Accreditation in Latin America and the Caribbean: Nicaragua
Sistema Nacional de Evaluación y Acreditación
In 1990, the Nicaraguan government passed Law 89 granting academic, financial, and administrative autonomy to the nation’s institutions of higher education. The law also established the National University Council (CNU) as the official coordinating and consulting body for all universities and vocational colleges. The autonomous CNU, not the Nicaraguan Ministry of Education, is charged with enacting national higher-education policy, approving the creation of new universities and vocational colleges, and disseminating State funds directed to higher education. The CNU’s sole function with regards to quality assurance is in the licensing of new private universities. Therefore, Nicaraguan universities function under almost complete autonomy, operating without regulation from a national quality assurance agency.
Nicaragua has ten “old” universities, four of which are public and six private. They are termed “old” universities because they were opened before the ratification of Law 89 in 1990. These ten universities are all recognized by the CNU, and they are considered the core of the Nicaraguan tertiary system, serving more than 50,000 students. However, due to rapidly increasing demand for higher education, and stagnation in the growth of public higher education, more than 44 “new” private universities and colleges have opened since 1990, enrolling approximately 65,000 students.
Developments in Accreditation
The rapid growth of Nicaragua’s private sector and the contrasting standstill in the public university sector has sparked a national debate over the need to introduce evaluation and accreditation procedures in the tertiary system. Private universities vary wildly in terms of resources, enrollments, quality and infrastructure, while public universities are often characterized as overly bureaucratic, antiquated in their teaching methods and resistant to change. The quality of education in either public or private universities is volatile, a situation that has led to the pursuit by government officials of a national system of accreditation.
In 2001, the Nicaraguan government received a loan from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to facilitate a project that would help introduce a quality assurance system in tertiary education. Beyond the immediate evaluation of the nation’s universities and colleges, another major goal of the project was to develop a permanent national system for the evaluation and accreditation of higher education. Through the IDB program, 33 universities (4 State, 29 private) have participated in a program of internal evaluation and external evaluation, forming the basis for the creation of a national accreditation body. The exercise engendered a new awareness of quality assurance in the nation’s institutions of higher education and required all participating universities and colleges to reevaluate their management, and to compose a plan of action based on the evaluation process.
As it currently stands, the Nicaraguan National System for Evaluation and Accreditation is still in the development process. It is clear, however, that the nation’s higher education establishment has made strides toward making accreditation a priority in the future.
Links to Additional Information
- National University Council list of legally recognized institutions(Spanish)
- National University Council list of authorized institutions (Spanish)
- Olivares, Carlos. “Nicaragua: New Private versus Old Private and Public.” International Higher Education Number 35 (Fall 2006).