THE Latin America University Rankings 2018: results announced

Brazil dominates the ranking but other countries excel on citation impact and international outlook

July 18, 2018
Ecuador dancers

Browse the full Times Higher Education Latin America University Rankings 2018 results

Ecuador and Chile are the top-performing Latin American countries when it comes to their universities’ research influence and international outlook, according to Times Higher Education’s most comprehensive analysis of the region yet.

Brazil dominates the THE Latin America University Rankings 2018, claiming 43 places – a third – in the table, and six of the top 10 spots.

But an analysis of countries’ performance based on their median pillar scores in the ranking shows that higher education excellence in the region extends well beyond Latin America’s giant.

Ecuador comes top on the pillar measuring citation impact, with a median score of 86.5 out of 100, while Chile is second with a score of 70.9.

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The countries also achieve the best scores on the international outlook indicator – which is perhaps no coincidence, given that previous studies have shown that there is a strong positive correlation between internationally co-authored research and citation impact.

Ecuador scores 71.6, while Chile is close behind at 66.4 on this indicator, which measures universities’ proportion of international students and international staff as well as their share of research publications that have at least one international co-author. In comparison, Brazil scores a median of just 28.4 for international outlook.

However, Chile and particularly Ecuador lag behind when it comes to their research and teaching environments.

Argentina is well ahead for teaching environment, scoring 66.9, followed by Brazil with 46.2. Chile and Ecuador languish with medians of 30.2 and 17.4 respectively.

Brazil achieved the highest average score for teaching environment last year, but this year’s table has expanded to include 129 universities across the region, up from 82.

While Brazil is still top for research environment, scoring 59.8, Argentina is close behind with a median of 56.7.

Overall, 10 countries feature in the 2018 Latin America University Rankings, but this analysis is based only on the six countries that have five or more institutions in the table.

The ranking is underpinned by the same 13 performance indicators as the THE World University Rankings 2018, but the weightings have been adjusted to give less prominence to citation impact.

Latin America University Rankings 2018: top 10

Latin America rank 2018 Latin America rank 2017 World University rank 2018 University Country 
1 1 401–500 State University of Campinas Brazil
2 2 251–300 University of São Paulo Brazil
3 3 501–600 Pontifical Catholic University of Chile Chile
4 7 501–600 Federal University of São Paulo (UNIFESP) Brazil
5 6 601–800 Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education Mexico
6 4 601–800 University of Chile Chile
7 9 601–800 Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Rio) Brazil
8 5 601–800 University of the Andes, Colombia Colombia
9 11 601–800 Federal University of Minas Gerais Brazil
10 NR 601–800 Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul Brazil

Note: NR = not ranked 

Flags and people on beach

The house of the international spirits

The region’s best are extending their networks around the world without neglecting their obligations closer to home

Many of the world’s best universities are now truly global institutions. They attract leading scholars and students from all over the globe, partner with institutions, governments and academics in other countries and regions, educate their students to become “global citizens”, and work to address the world’s most pressing challenges.

The University of the West Indies – a public university with campuses across the Caribbean – is similarly highly international. But unlike many of its peers, the bulk of its global transformation has taken place in just a handful of years, as opposed to several decades or centuries.

Just three years ago, UWI consisted of three physical campuses – in Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Barbados – as well as a virtual “Open Campus”.

Today, the university has centres in the US, China and Nigeria, has plans to establish institutes in South Africa and Canada, and has been exploring opening a site in Europe.

“We have very aggressively gone global,” says Sir Hilary Beckles, the vice-chancellor of UWI, who adds that the new international centres have “changed the texture of our university”.

While UWI had always considered itself to be an international institution – given the diverse make-up of its academics and staff and its location in the Caribbean, “the world’s first global village…populated by all the cultures of the world” – the recent changes have transitioned the university from “internationalism to globalism”, he says.

“We can now proclaim that UWI is now a transformed university; it is now truly a global university because we have institutes and centres around the world, and we are going to recruit students into our centres around the world,” Beckles says.

View this year’s Latin America University Rankings methodology in full

UWI’s “transformation” has helped it become the first Jamaica-based university to feature in the Times Higher Education Latin America University Rankings, which covers the Latin America and Caribbean region.

The institution is ranked fourth in the table on international outlook, and it is a strong performer when it comes to research influence, ranking 26th on the citation impact measure.

UWI is not the only newcomer to the list. This year, 129 universities from 10 nations make the table, up from 82 institutions last year. Overall, 49 of these are first-time entrants.

The highest debut act is Brazil’s Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, which occupies 10th place thanks to its strong teaching and research environments and its close links with industry.

Peru and Argentina also have new headline acts. The Pontifical Catholic University of Peru rejoins the rankings in 18th place (it was in the 2016 rankings but it did not provide enough data to be ranked last year), and Argentina’s National University of San Martín is one behind in 19th position.

