Latin America: Government Scholarships as the Driver of Student Mobility and Capacity Building

Latin America is facing a significant skills gap. A reported 37 percent of companies [3] in the region find it difficult to fill job vacancies, particularly for technical positions. One of the major efforts to overcome this skills gap is to provide funding for students in higher education to study abroad through programs such as Brazil’s Scientific Mobility Program (BSMP) and Mexico’s FOBESII (Bilateral Forum on Higher Education, Innovation and Research) partnership.

The growth of government scholarship programs in higher education has become one of the driving forces [4] behind international student mobility in recent years. More and more Latin American students, especially those studying STEM fields [5], have been receiving government scholarships for education abroad, making this region a growing market for international recruitment.

The total number of Brazilian students enrolled in U.S. institutions of higher education has surged by 51 percent since 2011. This has been driven almost entirely [6] by Brazil’s Scientific Mobility Program [7] (BSMP).

The FOBESII partnership strengthened the U.S.-and-Mexican governments’ effort to promote education exchange between the two countries, doubling the number of Mexican students in the U.S. in recent years [8]. Following President Barack Obama’s 100,000 Strong in the Americas initiative, the Mexican government launched a similar program, Proyecta 100,000 [9], in an effort to send 100,000 Mexican students to the U.S. by 2018.

Analogous policies have been developed all over Latin America. In 2011, the Chilean government developed a program similar to BSMP, but in contrast to Brazil’s program, the Chilean program has partnerships with only two U.S. institutions in 2015 —the University of Arizona and the University of Notre Dame, underscoring the need for enhancing collaboration [10] between U.S and Latin American higher education institutions (HEIs).

Colombia, the third largest [11] sender of students from Latin America to the U.S., is also planning to strengthen its government scholarship programs for overseas master’s and doctoral students by the end of 2015.

The results of WES’ Millennial-focused segmentation study show that 30 percent of prospective international students from Latin America are hoping to secure grants or scholarships from external sources such as the government, non-governmental organizations, and employers as one of the two primary sources of funding for their studies in the U.S. Compared to the whole body of students surveyed (4,852 total), those from Latin America are twice as likely to seek external funding than international students overall (15%).

One in three (34%) Latin American students selected financial aid and scholarship opportunities among their top three information needs when applying to U.S. institutions, compared to 26 percent overall. Strivers, those with low financial resources and high academic preparedness, comprise almost half (45%) of Latin American students applying to the U.S., a higher percentage than the overall international student body (33%).

U.S. HEIs interested in recruiting students from Latin America should recognize the importance of government scholarship programs in students’ decision-making process. It is important to adapt a unique outreach strategy to the students in this segment.

Latin American Governments Increase Funding for Study Abroad [12]
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