WENR, June 2014: Americas


Challenges and Opportunities for U.S. Universities in Latin America

Mismatched academic calendars, issues with giving credits to exchange students, language barriers and cultural misunderstandings are among the challenges facing U.S. universities looking to partner with institutions in Argentina, Brazil and Chile.

This is according to a briefing paper published by the American Council on Education and reported on by Times Higher Education; but it also says there is a “world of opportunity” in terms of international engagement with the three countries.

The higher education systems in these countries are “developing rapidly” and “share a common interest in internationalization and expanding their global reach,” according to the Engaging with the Southern Cone [1] report published in April. The report says that despite struggling for many years to internationalize effectively, institutions in Argentina, Brazil and Chile have recently seen increases in student admissions, university budgets and international mobility programs.

“Since 2000, economic reforms have brought macroeconomic stability, fiscal surpluses, and a new wave of expansion of international trade to the Southern Cone – all of which have created a renewed energy for higher education development,” says the report.

The report goes on to note challenges of working with institutions in the three countries, including low graduation rates, questions about degree and teaching quality, and unclear mechanisms for cross-border cooperation. Language issues, leadership tenures and the academic calendar were also cited as possibly being problematic.

Another complication for student exchanges is the fact that coursework done by Argentine students abroad is “rarely recognized for credit towards a student’s degree.” The experience of U.S. universities trying to work with Brazilian institutions has revealed issues including poor communication, limited resources and infrastructure, and limited knowledge of the strengths of Brazilian institutions that affect potential partnerships.

 – Times Higher Education [2]
May 15, 2014


Unemployment Drops to Record Lows as Students Stay in School Longer

Brazil’s growing prosperity is allowing teenagers to stay in school for longer instead of searching for jobs to support their families, boosting the country’s long-term prospects but also causing shortages in the labor market for employers.

The shift helps explain one of the biggest debates among economists who follow Brazil – why unemployment remains at record lows of about 5 percent despite slow economic growth. Overall, unemployment has fallen from 12.9 percent in 2002 to 5.1 percent today, according to the last official data in February. This is despite the fact that a decade of strong economic expansion has given way to growth averaging just 2 percent in the last three years.

Young Brazilians, now typically with fewer siblings than their parents’ generation, tend to receive more financial support from their parents who an average have much greater wealth than their parents before them.

The quest for a better education will, in the long term, help Brazil address its recent problems with falling productivity. But in the short term, the struggle to find and retain qualified workers has forced companies to pay ever-higher wages, hurting their bottom lines and driving persistently high inflation of around 6 percent.

Education was for many years a secondary priority in Brazil, as successive financial crises and the need for jobs and food demanded people’s attention. Reforms began to stabilize the economy in the mid-1990s, and starting in 2001, the government started paying families a monthly stipend for keeping their children in school. A broad education reform allowed millions to join private universities and, recently, even go to foreign schools with government incentives.

As a result, it is easy to find students saying they’ll be backed by their parents and stay out of the labor market until finishing college at age 23 or 24, five or even 10 years older than their parents when they first started working.

Reuters [3]
April 15, 2014

100 Brazilians on Study Abroad Scholarships Sent Home

More than 100 students on Brazil’s massive study abroad program, Science Without Borders [4], have been told to return home for failing to reach entry requirements including English proficiency.

The students were sent to universities in Canada and Australia as part of the government-backed academic exchange after the program was oversubscribed in their first-choice destination of Portugal, which shares the same national language as Brazil.

Members of that cohort have accused CAPES [5], the Brazilian Federal Agency for the Support and Evaluation of Graduate Education, of breaching contracts by calling them back to Brazil early. According to some students, those given placements in the U.S. Britain, Australia, Canada, Republic of Ireland, Italy, France or Germany were afforded an extra six months for language tuition after being reassigned from Portugal, where English-language proficiency was not necessary, but were called back before that period was over.

A total of 110 students were told to return to Brazil, including 80 in Canada and 30 in Australia. According to reports, each student participating in Science Without Borders has already received more than US$11,700 in grants for flights and health insurance for the exchange. A CAPES spokesman confirmed that 110 students would have to return from Canada and Australia, but added that more than 3,000 of those who had been redirected from Portugal would be allowed to “remain abroad to pursue their academic activities.”

He added that the students being sent back to Brazil “did not reach the minimum requirements set by the universities to undertake academic courses.”

Times Higher Education [6]
May 1, 2014


UK Universities Look to Build Academic Ties in Chile

A high-level delegation from 12 British universities visited Chile in March in a bid to deepen their ties with the country, becoming the first large international education delegation to visit under the new Chilean government of President Michelle Bachelet.

