Best universities in South America

Find the best universities in South America using Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings data

October 3 2017
Caminito Street in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Studying in South America may not be quite as popular as studying in North America, but the region can boast 46 universities in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2018 top 1000.

Just under two-thirds of these South American universities are in Brazil, including the University of São Paulo in first place, in the top 300 in the world. 

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Best universities in Latin America

Chile has 13 universities in the ranking, followed by Colombia with five institutions, Argentina with three and Venezuela with two. The language of instruction at these South American universities is either Portuguese or Spanish.

The South America filter of the THE World University Rankings 2018 supplements a specific Latin America ranking last published in July 2017, which includes Central American universities.

Top 6 universities in South America

1. University of São Paulo

It is unsurprising that the University of São Paulo (USP) secured the top position as the best South American-university in the World University Rankings 2018; it was also named the most prestigious Latin American-university in a survey of top scholars and is second in the overall Latin America rankings.

The university is Brazil’s largest public institution of higher education and one of the largest in South America. There are currently about 90,000 students enrolled across 11 campuses, four of which are in São Paulo.

Alumni of the university have a strong track record of becoming CEOs of the world’s largest companies. Twelve Brazilian presidents graduated from USP.

When it was founded in 1934, the university attracted famous foreign professors and created a new standard for teaching and research in the country.

More than 200 undergraduate programmes and 200 postgraduate programmes are offered by the university across the full range of academic disciplines.

In additional to its faculties, the university operates four hospitals and 24 museums and galleries across its campuses.

2. State University of Campinas

Like other public universities in Brazil, State University of Campinas (Unicamp) charges no tuition fees for undergraduate or postgraduate programmes.

Almost half the students are postgraduates, reflecting the strong institutional focus on world-leading research. The university was designed from the outset as a research centre, unlike other Brazilian universities, which developed by consolidating separate schools and institutes.

About 15 per cent of the country’s research is affiliated with Unicamp.

The flagship campus is outside the centre of Campinas, occupying 860 acres in a valley. The campus was designed with academic buildings in concentric circles around a central plaza.

Hospital das Clinicas, run by the School of Medical Sciences, serves half a million people every year.

The 70 undergraduate programmes on offer cover all scientific disciplines, and each enrols between 30 and 100 students each year. There are more than 150 postgraduate programmes.

Most students live near campus or in Campinas city, as the university does not offer much campus housing.

=3. Diego Portales University

Diego Portales University was named after the Chilean statesmen Diego Portales and was one of the first private universities to be founded in Chile in 1982. 

It was initially created with three faculties: the faculty of law, the faculty of administrative sciences and the faculty of psychology. The faculties of information and communications and engineering science were established a few years later in 1989. It now has a total of eight faculties. 

The library system at the university is made up of three libraries: the law library, the library of architecture, art and design and the Central Library Nicanor Parra. Together they hold more than 180,000 volumes. 

The university is continuing to expand its campus, with the construction of a new economics campus in northern Santiago and a new central library in downtown Santiago. 

=3. Federal University of São Paulo

The Federal University of São Paulo was exclusively a health sciences university until 2005, when the Brazilian Federal Government's University Reform Programme transformed the university into a multi-subject institution. 

Since then the university has introduced teaching across multiple subjects including computer science, accountancy, philosophy, history of art and languages. 

The university has six campuses in São Paulo and the surrounding areas. 

=3. Federico Santa María Technical University

Federico Santa María Technical University – often known simply as Santa Maria University – is one of the top Chilean universities in the world.

It is based in Valparaíso but has campuses around the country and an international campus in Ecuador.

The university was the first in the country to award an engineering doctorate, in 1962, and to this day is known as one of the most prestigious universities in Latin America.

University admission is extremely selective; only the top 10 per cent of students in the country have high enough entry grades.

Degrees are awarded for various subdisciplines within engineering, across 17 different academic departments, including metallurgical engineering and computer science.

Each year, finalists graduate on the same day to commemorate the death of the founder, Federico Santa María Carrera.

=3. Pontifical Catholic University of Chile

The Pontifical-Catholic University-of Chile (PUC) is one of six Catholic universities in the country, and one of the oldest higher education institutes.

The university has five campuses in total, one outside Santiago in Villarrica.

Founded to offer training in law, business and accounting, the university has expanded since the 19th century to establish 18 faculties, a clinical hospital, and various research centres.

Many notable figures from arts, science, religion and politics attended the university, including two presidents of Chile.

In particular, the university is highly regarded for mathematics and economics. Since 2011, PUC has collaborated with the University of Notre Dame in the United States to offer a dual graduate degree in civil engineering and geological sciences.

