University quality in Latin America: Global Innovation Index 2020

Monday, September 14, 2020

Dr. Antanina Garanasvili


University education in the COVID-19 pandemic crisis


Recently, millions of university students, researchers and staff around the globe have been adapting to a rapid shift caused by the COVID-19 outbreak. Remote learning, online lectures, seminars and congresses have become the new normal in the course of weeks and months. Such a quick and multi-angled change has presented institutions, and especially the ones in middle- and low-income economies, with unprecedented challenges. Technological infrastructure, financial resources, and organizational capacities are among the major difficulties to be tackled. Decisions made by universities and governments in the nearest future may carve a path into future modern higher education system. Even though organizational obstacles and lack in financing present acute concerns, a chance to rebrand and reorganize the learning and research system into one that knows no borders presents a great chance for universities to become more inclusive and innovative than ever before.


Latin American and the Caribbean region is particularly important and interesting case. According to UNESCO Institute for Statistics, more than 28 million university students are learning remotely in the region. Latin America has seen a positive trend in the uptake of higher education in the last two decades, with enrollment doubling between 2000 and 2010. However, degree completion rate is only around 50% due to economic pressures. The current pandemic will emphasize this problem and might reduce the rate of enrollment. In Colombia alone, around 1 million young people may have to drop out of higher education and job training programs for financial reasons. Reduction in the number of students enrolled is a double-edged sword for Latin American universities as currently the main source of revenue is received through student tuition payments.


On the bright side, with comprehensive planning and support, remote learning may facilitate access to higher education systems for students who have difficulties being present in campus fulltime due to work or access issues. One solution is referred to as a ‘hybrid model’ – a combination of remote and face-to-face classes. For instance, Chile’s minister of education has been adjusting the plan on scholarships, loans and free tuition for higher education students whose families have been economically affected by the crisis. Similarly, both private and public universities in Colombia have applied for a government aid package, calling for equitable treatment compared with business sectors.


University quality indicator in the Global Innovation Index (GII) 2020


Quality of higher education is a key source of innovation potential and development of economies. Universities represent important hubs in modern innovation systems while fostering entrepreneurship, promoting diversity and inclusion, enabling collaboration with the industry and generating cutting-edge research. The Global Innovation Index uses data from the QS World University Ranking (QS) to assess the quality of universities. QS provides comprehensive metrics on top 1,000 universities from over 80 different locations.


Nearly 9% of the top 1,000 universities are located in the Latin America region. Best placed in the global academic arena is Universidad de Buenos Aires (74th) ranking just below Georgia Institute of Technology (72nd) in the U.S., and topping institutions such as University of Zurich (76th) in Switzerland and Sorbonne University (77th) in France. Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (103rd) and Universidade de São Paulo (116th) are among the top three universities in Latin America.


In the Global Innovation Index (GII) 2020, Mexico (27th), Brazil (28th), and Argentina (30th) are regional leaders in the quality of universities.


Table 1. Top 10 universities in Latin America and the Caribbean region in 2020



QS World University Rankings 2020


Universidad de Buenos Aires (UBA), 74 (Argentina)


Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), 103 (Mexico)


Universidade de São Paulo, 116 (Brazil)


Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (UC), 127 (Chile)


Tecnológico de Monterrey, 158 (Mexico)


Universidad de Chile, 189 (Chile)


Universidade Estadual de Campinas (Unicamp), 214 (Brazil)


Universidad de los Andes, 234 (Colombia)


Universidad Nacional de Colombia, 253 (Colombia)


Pontificia Universidad Católica Argentina, 344 (Argentina)

Source: QS World University Rankings 2020 (QS Quacquarelli Symonds)


QS World University Ranking evaluates universities according to the following six measures:


  • Academic Reputation
  • Employer Reputation
  • Faculty-Student Ratio
  • Citations per faculty
  • International Faculty Ratio
  • International Student Ratio


These measures represent distinct importance among institutions, countries, and regions.


Figure 1. QS World University Ranking 2020: university evaluation score distribution by region


Source: Author's estimates based on QS World University Rankings 2020 (QS Quacquarelli Symonds)


As depicted in Figure 1, Academic reputation weighs the most in Latin America and the Caribbean region (30%), similar to Employer opinion (28%), and Faculty-Student ratio (33%). Research quality (Citations) are attributed more importance in European and Northern American universities – on average 27%, compared to only 1% in Latin America and the Caribbean. Brazil and Chile are best-placed in generating the high-quality research in Latin America. Universidade de São Paulo (116th), Universidade Estadual de Campinas (214th), Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (358th), Universidade Federal de São Paulo (439th), and São Paulo State University (UNESP) (482th) in Brazil, and Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (UC) (127th) and Universidad de Chile (189th) in Chile show the greatest potential in top quality research results with over 11% of scores attributed to Citations. Argentina boasts the highest scores for attracting international students at the Universidad de Buenos Aires (UBA) (74th), Universidad de Palermo (UP) (383th), and Universidad de Belgrano (438th), while Tecnológico de Monterrey in Mexico presents highest scores in international faculty.


The Global Innovation Index 2020 discusses different approaches to measuring the quality of universities around the world in the Chapter 1, Box 4 of the report.


Dr. Antanina Garanasvili is an Economist specializing in Innovation and Intellectual Property Economics.

Cover Photo: Iñaki del Olmo on Unsplash.

You may also like

View all blog posts