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.


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.


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.


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).


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.

Brazil’s com­mer­cial uni­ver­si­ties are sup­ply­ing a hun­gry jobs mar­ket

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