=3. Pontifical Javeriana University

The Pontifical Javeriana University is one of the oldest universities in South America, running continuously since 1623. The university has two sites: the core university in Bogotá and another in Cali. 

The university is named after Francis Xavier, the founder of the Jesuit organisation Friends of Jesus. It is one of 28 universities on the continent which is run by the organisation. 

There are 19 faculties at the university, including medicine, engineering, theology and architecture. Classes sizes are small at the university to encourage students to debate and interact with each other. 

Two former Colombian presidents have studied at Javeriana and many diplomats attached to foreign embassies have also studied here. Notable alumni also include journalist María Cristina Caballero and businessman Luis Fernando Correa. 

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Best universities in South America 2018

Click each institution to view its full World University Rankings 2018 results

South America Rank 2018 World University Rank 2018 University Country City/State
1 251–300 University of São Paulo Brazil São Paulo
2 401–500 State University of Campinas Brazil São Paulo
=3 501–600 Diego Portales University Chile Santiago
=3 501–600 Federal University of São Paulo (UNIFESP) Brazil São Paulo
=3 501–600 Federico Santa María Technical University Chile Valparaíso
=3 501–600 Pontifical Catholic University of Chile Chile Santiago
=3 501–600 Pontifical Javeriana University Colombia Bogotá
=8 601–800 University of the Andes Colombia Santiago
=8 601–800 University of Chile Chile Santiago
=8 601–800 Federal University of ABC (UFABC) Brazil São Paulo
=8 601–800 Federal University of Itajubá Brazil Itajubá
=8 601–800 Federal University of Minas Gerais Brazil Minas Gerais
=8 601–800 Federal University of Rio de Janeiro Brazil Rio de Janeiro
=8 601–800 Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul Brazil Porto Alegre
=8 601–800 Pontifical Catholic University of Peru Peru Lima
=8 601–800 Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Rio) Brazil Rio de Janeiro
=8 601–800 São Paulo State University (UNESP) Brazil São Paulo
=20 801–1000 Andrés Bello University (UNAB) Chile Santiago
=20 801–1000 University of Antioquia Colombia Medellín
=20 801–1000 Austral University of Chile Chile Valdivia
=20 801–1000 University of Brasília Brazil Brasília
=20 801–1000 Catholic University of the North Chile Antofagasta
=20 801–1000 Central University of Venezuela Venezuela Caracas
=20 801–1000 University of Concepción Chile Concepción
=20 801–1000 Del Rosario University Colombia Bogotá
=20 801–1000 Federal University of Ceará (UFC) Brazil Fortaleza
=20 801–1000 Federal University of Pelotas Brazil Pelotas
=20 801–1000 Federal University of Pernambuco Brazil Recife
=20 801–1000 Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte (UFRN) Brazil Natal
=20 801–1000 Federal University of Santa Catarina Brazil Florianópolis
=20 801–1000 Federal University of São Carlos Brazil São Carlos
=20 801–1000 University of La Frontera Chile Temuco
=20 801–1000 National University of Colombia Colombia Bogotá
=20 801–1000 National University of Córdoba Argentina Córdoba
=20 801–1000 Pontifical Catholic University of Paraná Brazil Paraná
=20 801–1000 Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul (PUCRS) Brazil Porto Alegre
=20 801–1000 Pontifical Catholic University of Valparaíso Chile Valparaíso
=20 801–1000 Rio de Janeiro State University (UERJ) Brazil Rio de Janeiro
=20 801–1000 University of Santiago, Chile (USACH) Chile Santiago
=20 801–1000 Simón Bolívar University Venezuela Caracas
=20 801–1000 State University of Ponta Grossa Brazil Paraná
=20 801–1000 University of Talca Chile Talca
=20 801–1000 University of Valparaíso Chile Valparaíso
=47 1001+ University of the Andes, Venezuela Venezuela Mérida
=47 1001+ Federal University of Goiás Brazil Goiás
=47 1001+ Federal University of Lavras Brazil Minas Gerais
=47 1001+ Federal University of Ouro Preto Brazil Ouro Preto
=47 1001+ Federal University of Paraná (UFPR) Brazil Paraná
=47 1001+ Federal University of Santa Maria Brazil Santa Maria
=47 1001+ Federal University of Viçosa Brazil Viçosa
=47 1001+ Fluminense Federal University Brazil Rio de Janeiro
=47 1001+ Londrina State University Brazil Londrina
=47 1001+ University of the Sinos Valley Brazil São Leopoldo
=47 1001+ State University of Maringá Brazil Maringá
=47 1001+ State University of Western Paraná (Unioeste) Brazil Paraná

Read more: Best universities in the world 

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