Best universities in South America 2019

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

October 24 2018
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 30 universities in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2019 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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Chile has 16 universities in the ranking, followed by Colombia with seven institutions, Argentina with five and Venezuela and Peru with two each. The language of instruction at these South American universities is either Portuguese or Spanish.

The South America filter of the THE World University Rankings 2019 supplements a specific Latin America ranking last published in July 2018, 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 2019; 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. University of Desarrollo

The University of Desarrollo is a relatively young university having been established in 1990. The first degree awarded was in business administration. The following year architecture and journalism were added and a law school was opened. Over the years the university has continued to deliver more subjects including engineering, social sciences and medicine. 

There are football, hockey, volleyball, tennis and basketball teams that students can join at the university which compete in higher education leagues and championships. 

=2. 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. 

=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. 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. 

=5. Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia

Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia is a private university in Lima, Peru. It was named after Cayetano Heredia an eminent Peruvian physician in the 19th Century. 

It is a small institution with less than 2,000 students, but its focus on medicine has made it a significant centre of higher learning and scientific research in Peru. 

Due to this the university has agreements and collaborations with universities all over the world including Johns Hopkins University, University of California Berkeley, London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene and the Prince Leopold Institute of Tropical Medicine in Belgium. 

=5. 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. Class 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 2019

Click each institution to view its full World University Rankings 2019 results

South America Rank 2019 WUR Rank 2019 University Country City/State
1  251–300  University of São Paulo Brazil São Paulo
=2  401–500  University of Desarrollo Chile Concepción
=2  401–500  Diego Portales University Chile Santiago
=2  401–500  State University of Campinas Brazil São Paulo
=5  501–600  Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia Peru Lima
=5  501–600  Pontifical Javeriana University Colombia Bogotá
=7  601–800  University of the Andes, Colombia Colombia Santiago
=7  601–800  University of Chile Chile Santiago
=7  601–800  Federal University of Minas Gerais Brazil Minas Gerais
=7  601–800  Federal University of Rio de Janeiro Brazil Rio de Janeiro
=7  601–800  Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul Brazil Porto Alegre
=7  601–800  Federal University of São Paulo (UNIFESP) Brazil São Paulo
=7  601–800  Federico Santa María Technical University Chile Valparaíso
=7  601–800  Pontifical Catholic University of Chile Chile Santiago
=7  601–800  Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Rio) Brazil Rio de Janeiro
=16  801–1000  Austral University of Chile Chile Valdivia
=16  801–1000  University of Brasília Brazil Brasília
=16  801–1000  Federal University of ABC (UFABC) Brazil São Paulo
=16  801–1000  Federal University of Bahia Brazil Salvador
=16  801–1000  Federal University of Pelotas Brazil Pelotas
=16  801–1000  Federal University of Santa Catarina Brazil Florianópolis
=16  801–1000  Federal University of São Carlos Brazil São Carlos
=16  801–1000  University of La Frontera Chile Temuco
=16  801–1000  Industrial University of Santander (UIS) Colombia Bucaramanga
=16  801–1000  National University of Cuyo Argentina Mendoza
=16  801–1000  National University of San Martín Argentina Buenoa Aires
=16  801–1000  Pontifical Catholic University of Peru Peru Lima
=16  801–1000  Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul (PUCRS) Brazil Porto Alegre
=16  801–1000  São Paulo State University (UNESP) Brazil São Paulo
=16  801–1000  University of Talca Chile Talca
=31  1001+  University of the Andes, Venezuela Venezuela Mérida
=31  1001+  Andrés Bello University (UNAB) Chile Santiago
=31  1001+  University of Antioquia Colombia Medellín
=31  1001+  University of Bío-Bío Chile Concepción
=31  1001+  Catholic University of the North Chile Antofagasta
=31  1001+  Ceará State University Brazil Fortaleza
=31  1001+  University of Concepción Chile Concepción
=31  1001+  Del Rosario University Colombia Bogotá
=31  1001+  Federal University of Ceará (UFC) Brazil Fortaleza
=31  1001+  Federal University of Goiás Brazil Goiás
=31  1001+  Federal University of Itajubá Brazil Itajubá
=31  1001+  Federal University of Lavras Brazil Minas Gerais
=31  1001+  Federal University of Pará Brazil Belém
=31  1001+  Federal University of Paraná (UFPR) Brazil Paraná
=31  1001+  Federal University of Pernambuco Brazil Recife
=31  1001+  Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte (UFRN) Brazil Natal
=31  1001+  Federal University of Santa Maria Brazil Santa Maria
=31  1001+  Federal University of Technology – Paraná Brazil Paraná
=31  1001+  Federal University of Uberlândia Brazil Minas Gerais
=31  1001+  Federal University of Viçosa Brazil Viçosa
=31  1001+  Fluminense Federal University Brazil Rio de Janeiro
=31  1001+  Londrina State University Brazil Londrina
=31  1001+  National University of Colombia Colombia Bogotá
=31  1001+  National University of Córdoba Argentina Córdoba
=31  1001+  National University of La Plata Argentina La Plata
=31  1001+  National University of the South Argentina Bahía Blanca
=31  1001+  Pontifical Bolivarian University (UPB) – Medellín Colombia Medellín
=31  1001+  Pontifical Catholic University of Paraná Brazil Paraná
=31  1001+  Pontifical Catholic University of Valparaíso Chile Valparaíso
=31  1001+  Rio de Janeiro State University (UERJ) Brazil Rio de Janeiro
=31  1001+  University of Santiago, Chile (USACH) Chile Santiago
=31  1001+  Simón Bolívar University Venezuela Caracas
=31  1001+  University of the Sinos Valley Brazil São Leopoldo
=31  1001+  State University of Maringá Brazil Maringá
=31  1001+  State University of Ponta Grossa Brazil Paraná
=31  1001+  Western Paraná State University Brazil Paraná
=31  1001+  University of Tarapacá Chile Arica
=31  1001+  University of Valparaíso Chile Valparaíso

Read more: Best universities in the world 

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