Higher education in Peru: The unfulfilled dream

World Today

Higher education in Peru: The unfulfilled dream

Part of the CGTN series Education in Peru: Making the grade.

Today’s young Latin Americans are the first generation in the region’s history more likely to grow up in the middle class than in poverty. However, the lack of a quality education may become a road block in achieving some of their dreams.

CGTN’s Dan Collyns zeroes in on Peru as an example of the education issues facing the region.

The universal hope of parents is for their children to have better lives and opportunities than they did. It often begins with higher education, which, in Peru and much of Latin America, is available for those who can afford it.

As Peru’s economy has boomed in recent years, so has the middle class. Over the past 20 years, the number of universities has nearly tripled. That growth has brought with it dreams of quality higher education for all. But that’s not what’s happened.

“There was an idea that the market would regulate the demand for education and clean the good from the bad. But after nearly 20 years of growth for private universities, there’s still no quality. The fundamental problem has been the lack of state regulation,” said Ricardo Cuenca, Director of the Institute of Peruvian Studies.

Peru has nearly 150 public and private universities, but only a fraction of them have been accredited so far by the education ministry. The majority are fee-paying private institutions; many of which fall well short of national standards. Even with the better ones, students don’t get the results they expect.

Cesar Otiniano studied agro-industrial engineering at a private university in Lima. Now 30, he still hadn’t found work in his chosen career. “I have a car which I use to work as a taxi driver. I’m lucky to have inherited some properties from my family which I’m able to rent, and so I can earn a living,” said Cesar.

Nevertheless, he can’t hide his disappointment. “I don’t think it’s fair, given the time invested and the money spent on my university education. I’m not happy to have finished my degree and find myself in this situation. While I can’t find a job in my career, I’ll have to look elsewhere,” he added.

While universities of all shapes and sizes have sprung up across the country, few make the grade. “There are fewer than 10 institutions which offer degrees which would be recognized outside the country. However, our universities are maturing and we expect more to raise their standards,” explained Veronica Zapata, Director General of the Peruvian Education Ministry

To address the problem, beginning in 2012, Peru banned opening new universities until reforms are put in place and regulated by the state. The so-called ‘university law’ struggled to get congressional backing as it clashed with private interests in the lucrative boom in higher education. There are exceptions which educators in Peru hope will set the pace for the rest.

With its spacious and modern campus and its liberal attitude toward education, Lima’s Catholic University was the only place of higher education in Peru which consistently figures in international university rankings.

For the last three years, the university, known as La Catolica, has been the only Peruvian entry in a ranking of the world’s top 500 universities.

Part of the CGTN series Education in Peru: Making the grade.