Higher Education Cooperation with Latin America

By Felsen, David | International Educator, March/April 2016 | Go to article overview

Higher Education Cooperation with Latin America


Felsen, David, International Educator


INTERNATIONALIZATION REMAINS A STRONG PRIORITY for institutions of higher education across the globe.1 Universities continue to pursue meaningful institutional agreements with counterparts in different areas of the world to encourage student mobility, to foster faculty exchanges, or to develop collaborative research projects.

Student mobility in particular has witnessed a marked increase during the new millennium. In its Education Indicators in Focus issue of May 20132, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) noted that between 2000 and 2011, the number of students enrolled outside their home countries more than doubled, to 4.5 million. Fifty-three percent of those studying abroad were from Asia, with China, India, and South Korea having the most students enrolled abroad. Twenty-three percent of all students enrolled outside of their home countries were from Europe, with Germany, France, Russia, and Italy producing the largest numbers. Africa accounted for 12 percent, with Nigeria, Morocco, and Zimbabwe, which sends the most abroad. The remaining 12 percent were from the rest of the world, with the most notable region being the Americas.

Latin America as a whole sends relatively fewer students abroad. Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, and Venezuela accounted for the highest number of students enrolled outside of their home countries. Approximately 90 percent of these students, however, chose to study in OECD countries, meaning that not only did fewer students study abroad overall from the region, but mobility between Latin American countries themselves remains rather limited. Furthermore, there appears to be less integration and cooperation generally between higher education institutions within Latin America.3

Latin America's Higher Education Internationalization

Nevertheless, the internationalization of Latin America's tertiary sector does enjoy considerable support within Latin American societies. Latin America's emerging middle classes favor greater student mobility, seeing exchange experiences and training opportunities abroad as providing much-needed skills. Higher education institutions themselves view internationalization as a means for improving academic program quality, strengthening institutional brand, and raising domestic academic rankings.

Governments of the region view internationalization as a way to develop new cultural, economic, and political linkages abroad, as well as a way to raise the quality of education in the country and, by extension, the quality of life of their citizens. Governments also view higher education internationalization as a necessary response to globalization and demands for new skills sets. In particular, advances in science and technology, and the opening up of new fields of study, call for greater cross-border collaboration, the development of new international competencies, and support for more skills-based learning.

Moreover, higher education internationalization in Latin America has been encouraged by institutions and governments in Europe and the United States. My own institution, Saint Leo University in Florida, has developed multiple projects with institutions of the region, and we have made cooperating with Latin America a high priority. Cooperation between Latin American institutions and institutional partners from the rest of the world is expected only to grow in the future. Yet what also needs to be advanced with greater vigor is more meaningful collaboration between institutions of the region itself.

Global Higher Education Reforms

There is little doubt that Latin America has been influenced by reform trends in higher education in other parts of the globe, particularly in Europe. The Bologna Process, which grew out of a summit held in 1999 at the University of Bologna, Europe's oldest university, committed signatories to harmonizing many features of higher education. Measures were introduced to increase student mobility, to harmonize university degree systems to consist of bachelor, master, and doctoral degree cycles, and to create a "diploma supplement" that would accompany all degrees to explain the academic and professional qualifications of each degree granted. …

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