Sixty-five out of the 250 universities in the 2012 QS ranking on Latin America published late last month are Brazilian, with the University of São Paulo taking the top spot.
Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Chile and Argentina make up 80% of the universities from the 19-country ranking.
Brazilian universities make up nine of the top 10 in the region for most research papers per faculty member. The top nine universities with the most academics with a PhD are also Brazilian.
“The dominance of Brazil reflects a focus on higher education as the key to unlocking its huge economic potential. The boom in research of the country’s universities follows major investments in research and development,” Danny Byrne, editor of http://TopUniversities.com, which publishes the rankings, told University World News.
However, if the top 200 universities in the QS University Ranking: Latin America were measured according to their countries’ populations, Brazil would fall behind Chile, Uruguay, Costa Rica, Panama, Argentina, Colombia and Peru.
The great surprise of this year’s ranking, the second-ever focused exclusively on the region, is that Chile now has four universities in the top 10, ahead of Brazil with three, Mexico with two and Colombia with one.
Universidad de Chile and Pontificia Universidad de Chile, which were in the top 10 in 2011, are joined this time by Universidad de Concepción, from the city most damaged by the massive 2010 earthquake, and Universidad de Santiago.
The first three are in the top 15 for papers per faculty, slightly weakening Brazil’s dominance of this indicator (nine universities out of the top 15).
“The position of Chilean universities in the ranking shows the quality of their research, reflected in their high per capita productivity and number of citations in prestigious international journals”, said Mauricio Escudey, deputy director of research at Universidad de Santiago.
However, there is no Chilean university in the top 50 for faculty-student ratio and none in the top 30 for staff with a PhD.
Argentina’s lacklustre performance is another noticeable feature of this year’s QS ranking of Latin America. All of the 10 leading Argentinean universities ranked lower than last year, with Universidad de Buenos Aires now number 11 (10 last year), and only two make the top 20.
According to Byrne, Argentinean universities suffered a general decline in performance this year in the surveys of employers and academics.
“Rising students [per] faculty ratios also suggest that the provision of teaching resources might not be increasing at the same rate as student intake,” he added.
For the second year running, Mexico is the best-rated country by Latin America’s academics and employers, Universidad Autónoma de México by the former and Tecnológico de Monterrey by the latter.
The QS rankings of universities are unique for their academic and employer reputation surveys. These carry the greatest weight in the overall percentage: 30% and 20% respectively, compared to 10% each for paper per faculty member, citations per paper, staff with a PhD, faculty-student ratio and web impact.
Defending itself over criticism of the relevance of the QS rankings, Byrne said: “Our academic and employer reputation surveys are the largest of their kind and provide a very valuable source of information for millions of prospective students worldwide”.
He added that the QS academic reputation survey, which asks academics to name the universities that are producing the best research at a given time within their field of expertise, “is highly relevant, not least because it is discipline-independent in a way that citation measures alone are not”.
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