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International educators see South America as a red-hot market

Already-high numbers of South Americans studying abroad will continue to shoot up over the coming year, and demand for international education will continue regardless of the political climate, said a panel at the NAFSA conference held in Houston, Texas, last week.

“This is definitely a growth market,” said Samir Zaveri, director of international operations for educational fair organiser BMI.

The 64th NAFSA – Association of International Educators – conference is being held from 29 May to 1 June at the George R Brown Convention Centre in Houston. This year it attracted more than 8,000 participants from 100 countries and boasted more than 200 concurrent sessions with speakers from around the world.

At a session on Wednesday, Zaveri said the biggest South American markets for international education are Brazil, Colombia and Chile. Argentina, Ecuador and Venezuela are also sending increasing numbers of students abroad.

Most of these countries are benefiting from increased political stability, which makes their students more likely to gain visas. But in at least one country political instability has made overseas study more attractive.

Among the panel’s analyses were a breakdown of five South American countries and their future growth prospects in terms of sending students abroad:


Brazil has the sixth largest economy by gross domestic product in the world. Of the 191 million people in Brazil, 33% are under the age of 19, Zaveri said.

This is also a diverse population, including the largest population of Germans outside of Germany and large populations of people of Italian, Japanese, Portuguese and Lebanese descent.

Additionally, Zaveri said, the Brazilian currency, the real, doubled in value, from 3.5 to the US dollar in 2002 to 1.7 in February 2012, reducing the price of international education for Brazilians. Meanwhile, there has been considerable upward mobility.

The demand for higher education is now higher than the supply, and the cost of a good high-school education is going up, as the middle-class is moving increasingly to private education. Consumer expenditure for education rose 133% between 2006 and 2010. A private education costs about the same in Brazil as it does abroad.

Agencies expected more than 300,000 Brazilian students to travel abroad this year, with numbers rising by 30% next year.

The United Kingdom attracts the most Brazilian students. Also popular are Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand. More than 90% take language courses, 56.6% are in undergraduate programmes and 62.3% are involved in postgraduate studies.


In 2008 Chile announced a US$6 billion scholarship programme, which aimed to send 30,000 students overseas between 2009 and 2018. “BECAS Chile is the largest scholarship programme in the world after Saudi Arabia,” Zaveri said. Through to 2011, 5,809 scholarships had been awarded. The numbers are expected to go up.


International education is highly valued in Colombia, which is enjoying an improved image internationally. A recent survey of employers found that 58% preferred to hire those who had earned advanced degrees abroad, Zaveri said.


Three years ago, the government in Ecuador launched scholarships for masters, doctoral and postdoctoral studies in science and technology. Since then, more than 6,000 scholarships have been awarded. The programme has recently been expanded to areas related to business.

Ecuador’s Institute of Educational Credit and Scholarship also awards US$20,000 loans to those wishing to study domestically or abroad.


Claudia Gonzales, executive director of the Venezuelan American Friendship Association in Venezuela, said that the financial and economic instability of the current government coupled with a decline in the quality of education inside the country have prompted more than 12,000 Venezuelans to study elsewhere.

“That is expected to double,” she said, noting that the Venezuelan government has fostered a distrust of the middle-class.

Some 4,600 Venezuelans are studying in the United States, the most popular destination, followed by Cuba, Spain, France and Germany. However, when asked where they would like to study, Venezuelans ranked the US first, followed by Canada, Australia, Europe, Colombia and Panama.
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