GLOBAL EDUCATION: The Comings and Goings of Latin America as an Education Epicentre
The Comings and Goings of Latin America as an Education Epicentre
Latin America already sees a number of its sons and daughters travel abroad for further education. It also sees an academic interest in the region from afar, especially from nations that hold historic cultural links and ties with the region, alongside deep economic links.
Yet just as the people of the Caribbean are cognisant of a new chapter underway in the region’s identity and economic growth, so too have recent decades seen South America begin a new journey — one where decades are a mere blink of an eye in the development of a new image, and where education is recognised as a great potential avenue for economic growth in a new era.
LEARNING IN LATIN AMERICA
For many decades Latin America has seen students travel outside the region for study. The United States, Canada, the European nations of Spain and Portugal and, more recently, nations like Australia have all drawn students to their shores. Recent years have seen the proactive efforts of governments in the Latin American region to not only entice local students to stay locally for their studies, but also to win foreign students from afar.
As is always the case with Latin America, the ‘Brazil factor’ has loomed large here. At times over 75 of the region’s top 300 universities have been located in Brazil alone. That reality doesn’t deride the great work of those institutions. Instead, the push towards the development of Latin American nations as a regional education epicentre often faces a challenge in driving an equal spread due to the outsized influence of its larger nations like Brazil and Mexico.
Yet, the size and lure of these large nations can also be an asset. For example, Mexico has long sought to serve as an ‘education gateway’, actively encouraging American students to study there. Given that 2016-2017’s academic year saw a 6% increase in American credit-level studies regionally (and a total of 53,000 studying overall), there are positive signs of success here.
However, interest in the region and its new journey is partly diminished by that of Asia. It’s an elephant in the room that informs not only student exchange, but academia as a whole.
THE ASIA FACTOR
Right now Asia is the fastest growing region in the world, and it has been that way for many years. Latin America’s population of 626 million is dwarfed by that of Asia at 4.5 billion. Not only is Asia booming but the People’s Republic of China (1.4 billion) and India (1.3 billion) each outnumber the entire Latin American region!
As a result, many universities and centres for academic research around the world may hold a dedicated department for not only the study of Asia, but a particular Asian nation. Many factors can account for this but huge commercial opportunities, new chances for cultural engagement and a recognition of Asia’s boom will, in decades ahead, shift the majority of the world’s economic power from west to east for the first time in centuries.
By no means does this deny the chance for Latin American nations to have their own departments (or the dedicated study of nations) but the explosive growth of
Asia and its biggest nations can command greater academic interest, funding and public attention than that which is on offer for the Latin American region.
This is a trend that has not only informed developments in the academic sector in recent decades, but will continue to do so in future, especially as nations in Latin America, like Brazil, have shown real signs of strong growth, although in more recent times they have encountered significant setbacks in their progress. Ultimately, Latin America is exciting and growing; it’s just doing so in a period when Asia is outpacing it.
GOING DIGITAL AND GLOBAL
While the pulling power of Asia is a global factor in academia, the nature of academia and education at large is set to undergo a fundamental revolution in years ahead. The road to such change may appear closer to a quiet revolution than a huge and rapid one, but the day by day shifts in the way in which we learn, engage and interact are already underway.
This applies not only to changes in education we see locally, but globally. Whereas once upon a time students seeking to study at a foreign institution may have needed to prepare for a long time away from home, today there’s an abundance of educational institutions offering compact short courses that run only for a summer or winter break.
This alongside the rise of coding bootcamps that offer intensive courses in exotic locations to those arriving as novices in computer programming and seeking to leave as junior developers.
It’s apparent in the rise of full university degrees being offered online — ones that make no distinction between in-class and online learning (so in whatever way a student studies for and obtains a degree, their diploma shows only their degree, not their mode of study).
THE CASE FOR BRIEF BUT BRILLIANT
Historic and famous universities have always made a strong selling point of their academic rigour and alumni networks. While part of this is undoubtedly a selffulfilling prophecy — people who are very ambitious or talented (or both) will often be drawn to such institutions for the challenge and prestige of acquiring a qualification from there — the future also makes tradition vulnerable.
The world will not upend these foundations overnight. The rise of the digital economy is further confirming day by day that future generations will require not just one stage of in-depth learning in their life, but instead multiple. The rigid structure and expense of a college degree will continually be tested more and more, especially if briefer courses deliver comparable results.
Yet, in this era, and with that challenge, there is opportunity too. It is all well and good that universities and similar institutions may set up glittering buildings and funnel millions into research centres but the future of academic engagement and education will demand a leaner and more agile pursuit of goals — one where short courses, exchanges and certifications grow in popularity.
Turning Latin American into an education epicentre with that ethos at its foundation could not only see its star burn brighter in the global academic community, but see it become the unquestioned leader in this space. The fruits of such a goal would take time but, best of all, offer a new learning experience along the way.
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