The delegation, it is hoped, will lead to greater partnerships with Chilean counterparts in terms of research, student and academic exchange, English and technology transfer, among other areas.

During their stay, the delegates met a range of Chilean universities, the Ministry of Education, CONICYT (Science and Technology Council) and CRUCH (Higher Education Council), among others. The visit was particularly timely given the upcoming UK-Chile Newton Fund [7] – a new US$20 million fund over three years for new partnerships between the UK and Chile in science and innovation. The universities represented on the visit were: Bristol, Bath, Warwick, Edinburgh, Sheffield, Durham, Cranfield, Ulster, Northumbria, Glasgow Caledonian, Middlesex and Kent.

 – South Atlantic News Agency [8]
March 26, 2014

Transforming an Education System

Chile’s new, returning center-left president, Michelle Bachelet centered her election campaign on transforming education from its highly privatized state into a social right, responding to the demands of students who have been calling for an end to ‘mercantilism’ in education since 2011.

Twenty days after taking office, Bachelet froze three higher education bills tabled by the outgoing right-wing government – on financing and the creation of superintendence and a national accreditation agency – because “they contradicted the principles and pillars” of reform.

This year, 71 percent of young Chileans between 18 and 22 years of age are enrolled in the tertiary sector. But many of the new universities they are attending do not offer quality education, are poorly managed and charge exorbitant tuition fees, according to University World News. Furthermore, regulations of the higher education sector are lax and the government lacks strong enforcement powers.

Bachelet’s reform plans promise free education (within four years) for 70 percent of the poorest students, increased core funding for public universities, a more demanding accreditation and quality assurance system and a teacher training project. The ban on profit making which now affects universities will be extended to professional institutes and technical training centers.

There are currently 43 private universities operating in Chile, nine of which are among the 25 prestigious ‘traditional’ universities that make up the Council of Rectors. The remaining 34 private universities are attentively following the debate and its possible repercussions. Education Minister Nicolas Eyzaguirre explained that public institutions will be given priority funding partly because the government can demand “specific tasks” from them.

Bachelet signed her government’s first bill regarding education in early May, creating the position of a provisional administrator for universities in crisis. The initiative vests great power in the administrator, who will take on academic, managerial and financial control of the institutions during the mandate. Chilean media have said that the first administrator will be appointed for Universidad de Mar, which is being closed due to administrative irregularities, leaving 18,000 students without classes.

A second bill went to Congress May 20, under which subsidies to for-profit schools would be cut. It would also forbid government-backed primary schools and kindergartens from rejecting students on the basis of tests or interviews. Funds now used for the subsidies would go instead to lower or eliminate the fees that parents pay at other institutions. Still to come is a proposal that would make university education free in Chile. That measure is to be sent to Congress later this year.

University World News [9]
April 25, 2014

United States

International Educators Call for Immigration Reform After H1-B Cap Reached in Just 5 Days

US Citizenship and Immigration Services [10] (USCIS) received enough petitions for the ‘highly-skilled’ H-1B visa – a key route to post work study for international postgraduates – in April to reach its limit for the upcoming year within five days, sparking calls from international educators for immigration reform.

This is the second year running the cap has been reached within a week. The 85,000 annual H-1B visas are used by businesses to employ foreign workers with highly specialized knowledge in areas such as science, engineering and computer programming. USCIS received sufficient applications to fill both its general category quota of 65,000 visas plus an additional 20,000 under the advanced degree exemption (ADE), which is reserved for foreign citizens holding a masters degree or PhD from a U.S. university.

The ‘maxing out’ of the cap since applications opened on April 1 demonstrates huge demand from foreign workers and has prompted fierce criticism from NAFSA [11], which represents a membership of almost 10,000 international educators. Marlene Johnson, NAFSA’s Executive director and CEO, said: “Reaching this arbitrary cap in only five days is yet another example of the dysfunction in our broken immigration system, and why international educators continue to call upon Congress to pass commonsense immigration reform.”

“Temporary work statuses, like the H-1B visa, have become increasingly important to the U.S. immigration process due to insufficient quantity of green cards available each year,” she said.

According to a report [12] published last year by the National Foundation for American Policy, the H-1B visa is “essential” to attracting and retaining foreign talent, including high-performing international students. The reforms to the U.S. immigration system NAFSA has called for include allowing visa holders to apply for permanent residence simultaneously (duel intent) and increasing the number of green cards available.

 – The PIE News [13]
April 10, 2014

President Announces Half a Billion in New Job-Training Funds

President Barak Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. announced in April $550 million in grants to prepare American workers for in-demand jobs by encouraging institutions to scale up best practices through partnerships with national industry groups.

