Majority of universities are now research-oriented

For the first time in Chile there are more complex universities, that focus on research and also teach six or seven PhDs in three or more disciplines, than teaching-only universities.

This is the main finding of the sixth edition of the latest annual quality ranking of Chilean universities published on 21 December by Gea Universitas, a private non-profit research group on higher education, and daily newspaper El Mercurio. Five years ago teaching-only universities were the largest group.

“The ranking confirms the progress of Chile’s university system – already observed in previous years – with respect to their ability to do research and sustain doctorate programmes,” Pedro Pablo Rosso from Gea Universitas told University World News.

“Between 2012 and 2017 the percentage of universities offering accredited doctorate programmes went up from 36 to 52. Until 2016, only six universities out of 58 offered seven or more accredited doctorate programmes. In 2017 the number increased to nine”.

Forty-six universities were analysed for the study. Indicators used were student quality (25% of total rating); quality of academics (25%); formative process – students per academic, average number of years of accreditation per subject imparted, etc (40%); and institutional management – number of years of accreditation of the university, etc (20%).

The Pontifical Catholic University of Chile comes up top of the nine universities in the research and PhD category. Universidad de Chile and Universidad de Concepción follow. These three are the oldest universities in the country, and the only ones that, according to the Gea Universitas study, could qualify as “research universities” at the international level.

“This fact confirms… that academic excellence is reached after several generations and that quality attracts quality,” the report says.

Three public universities – Universidad de Talca, de la Frontera and de Valparaiso – joined the research and PhDs group in 2017 – the first to do so since 2012. What is special about all three is that they are regional and were founded after 1980; hence they are not ‘traditional’ universities. It is laudable that they have achieved this level of development considering their precarious origins and the bureaucratic hurdles they have encountered, the report adds.

Private universities make their mark

For the first time, the 2017 ranking included a section on the performance of universities in terms of research. To avoid biases related to numbers of academics, which would have favoured larger institutions, universities were measured according to productivity indicators such as number of citations per article, percentage of approved projects and the amount of national research resources per academic obtained.

“The results surprised many: six of the top 10 in the research ranking are private universities. They also take up 13 of the first 20 places in the research ranking. Seven of them must pay single-handedly the high costs involved in research and doctorate programmes since – unlike the Pontifical Catholic University and Federico Santa María Technical University, which topped the research ranking – private universities do not receive block grants from the government,” says Rosso from Gea Universitas.

The situation described above is unique in Latin America, where research and doctoral programmes are concentrated in state universities, mainly in Argentina, Brazil and Mexico, Rosso remarked.

Why have private universities – particularly those that do not receive block grants from government – taken on the challenge? The question needs to be examined, Rosso says, but “probably is a reflection of the strong attraction worldwide of the ‘research university’ paradigm as the sort of university that offers best teaching opportunities”.

“All the universities that lead world and national rankings are of this type. This fact is probably one of the main explanations for the improvements in Chile, where the universities face tough competition when attempting to attract the best students,” he said.