Higher Education In Mexico: The Quest To Become More-Competitive Globally

Column

on October 24 2013 10:40 AM
Mexico City 2011
Mexico City, Mexico. Reuters

Since Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto took office at the end of 2012, his government has proceeded to address some important policy challenges.

The administration has tackled energy reform to open up the country’s state oil monopoly to foreign investment and to develop global partnerships in the energy sector. The government also recently introduced an education reform with a view to raising teaching standards and holding Mexican teachers more accountable at the K-12 level, through changes such as the introduction of across-the-board performance evaluations. Furthermore, the government’s recent autumn tax bill seeks to improve efficiency in the country’s tax system.

However, despite the positive measures undertaken during President Peña’s first year in office, numerous challenges remain across a range of sectors. These include issues that impact the country’s global competitiveness, not the least of which is higher education. In September the 2013 QS World University Rankings -- considered by many to be the gold standard of rankings in global higher education -- came out with its list of the world’s top universities. And the telling stat? Mexico did not have a single university represented within the top 100. Nor, for that matter, did Brazil or India. China produced only one Top 100 school. The Top 10 schools were all located either in the United States or the United Kingdom.

There was some disappointment among Latin American countries with the QS rankings. That said, the rankings themselves cannot fully capture the progress made by Mexican, Brazilian and other Latin American institutions in strengthening their academic standards and in raising their global profiles in recent years.  These developments were among some of the issues discussed at the most recent Conference of the Americas on International Education (CAIE), held in Monterrey, Mexico, from Oct. 16-18. The conference attracted more than 900 representatives from higher education institutions, government agencies, and multilateral organizations from across Latin America, the United States, Canada, Europe and beyond. Participants at the conference discussed and debated a number of salient global higher education themes with widespread implications, including different strategies for comprehensive internationalization, the role of global distance education, the financing of global education, and issues surrounding global education research and innovation.   

Bold Higher Education Strategy Needed To Raise Global Rank 

Further, these matters are very much on the minds of Mexico’s higher education officials. One conference participant, Francisco Marmolejo, who hails from Mexico and currently serves as lead tertiary education specialist at the World Bank, noted that while many challenges lie ahead, the government has already done much to address a range of issues confronting Mexican higher education, including improving access to higher education and increasing the retention of Mexican students at its institutions.  Marmolejo added that Mexico has been participating actively in a number of global higher education initiatives, such as the recent U.S.-Mexico bilateral forum on higher education held in September 2013 in Mexico City and the “100,000 Strong in the Americas” initiative of the U.S. Department of State to foster international exchanges within the Americas.  

Nonetheless, Marmolejo also cautions that Mexico has not yet fully articulated a bold and comprehensive higher education strategy to promote global education, as is the case in other countries in Latin America, such as Colombia, or in other parts of the world, notably Australia. “Mexico still needs a comprehensive internationalization strategy in higher education that integrates government, academic institutions, the private sector and civil society in a more effective way,” he said.

The advances made by Mexican institutions in the area of global higher education were clearly on display in Monterrey last week, but, as is the case in other sectors, much work remains to be done to guarantee Mexico’s global higher education competitiveness going forward.

--

David Felsen, Ph.D., is Executive Director of International Programs in the Office of International Affairs at Saint Leo University in Florida. He recently attended the Conference of the Americas on International Education in Monterrey, Mexico.