In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Higher Education in Latin America

  • Future Directions
  • Journals

Education Higher Education in Latin America
Emeline Jerez
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 October 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0230


Higher education in Latin America is diverse, but the national systems share several historical, sociopolitical, and cultural factors. The origins of Latin American higher education can be traced back to the 16th century, when the Spanish Empire established the first universities. Based on the colony tradition, the university institution evolved for many years and was reserved for an elite. During the 20th century, student movements forced the democratization of the institutions. However, the most significant transformation has occurred since the 1990s through processes of expansion, massification, and privatization. Led by a predominantly neoliberal higher education agenda, these processes have had different levels of impact that are contingent on the governing ideologies in the various countries. Since the expansion, several issues have drawn the attention of policymakers and scholars, including equity, access, quality, and funding. Some of these issues remain a policy priority, but the future demands more attention to a new generation of tasks. Among them are internationalization, regional and intraregional integration, and knowledge production and its dissemination in the context of the social needs of the region.

Key Policy Areas

Since the late 1990s, the higher education agenda in Latin America has been focused on the following policy areas.

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