However, while the expansion of the table highlights a greater range of institutions and countries, it also results in large movements for some of the established entrants.

For instance, the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and the National Autonomous University of Mexico have both fallen out of the top 10, dropping four and three places, respectively, to take the 12th and 13th positions.

Within the top 10, the University of the Andes, Colombia has also dropped, slipping three places to eighth, partly because of a lower industry income score, while the Federal University of São Paulo (UNIFESP) has climbed three places to fourth thanks to improvements in its research environment and its citation impact.

The top three, however, remains stable, with the State University of Campinas (Unicamp) retaining the number one spot for the second year in a row, and the University of São Paulo and the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile holding on to second and third place, respectively.

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Marcelo Knobel, rector of Unicamp, attributes the university’s success to three main factors: its high share of postgraduate students, improvements to academics’ research qualifications, and its recent focus on innovation and entrepreneurship through its science and technology park.

But while Unicamp is number one in the region, and while four other Brazilian universities make the top 10, the country’s institutions are in a precarious situation.

Brazil has fallen into its worst recession on record, and federal funding for science and technology is also at its lowest level in recent history; last year, Brazilian scientists delivered to the nation’s congress a petition with more than 80,000 signatures demanding a reversal of cuts of 44 per cent to the year’s allocations.

Knobel says that Unicamp and Sao Paulo’s two other public universities (the University of São Paulo and São Paulo State University) by law receive about 10 per cent of the value added tax paid by the public in the state.

Download a copy of the Latin America University Rankings 2018 digital supplement

But although this is a “rather good” agreement that spares the universities having to regularly lobby the government for funding, the economic crisis means that the amount generated by these taxes is currently very low.

“We are dealing with a deficit of about $80 million [£60 million], which is rather high, and we are working very hard to find the equilibrium between what we receive and what we expend,” Knobel says.

He adds that while the university receives about $200 million a year from industry, this money is earmarked for infrastructure or specific projects and cannot be used to fund its highest expense – staff salaries.

Last month, four professors at the university’s Institute of Computing announced that they were leaving, to go either to other universities in other countries or to the private sector.

“We are facing the same problems in the medical school,” Knobel says.

“We have some problems also in attracting new good-quality faculty members because of their perspective of the career and the economic situation of the country. We are really worried about that, and we really hope that the economy will improve soon.”

Venezuelan children

These travails are not unique to Brazil. Countries across the Latin America and Caribbean region are experiencing some severe financial problems.

Venezuela’s universities are suffering from the country’s economic collapse, sparked by a fall in oil prices in the region in 2016. Institutions have cut their teaching activities, and rising numbers of students and teachers are quitting or fleeing the country altogether (see page 26).

Argentina’s economy is also stuttering, with prices rising rapidly while the country’s peso drops.

And improvements to Ecuador’s economy earlier this century are being threatened by declining oil prices and a stronger US dollar. According to the World Bank, the country’s lack of a local currency and limited fiscal savings mean that the government has been forced to reduce public investment and curb spending.

Browse Times Higher Education’s full portfolio of university rankings

Jorge Gómez Tejada, director of institutional development at the University of San Francisco, Quito, a private, liberal arts institution in Ecuador, says that “private institutions are financially more fragile than public institutions because we depend on the market, we depend on our students, and we depend on our own capacity to raise funds for research”.

USFQ is Ecuador’s front-runner in the rankings. It is in the 71-80 band this year, having dropped from the 41-45 cohort because of a lower score for its teaching environment, strong performances from some rankings newcomers and improvements by other institutions.

Reflecting on the university’s financial situation, Gómez observes that its private status, its “freedom of not depending on the government, allows you to think…more entrepreneurially”, which can be an advantage in straitened times.

USFQ, which was founded just 30 years ago, is also the “only true liberal arts institution” in the country and the only private university in Ecuador that provides financial aid to 40 per cent of students from its own budget, without receiving scholarship funding from the government, he adds.

The university is ranked fourth for citation impact and is number one on the international outlook measure. But unlike the Caribbean’s UWI, this is not down to a recent transformation but rather the result of a strategy that has been in place since the university’s establishment in 1988, Gómez explains.

“I think that because from the beginning the founders sought [to hire] international professors, sought to create partnerships with international universities, sought to educate our students as global citizens, the university has been so successful at continuing on this path,” he says.

USFQ now wants to “become more present in the region” of Latin America.

“We have been very successful in establishing relationships with American and European universities. In the next five years, we look forward to establishing new relationships with Latin American universities. We look forward to receiving more international students, not only from Europe and the US but from Latin America,” Gómez says.

“We will be working more to establish a reputation solidly in the Latin American region.”

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