Latin America increases presence in world university rankings

Sunday, October 07, 2018

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Latin America has increased its presence in the elite annual Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings, but the 2019 report suggests that universities in the region struggle to ascend as economic pressure and increased competition bite.

The report was released at THE's World Academic Summit at the National University of Singapore on September 26.

According to the report, Brazil claims its highest presence ever, despite growing international competition — with 36 universities represented this year, up from 32.

The nation is led again by its flagship University of São Paulo, which holds its position in the 251-300 banding and marginally improves in the areas of teaching environment, citation impact (research influence) and international outlook — although its research score declines slightly.

Meanwhile, its State University of Campinas retains its status as the nation's second top institution. Like its neighbour, it has an improved teaching environment score but a weaker research score.

But while Brazil improves its overall representation in the list, each of its previously ranked institutions decline or remain static.

On Brazil, THE Editorial Director of Global Rankings, Phil Baty, said: “It's a positive sign to see a stronger presence from Brazil this year as its universities increase their global visibility. But the nation's overall results are a cause for concern. While its top institutions have generally held their positions, the overall picture is gloomy, and seven universities have fallen out of the top 1,000 this year. You simply cannot nurture world-class research institutions with funding cuts — and the serious economic problems faced by Brazil do not bode well for the future. Diminishing funding and drops in the rankings can fuel a vicious circle of further decline — with talent draining from the country. Brazil must find a way to get vital resources into its universities — whether public or private — to revitalise the system and stem the decline.”

Chile has 16 institutions featured, up from 13, with the University of Desarrollo moving straight in to share a top position with Diego Portales University thanks to a remarkably high score for research impact, judged by an analysis of citations of research publications: this looks at the quality, not the quantity of published research, so smaller institutions can do well. Mexico has 17 universities included, up from 11, jointly led by its Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education and National Autonomous University of Mexico in the 601-800 banding. However, the country faces some serious challenges, including a drain of talent, limited public funding and only a modest international outlook. Argentina has five institutions represented, up from just one last year: its National University of Cuyo and National University of San Martín both feature in this year's 801-1000 banding. However, to rise up the ranks amid increasing global competition will require clear political support — backed by strong investment.

Colombia has seven institutions included this year, up from five. Peru has two institutions, up from one, as Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia enters to lead in the 501-600 band; Costa Rica retains its one institution; Venezuela's Central University of Venezuela drops out — taking the nation's presence to two; and the University of the West Indies becomes Jamaica's first ever entrant — joining the table in the 501-600 banding, with a strong international outlook.

On Chile, the Editorial Director of Global Rankings, Phil Baty said: “This is an exciting time for universities in Chile, with three new entrants and the private University of Desarrollo moving straight in to share a top position with Diego Portales University. Desarrollo's surprising jump is thanks to a remarkably high score for its research impact, judged by an analysis of citations of research publications: this looks at the quality, not the quantity of published research, so smaller institutions can do well.

“But Chile has a long way to go before it can challenge the traditional global elite in higher education and research: that will require ensuring universities benefit from sustained investment — a challenge as questions continue around the funding of university education and the move to remove tuition fees for more students — and a commitment to internationalisation. The creation of a new ministry of science could really help get investment into university research and support putting Chilean universities on the international map.”

Baty said of Mexico: “It's exciting to see six new entrants from Mexico. Opting to be part of this demanding international benchmarking can help universities build strategies for success informed by rigorous data—and give them greater visibility on the world stage.

“But this eye-catching increase in visibility should not detract from the fact that Mexican higher education faces some serious challenges, not least the brain drain of talent, a shortage of high-quality academics to teach a large and growing youth population, limited public funding, and only a modest international outlook. There is of course huge optimism that a new president can bring refreshing new ideas for universities, but we need to see this optimism translating into action.”

On Argentina, Baty said: “This is a dramatic improvement for Argentina — it's brilliant to see such an improved presence. However, while international benchmarking will help the nation's universities create data-informed strategies for success, they will also need clear political support — backed by strong investment — to succeed on a highly competitive world stage. This will be extremely challenging in such tough economic times—but investment in higher education always pays back. Controversial proposals to allow universities to charge tuition fees are unlikely to go away after these encouraging ranking results.”

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