- LATIN AMERICA
- MIDDLE EAST
- United Kingdom
- United States
- New Zealand
- South Africa
By Andres Oppenheimer
The recent appointment of Venezuelan-born Rafael Reif as president of the
Reif, who will be the first
The son of
In his acceptance speech on May 16, he admitted that when he arrived in this country as a graduate student, "I did not speak English."
While Reif has risen higher than most Latinos in U.S. academic circles, he is far from alone. While there are not as many Latin Americans as Asians in top U.S. academic jobs, there are several university presidents, including
There is a lot of academic talent in Latin America, but universities in the region lag far behind their counterparts in the United States, Europe and Asia, according to the best known world university rankings.
There is no Latin American university among the first 150 places in the rankings of Britain's Times Higher Education Supplement. U.S. universities occupy most of the first 100 places, and
While Brazil is the world's sixth largest economy and Mexico the 11th, the highest-ranking Latin American university in the ranking is Brazil's
When it comes to scientific research, U.S. inventors -- many of them from major universities -- register 192,000 patents a year, while all 33 Latin American and Caribbean countries together register only 21,000, according to the Ibero-American Network of Science and Technology Indicators, known by its Spanish acronym Ricyt. There are many reasons why Latin American universities are not as good as their pool of talent, but one of the main ones is that they put politics ahead of academic merit or scientific achievements to appoint and promote their best professors.
In addition, most of Latin America's biggest state-run universities elect their presidents only from within their institutions, rather than conducting public searches for the best talent, regardless of whether they are in-house or outside candidates.
"Political interests interfere with the selection of academic leadership in many Latin American countries," says Isaac Prilleltensky, the Argentine-born dean of
On the very day that Reif's new job at
The letter, dated Feb. 13, 2004 and signed by then-Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel, was made public by Gustavo Azocar Alcala, a Venezuelan journalist and politician, the website said.
Politics permeates not only university appointments, but what is taught in most of the region's biggest universities.
Earlier this month, Argentina's biggest university, the state-run
Critics noted that Argentine taxpayer's money in the 316,000-student tuition-free university was being used to glorify political violence.
My opinion: Fortunately, some countries such as Chile and Brazil are taking steps to depoliticize their universities, and to insert them into the global academic community. Brazil most recently announced that it will send 100,000 students to pursue mostly science and engineering graduate degrees in U.S. and European universities.
But, overall, Latin American countries need an all-out offensive to ban politics from their classrooms. Otherwise, they will keep expelling some of their best brains from their countries.
Copyright © Tribune Media Services
WORLD | AFRICA | ASIA | EUROPE | LATIN AMERICA | MIDDLE EAST | UNITED STATES | ECONOMICS | EDUCATION | ENVIRONMENT | FOREIGN POLICY | POLITICS
World - Uribe vs Santos Feud Could Cripple Colombia | Global Viewpoint