Chilean universities ‘at risk of closure’ in accreditation row

Report finds that 40 out of 56 universities in country would not meet strict new standards proposed

December 18, 2020
Woman standing in front of door, Santiago, Santiago Metropolitan Region, Chile
Source: Alamy

Almost three-quarters of Chile’s universities would fail to gain accreditation and, therefore, be at risk of closure under strict new criteria proposed by the country’s accreditation agency.

The plans from the National Accreditation Commission (CNA) would require 30 per cent of an institution’s postgraduate programmes to be accredited for a university to receive overall institutional accreditation.

Universities would also need to have a student retention rate of at least 65 per cent in the first year of study and meet a minimum threshold on the number of academic staff on degree programmes.

Universities that receive accreditation would be grouped into three categories – basic, advanced and excellent – depending on their scores.

A report published by the thinktank Acción Educar found that if the CNA’s proposals were enacted, 40 of the 56 universities in Chile would fail to achieve accreditation for missing the postgraduate programme target alone. Thirty of these 40 institutions are currently accredited.

Major higher education reforms, which were passed into law almost three years ago, made accreditation compulsory for all universities and technical institutions in Chile from 2020. It is also mandatory for certain programmes to be accredited. Institutions that do not receive accreditation are supervised and could subsequently face closure.

Magdalena Vergara, executive director of Acción Educar and one of the authors of the report, said the proposals, which were strongly criticised by universities, “do not reflect the reality” of Chile’s higher education system. Just 17.5 per cent of postgraduate programmes across the country were accredited last year, she said.

She also criticised the fact that the criteria were focused on quantitative rather than qualitative measures and therefore threaten the “autonomy and diversity” of institutions while giving little indication of quality.

“The CNA should orient universities towards good practice, but it is not their role to say how institutions must do that and to compare different universities with different goals and missions,” she said.

The CNA is due to provide an update on the proposals in June after reviewing comments from universities.

Julio Castro, rector of Andrés Bello University (UNAB), said the criteria should focus on “continuous improvement”, an aspect that “seemed to be overshadowed by the controlling and regulating role that was implicit in the criteria and standards that were shared”.

He added that there was no “logic of progression that allows the real level of performance of an educational institution to be evaluated”. “Each institution has its own mission and purposes, and these must be safeguarded,” he said.

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com

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