Latin America University Rankings 2019: hard ground but hints of rich fruit

The region has had a tumultuous year, yet there is unmistakable progress to extol, says Phil Baty

June 18, 2019
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Browse the full Times Higher Education Latin America University Rankings 2019 results

There is a lot that is wrong with higher education and research in Latin America: there has been a dramatic expansion of university places in recent years without the requisite increases in financial support; there are deep sector schisms between the public and private university sectors; there is chronic underfunding of research in key countries; and there is limited international collaboration. Meanwhile, political turmoil is contributing to an uncertain and tumultuous policy environment; forces of populism are denigrating key areas of scholarship and critical thinking; and an excess of red tape is hampering the kind of dynamic leadership that is required to help the university sector fulfil its potential to transform economies and the life chances of individuals and make the continent a better place.

No wonder, with a huge dose of understatement, does Fernanda Estevan, associate professor at the São Paulo School of Economics, say that “there is a lot of uncertainty ahead” (page 8).

But one thing that is made very clear in our latest analysis of universities across the region is that there is also much that is right with higher education and research in Latin America.

The Times Higher Education Latin America University Rankings 2019 highlights some excellent institutions that are performing powerfully across THE ’s trusted range of 13 separate performance indicators derived from the THE World University Rankings.

Countries/regions represented in the THE Latin America University Rankings 2019


Number of institutions in top 150

Top institution




University of São Paulo




Pontifical Catholic University of Chile




University of the Andes, Colombia




Monterrey Institute of Technology




Austral University




Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador




University of San Francisco, Quito




Pontifical Catholic University of Peru




University of Havana




Simón Bolívar University


Costa Rica


University of Costa Rica




The University of the West Indies


Puerto Rico


University of Puerto Rico


The Pontifical Catholic University of Chile is a fine example. The institution now tops the table, marking the first time that a university outside Brazil is number one in the region, thanks to great progress in its scores for research environment and industry income.

Meanwhile, Brazil’s Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Rio) is now fourth, up from seventh last year, having made significant improvements in its scores for teaching and research environment.

There is also real progress being made at the national level in at least some Latin American countries. Chile is a great highlight in the region. As University of Oxford professor of higher education Simon Marginson observes in this supplement (page 9), Chile’s research output is increasing significantly despite relatively constrained funding. Its volume of research papers grew at an average annual rate of 8 per cent in the decade between 2006 and 2016, compared with the world average of 3.9 per cent. Quality has improved alongside greater quantity. Colombia, too, has seen its research output increase by 16.2 per cent during the same period.

Moreover, the expansion of this ranking itself constitutes a powerful positive sign of change in the region. In the inaugural edition of the THE Latin America University Rankings in 2016, there were only 50 participating universities. In 2017, there were 82, and last year there were 129. Today’s 2019 edition includes 150 ranked institutions from 12 countries, across Latin America and the Caribbean. This suggests an increasing willingness of institutions across the region to open themselves up to greater scrutiny, to put themselves on a global stage, and to share data to help them track their performance and their progress against global data benchmarks.

As I wrote last year, THE believes passionately that greater accountability and transparency in higher education, as a result of more information being made available for public engagement and more data analysed for universities’ global benchmarking, will play a major role in helping Latin American institutions to improve.

Phil Baty is chief knowledge officer at Times Higher Education.

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