Latin America and the Caribbean Take a Stand on University Rankings Around the World
Due to the emergence of university rankings and the impact these rankings can have on public policies affecting education, the UNESCO International Institute for Higher Education in Latin America and the Caribbean (UNESCO-IESALC) devised in 2007 a Map of Higher Education in Latin American and the Caribbean known as MESALC, an alternative regional project, that suits the needs and meets the standards of Latin American and Caribbean Higher Education Institutions (HEI).
On the occasion of the IV Meeting of University Networks and Councils of Chancellors of Latin America and the Caribbean, to be held May 5th and 6th in Buenos Aires, Argentina, UNESCO-IESALC will introduce MESALC, an on-line information system aimed at articulating national methods of information on Higher Education (HE) within the region, seeking to create such spaces in countries lacking the required infrastructure. Also, during this international forum the regional stance on university rankings will be determined.
These comparison systems are designed according to very specific criteria that suit mainly the needs of industrialized countries. Latin American and Caribbean HEI, therefore, do not fare well in these rankings because they lack the preestablished conditions of these systems, which do not take into account the social and economic context of developing countries.
Unlike the rankings, the Map allows the end user both to become informed about the HE dimensions in the different universities of Latin America and the Caribbean, and to conduct a free comparison of variables and indicators of his/her own choice, thereby making the selection process a transparent space that enables the user to formulate search criteria in areas and aspects that are of his/her particular interest.
The UNESCO-IESALC a.i. Director, Mr. Pedro Henríquez Guajardo, explains that the MESALC is geared to to provide in-depth knowledge about HE and foster a culture of information; thus, it has a set of descriptors, variables and indicators aimed at evaluating the academic situation of each country. Additionally, there is also a Glossary of Higher Education that aids in identifying and defining the basic concepts used in the project’s implementation.
“In the CRES 2008 we presented this tool as a regional alternative to university rankings, which are an inevitable manifestation of the globalization and commercialization of Higher Education and which do not fit the characteristics and needs of Latin America and the Caribbean. One of the main shortfalls in Higher Education within the region is the lack of information and the absence of data and statistical systems that allow for sufficient and relevant knowledge to establish standardized interinstitutional comparisons, which hinders a relevant and competent evaluation relative to other regions,” the Director stated.
For Mr. Henríquez, the creation such a project is of vital importance for the Latin American region.
“The creation of these spaces that allow for mutual and appropriate knowledge of the reality of tertiary education is a crucial and prime concern for Latin American and Caribbean countries and HEI. Moreover, they facilitate the evaluation and knowledge of our particularities, characteristics and values, both positive and negative, before being compared according to standards established for realities that are not ours, and which categorize us and place us in clear disadvantage, thereby downplaying achievements and accomplishments in Higher Education” he remarked.
He added, furthermore, that the MESALC is a direct response to the committment to Higher Education ratified by all the countries in the region at the Regional Conference on Higher Education in Latin America and the Caribbean (CRES 2008). This conference provided for the creation of a generalized diagnosis of the situation of tertiary education in the region and the proposal of possible means to foster its growth.
“… it is necessary to undertake: … the articulation of national information systems regarding Higher Education in the region in order to foster, through the Map of Higher Education in LAC (MESALC), mutual knowledge between systems as a basis for academic mobility and as an input for appropriate public and institutional policies” .” (Declaration CRES 2008)
For some viewpoints of Venezuelan students regarding university rankings, click on this video.
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