Mexico grapples with quality control as private growth creates ‘tension’

Sector needs national standards and more industry links to drive and sustain economy, say experts

August 13, 2015
National Autonomous University of Mexico
Source: Getty
Standard bearer: the National Autonomous University of Mexico

Ensuring that Mexico benefits from its own resources rather than becoming “a production line for Chinese investors” and creating national standards for university quality are some of the challenges faced by the country’s higher education system.

Guillermo Hernández, general director for strategic partnerships at Mexico’s National Association of Universities and Higher Education Institutions (ANUIES), told Times Higher Education that quality standards would facilitate Mexican universities’ working with their counterparts elsewhere.

He added that access to higher education was a problem because the pace of new university growth in the country could not keep up with the demand for places.

Dr Hernández was speaking at a recent summit of Mexican university leaders hosted by the UK Higher Education International Unit in London.

Home and away factors

Mexico’s appetite for higher education is growing as its population expands and its commitment to higher-level study nationwide deepens. “Even though we are generating many universities, we cannot keep up with demand for higher education,” Dr Hernández said.

This has led to rapid growth in the number of private universities. However, Dr Hernández said, there was a “tension” between the drive to expand private sector provision and the need to ensure standards.

Creating national quality standards is important because Mexican institutions want to work with “many other universities of the world”. And, Dr Hernández continued, his country’s universities hoped to learn about quality assessment from the UK.

John Bramwell, the British Council’s director of education and society for the Americas, said that public institutions in the region have traditionally kept quality high by admitting only the most academically strong students. But this may not be the case in the private sector, he added.

“There is a real issue with how you control the growth, how you control the quality and what kind of accreditation system there should be to guarantee the quality of its awards,” he said.

Earlier this year, the UK and Mexico signed an agreement on the mutual recognition of higher education qualifications, which signals the Mexican government’s commitment to establishing a system for accrediting higher education institutions, he added.

Mr Bramwell said that connecting universities to local industry was another challenge for Mexican higher education. Without such ties, “there is a danger that Mexico will simply become a production line for Chinese investors rather than managing its own growth and prosperity”, he said.

Partnerships with business are also vital to ensure that graduates can meet the demands of industry, he added.

Dr Hernández said that linking academics to industry is a “very crucial” goal of Mexican higher education because the country’s companies do too little research and development.

“In Mexico we have many companies; we do manufacturing – but we don’t do design, innovation and research and development in general,” he said.

Although there are some university-business partnerships, the country needs more, Dr Hernández said. “We need to develop a research and development and an innovation culture, not only in our companies but in our universities,” he added.

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