system to facilitate students’ mobility and provide support in information and infrastructure to prospective students.
For the individual student, not only would studying in Latin America be a great journey, but also a good opportunity to learn a highly in-demand language that would open doors in more than 40 countries, embrace academic skills and understand a growing market.
*Ethnologue’s Survey. http://www.ethnologue.com/ethno_docs/distribution.asp?by=area
**Cervantes Institute. http://cvc.cervantes.es
***2007 American Community Survey conducted by the United States Census Bureau. http://www.census.gov/acs/www/