By Andres Oppenheimer


A new ranking of Latin America's best universities shows that Brazil is way ahead of the pack, with the No. 1 school and 65 of the best 200 in the region. It suggests that Brazil may become "the next university superpower."

But is this assessment serious, or is it an effort to grab headlines in the region amid an increasingly competitive field of companies that produce higher education rankings as a way to promote their university consulting services? Before we get into that, let's look at the results of the new index.

The newly released QS Latin American ranking, the first one that lists exclusively universities of the region done by the London-based firm, ranks the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, as tops in Latin America, followed by the Catholic University of Chile (2), the University of Campinas (Unicamp) of Brazil (3), the University of Chile (4), and the National Autonomous University (UNAM) of Mexico (5).

The University of Los Andes, Colombia, ranks 6th, Mexico's ITESM 7th, and the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina, 8th. Overall, Brazil has 65 of the ranking's 200 best universities, followed by Mexico with 35, Chile and Argentina with 25 each, Colombia with 21, Peru with 6, and Venezuela with 5.

The QS Latin American ranking comes out shortly after a group of Latin American countries within the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), irked by their universities' low standings in world-wide university rankings, announced their intention to do their own list of the region's best universities.

"This research suggests that Brazil may yet emerge as a major player in the international scene," QS ranking expert Danny Byrne says. Brazil's university enrollment has tripled in the last decade, and its universities have the highest percentage of professors holding Ph.D.s in the region, he noted.

Asked about QS's methodology, Byrne told me that its rankings place 40 percent of their weight on academic reputation, 20 percent on universities' students-per-teacher ratio, 20 percent on academics' citations in international scientific journals, 10 percent on universities' reputation among employers, and smaller percentages on their numbers of international professors and foreign students.

While the QS ranking puts a relatively high weight on employers' ratings, other well-known rankings such as the London-based Times Higher Education Supplement rankings (THE) and the Jiai Tong University of Shanghai ranking place more weight on research and scientific citations, he said.

Most education experts agree that Brazil is moving fast to improve its until recently modest education standards. A few weeks ago, the Brazilian government announced that it will send 100,000 science and engineering students to get advanced degrees in the world's best universities in an effort to catch up with China and India.

And Brazilian Education Minister Fernando Haddad told me in a recent interview that Brazil plans to expand its school year from 200 to 220 days. By comparison, most Latin American countries' school years are 180 days, not counting teacher strikes.

My opinion: The QS Latin American ranking paints an incomplete -- and perhaps misleading -- picture, in that it fails to put Latin American universities in a world-wide context. The sad fact is that even the best Latin American university doesn't rank among the world's best 100 in any major world-wide ranking, including QS's own.

In the QS' ranking of the world's best universities released earlier this year, the University of Sao Paulo ranks 169th. Likewise, the Times' Higher Education Supplement ranking doesn't include any Latin American university among its best 200 in the world, and the University of Shanghai puts its highest-ranking Latin American university -- the University of Sao Paulo -- in its 100-150 best of the world category.

I'm afraid that the QS regional ranking, which is drawing celebratory headlines in Brazil, will lead to a dangerous sense of complacency. As the 8th largest economy in the world, Brazil's best universities should be among the first few dozen of the world's top higher education institutions.

In a global economy, Latin American universities should not be compared to each other, but against their competitors in China, South Korea, Singapore and other countries whose universities are ranked among the world's top 50. Otherwise, they will be measuring themselves within their neighborhood, and will fall increasingly behind.


Twitter: @ihavenetnews


Copyright ©, Tribune Media Services, Inc.

World - Latin Universities Index Doesn't Tell Full Story | Global Viewpoint