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ALFA PUENTES: Survey results highlight trends in Latin American Higher Education

09 May 2014

One of the key activities of the ALFA PUENTES* international cooperation project has been a comprehensive survey entitled “Transformations in Latin America Higher Education” (TRESAL).

The results of the survey, that have now been published on the project website and in hard copy, provide comparable data on how universities in the region are currently tackling issues related to learning and teaching, research, mobility and internationalisation, quality assurance, and governance/management. They are based on the responses of higher education leadership, professors and students across Latin America (LA). The survey findings highlight for example that:

  • Most of the higher education institutions (HEI) are relatively young: 80% of institutions responding to the survey were established after 1950, and a quarter of these in the period from 2000 to 2010.  55% of the institutions that responded are private, which correlates to the present weight and growth in this sector. However, most students remain enrolled in the public HEIs, which retain considerable autonomy in most LA systems.
  • Though most universities have expressed their interest to enhance research capacity, 42% of institutions state that they are predominantly teaching-oriented, and have little to no research. This is further confirmed by the fact that doctoral education and research is generally concentrated in a few large public universities usually situated in capital cities.
  • When asked about the most important changes of the past five years, university leadership point to internal and external quality assurance – a result which is very much in line with the TRENDS 2010 survey of European HEI, conducted by EUA. However, most Latin American institutional leadership and staff state that QA processes lack the ability to respond to changing priorities (such as innovation in teaching and learning, for example) as they are too strongly focused on academic and regulatory aspects .
  • For the coming five years, in practically all LA countries represented in the survey, demographic changes, internationalisation, the pressure to enhance research capacity and the need to establish links between university and business are the main factors that will impact institutions.
  • Curricula reform is also seen as a key issue, particularly by university leadership in Mexico and Central America in the next five years. The results show that competence-based approaches in teaching and learning are gaining ground, however not in all courses and disciplines.
  • Two thirds of the responding university leaders refer to the use of ICT (information and communications technology) as a strategy to enhance teaching; however, currently only one third of the institutions offers blended learning, and one fourth full distance learning courses.
  • Almost half of the LA university leaders that responded perceive mobility as essential for internationalisation and one fifth considers it to be of crucial importance for graduates’ success in the labour market. 42% of university leadership expect incoming student numbers to increase, with Colombia having the highest expectations.
  • The preferred international study destinations for Latin American students are the US, Canada and Europe, however non-traditional destinations like Australia, New Zealand and Asia are expected to gain in popularity in the next years. By contrast, there is relatively little interest in mobility within the Latin American region, despite the small but increasing number of internal LA mobility programmes. Respondents from university associations, surveyed separately, state Europe to be their preferred partner for higher education collaboration, alongside other countries within the region. This demonstrates potential for growth in mobility and cooperation within Latin American, despite the fact that many students still look farther afield than their neighbouring countries.

The results of the TRESAL survey underpin the priorities established in the ALFA PUENTES project, and have been addressed to a large extent by the sub-regional initiatives on collaborative quality assurance, qualifications frameworks and mobility.

An executive summary of the survey results is available in English and the full survey results can be downloaded in Spanish.

TRESAL was complimented by a survey of national university associations in Latin America that is summarised in the publication “University Associations in Latin America – a snapshot”.

*ALFA PUENTES: Building Capacity of University Associations in fostering Latin-American regional integration is a three-year project co-funded by the European Commission ALFA programme. Coordinated by the European University Association (EUA) and involving 24 national and international university associations from across Latin America and Europe it has aimed to improve mechanisms for modernisation, reform and harmonisation of education systems in Latin America and to enhance Europe-Latin America university partnership. For more information, please see:

European University Association (EUA)

Brussels office:
Avenue de l’Yser, 24
1040 Brussels
Tel: +32 (0) 2 230 55 44

Geneva office:
114, Rue du Rhône
Case postale 3174
1211 Geneva 3
Tel: +41 22 552 02 96