Student unrest hits Chile's universities in new QS regional ranking

Turmoil in Chile’s universities during 2011-12 may lie behind the relatively poor performance of the country’s universities in the third annual QS University Rankings for Latin America, published on 28 May.

More than half of the country's universities – 17 out of 30 – in the top 300 have fallen in the table compared to last year, including four of the top five.

And two institutions, Universidad de Santiago de Chile and Universidad de Concepción, have dropped out of the top 10.

The only one of Chile’s top five universities to avoid a drop this year is Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, which hangs on to the number two spot in the region, having maintained its reputation among academics and employers, and high scores for research productivity and impact.

Elsewhere, faculty-student ratios have deteriorated in relation to the rest of the region, while the unrest may also account for a general decline in the number of employers targeting graduates.

Chilean students have since 2011 been staging protests for free, high quality education. Demonstrations in the capital Santiago and other cities in early May represented the second nationwide protests this year.

Brazil’s growing global influence is reflected in its performance in the new QS regional ranking. With Universidade de São Paolo (USP) once again in the top position, Brazil has four universities in the top 10 and 81 in the top 300 – far more than any other nation.

Nineteen countries are represented in the top 300: Brazil (81), Mexico (50), Colombia (42), Argentina (30), Chile (30), Peru (17), Ecuador (9), Venezuela (8), Cuba (5), Panama (5), Costa Rica (4), Uruguay (4), Dominican Republic (3), Guatemala (3), Paraguay (3), Bolivia (2), El Salvador (2), Honduras (1) and Puerto Rico (1).

Chile apart, there is little change over 2012, and QS concedes that this relative stability reflects an established hierarchy at the top of the academic tree, with underlying institutions struggling to break into the elite.

Eight of last year’s top 10 maintain their positions this year, with the two Chilean universities replaced by Universidad Nacional de Colombia and Brazil’s Universidade Estadual Paulista "Júlio de Mesquita Filho".

USP is among the leading four universities in all but two of the seven indicators used to compile the ranking – a level of consistency that is unrivalled and accounts for its continued ascendancy, QS says.

São Paolo graduates are also the most sought-after in the region and it is also the top institution for web presence.

But, focusing on academic reputation alone, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) is number one in the region, drawing on a major survey in which academics throughout Latin America identified the leading institutions for research in their field of expertise.

QS points out that UNAM was also the continent’s dominant institution in this year’s QS World University Rankings by Subject, which are heavily weighted towards academic reputation.

Elsewhere, though, UNAM performs less well. Comparatively modest scores for faculty-student ratio, research papers per faculty member and the proportion of faculty with a PhD see it rank sixth overall, one place lower than last year.

Mexico's Tecnológico de Monterrey (ITESM) joins UNAM in the top 10, ranking seventh for the second successive year. ITESM is the second best performing university in the employer reputation survey, a testament to the excellent reputation of its graduates.

The Universidad de Buenos Aires slipped a place to 12, but the rankings generally look good for Argentina, with nine out of its leading 10 universities maintaining or improving their 2012 places. Nine Argentinian institutions make the top 50 – three more than last year.

Eight of Colombia’s 10 leading institutions improved their positions compared to 2012. Universidad de Los Andes Colombia climbed two places to rank fourth in the region, driven largely by improved scores for research productivity and impact – a trend replicated among four of Colombia’s top five institutions.

As in previous years, the rankings are based on seven indicators: academic reputation, employer reputation, faculty-student ratio, the proportion of staff with a PhD, research papers per faculty, citations per paper and web presence.

See the full rankings here.