The funding will also reward applicants that aim to “ensure a seamless progression” across the education spectrum, and that commit states to further integrating their employment and education data systems. Six national foundations, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Lumina Foundation, will provide technical assistance to applicants. Skills for America’s Future, which describes itself as “an employer-led policy initiative” that fosters collaboration among educators, job trainers, and employers, will create a website to advise community colleges on how best to team up with employers.

There will also be $100 million in competitive grants that will be used to replicate successful apprenticeships and create new ones in high-growth fields. The money could also be used to link apprenticeships to college credit or industry certifications in order to help workers enrolled in apprenticeships earn bachelor’s and associate degrees more quickly and at a lower cost.

 – The Chronicle of Higher Education [14]
April 17, 2014

Credit Transfer Loss Biggest Hurdle to Bachelor Completion Among Community College Graduates

Community colleges enroll about 40 percent of American undergraduates, although conclusive research suggests that students would be more likely to get a bachelor’s degree if they had started at a four-year college in the first place.

Two researchers at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York conclude that a big reason many community college students fail to get a four-year degree is not because of inferior academic preparation, but because the four-year colleges they transfer to won’t accept many of their community college credits.

“The greater the (credit) loss, the lower the chances of completing a BA,” according to the study, The Community College Route to the Bachelor’s Degree [15], published in March. Specifically, the researchers found that only 58 percent of community college transfers are able to bring all or almost all (90 percent or more) of their credits with them. About 14 percent of transfers lose more than 90 percent of their credits. The researchers calculated that the transfer students’ graduation rate would jump to 54 percent from 46 percent – if not for the loss of academic credits.

Despite the difficulty of transferring to a four-year school and graduating, 45 percent of all bachelor’s degrees are awarded to students who have transferred from a community college. That’s according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

Washington Monthly [16]
April 21, 2014

Elite Schools Harder To Get Into Due to Increased International Enrollment

Selective college are harder to get into than they used to be, but the reasons for the newfound difficulty are not well understood, reports The New York Times.

Population growth plays a role, but the number of teenagers is not too much higher than it was 30 years ago, when the youngest baby boomers were still applying to college. And while many more Americans attend college than in the past, most of the growth has occurred at colleges with relatively few resources and high dropout rates, which bear little resemblance to the elites.

So what else is going on? One overlooked factor is that top colleges are admitting fewer American students than they did a generation ago. Colleges have globalized over that time, deliberately increasing the share of their student bodies that come from overseas and leaving fewer slots for applicants from the United States.

For American teenagers, it really is harder to get into Harvard — or Yale, Stanford, Brown, Boston College or many other elite colleges — than it was when today’s 40-year-olds or 50-year-olds were applying. The number of spots filled by American students at Harvard, after adjusting for the size of the teenage population nationwide, has dropped 27 percent since 1994. At Yale and Dartmouth, the decline has been 24 percent. At Carleton, it’s 22 percent. At Notre Dame and Princeton, it is 14 percent.

International students now constitute close to 10 percent of the student body at many selective colleges, nearly double the level of the early 1990s. Only colleges that have rapidly expanded their student bodies, like Columbia and the University of Chicago, have avoided the pattern of increased competition for places among American students.

The New York Times [17]
April 27, 2014

International Science & Engineering PhDs Stay in Country After Graduation

Almost two-thirds of international students in science and engineering fields remain in the United States a decade after they earn their PhD, says a new report, which uses 2011 tax records to estimate the proportion of foreign doctorate recipients who were still in the United States five and 10 years after graduation.

The report, Stay Rates of Foreign Doctorate Recipients From U.S. Universities, 2011 [18], found that the 2011 stay rate for all foreign doctorate recipients, including those on permanent visas at graduation, was 68 percent for those graduating five years earlier and 65 percent for those graduating 10 years earlier.

Stay rates vary by discipline. Graduates in computer science and computer and electrical engineering are most likely to remain in the United States, while those who earn degrees in economics and agriculture are more likely to return to their home countries. Doctoral students from the two largest sending countries, China and India, are among the most likely to stay.

Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education [18]
January 2014

U.S. Higher Education System Ranked Best in the World

In a third annual ranking [19] of higher-education systems in 50 countries, the United States was rated first overall, although it fared poorly when its level of economic development was factored in.

The ranking, by Universitas 21, an international group of universities, is based on measurements that include government spending, level of internationalization, and scientific output. It rated the United States first, ahead of Sweden and Canada. Yet when the scores are adjusted for national levels of income, the United States drops to 15th place, behind such developing countries as China and Serbia. Under the revised methodology, three Nordic countries fared best: Sweden, Finland, and Denmark.

Universitas 21 [20]
May 2014