A plan to increase student mobility across Latin America

Higher education institutions in Latin America and the Caribbean are increasingly willing to collaborate across borders, as evidenced by the growing number of regional university networks. However, the absence of economic incentives and regional programmes to promote cooperation in higher education, particularly in research and training, remains a significant barrier.

These limitations severely restrict the capacity of institutional networks to contribute to generating shared knowledge and utilising academic mobility as a reinforcement.

This situation is further exacerbated by the lack of major regional programmes for research funding, the creation of shared curricula and degree programmes between institutions in different countries, and the absence of a common student mobility programme.

Considering these challenges, the Regional Convention on the Recognition of Studies, Diplomas and Degrees in Higher Education in Latin America and the Caribbean, known as the Buenos Aires Convention, adopted in 2019 by 23 countries, seeks to invigorate academic mobility and address these underlying issues.

It entered into force at the end of 2022 and has so far been ratified by Cuba, Grenada, Peru, Uruguay and the Holy See, representing the Catholic Church.

Facilitating student mobility

The primary policy goal of the Buenos Aires Convention is to facilitate student mobility and ensure that the recognition of qualifications is no longer solely an individual concern but a reflection of the commitment of states parties to the universal right to education.

Currently, a mere 0.8% of higher education students in the region benefit from some form of mobility, with the majority opting for destinations in Europe or North America.

The convention aims to shift this paradigm by emphasising the importance of shared instruments, such as the diploma supplement, and reasonable timeframes for degree recognition. By streamlining the recognition process and ensuring transparency and efficiency, the convention endeavours to protect the rights of students and foster a network of national information centres on recognition.

Moreover, the convention acknowledges the specific challenges faced by refugee, or forcibly displaced, students and aims to protect their rights in the recognition of acquired learning, even without documentation. This provision is particularly crucial because only a small fraction of the 27 million refugees worldwide possess higher education qualifications.

Building mutual trust

Another key policy goal of the Buenos Aires Convention is to build greater mutual trust between higher education systems in the region. Trust can only be established if quality standards are perceived as equivalent across countries. To this end, the convention recognises the pivotal role of quality assurance agencies and aims to promote their cooperation through networks such as RIACES or SIACES.

By collaborating on principles and criteria for accreditation, these agencies can ensure that an institution or programme accredited in one country is equally recognised in any other country, fostering reciprocity and mutual trust. With nearly all countries in the region having one or more quality assurance agencies, the convention presents an opportunity to strengthen cooperation and harmonise quality standards.

Promoting convergence

A less visible, yet significant, policy goal of the Buenos Aires Convention is the promotion of convergence among higher education systems in the region. While some shared programmes between universities in different countries already exist, they remain limited in scope. The convention seeks to facilitate comparability by defining common objectives, competencies and evaluation mechanisms.

By establishing clear guidelines, the convention encourages the convergence of degrees and study programmes, ensuring they meet regional standards while respecting each country’s diverse academic traditions and configurations. Additionally, the convention underscores the importance of regional cooperation between national qualifications frameworks in identifying synergies and convergences in academic and professional profiles across different countries.

The convention fosters collaboration and strengthens the regional higher education space through these initiatives.

Diversifying mobile populations

Recognising that physical mobility is often restricted to privileged individuals, the Buenos Aires Convention aims to diversify mobile populations of students, teachers and researchers. It seeks to expand the concept of regional mobility and create more inclusive pathways.

In addition to physical mobility, the convention promotes virtual mobility as an alternative, allowing individuals to access higher education opportunities without geographical limitations.

By embracing diverse mobility pathways, the convention strives to broaden participation and ensure equal opportunities for individuals from all backgrounds, ultimately fostering a more inclusive higher education landscape.

Embracing technological advances

The final policy goal of the Buenos Aires Convention is to recognise and leverage the opportunities presented by technology in higher education. The convention acknowledges the emergence of alternative credentials, such as micro-credentials, and the growing prevalence of virtual and distance programmes. These innovations challenge traditional academic models and require enhanced international cooperation in regulatory matters.

By embracing these advances, the convention encourages collaboration and mutual recognition of qualifications, ensuring learners benefit from international educational experiences and providing lifelong learning and professional development pathways.

In conclusion, the Buenos Aires Convention on the recognition of higher education qualifications aims to address the barriers hindering cooperation and mobility in Latin America and the Caribbean.

By facilitating student mobility, building mutual trust among higher education systems, promoting convergence, diversifying mobile populations and embracing technological advancements, the convention seeks to strengthen international cooperation and ensure fair recognition practices.

Through these policy goals, the convention strives to create a more collaborative and integrated regional higher education space, fostering opportunities for students, researchers and institutions alike.

By embracing the principles and goals outlined in the Buenos Aires Convention, countries in Latin America and the Caribbean can work together to enhance the quality, accessibility and global recognition of their higher education systems.

Francesc Pedró is director of the UNESCO International Institute for Higher Education in Latin America and the Caribbean.