Student Survey Reveals Latin American Students’ Global Ambitions | Top Universities

Student Survey Reveals Latin American Students’ Global Ambitions

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Laura Bridgestock

Updated Oct 15, 2014



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Everyone’s talking about Brazil! But, here at, it’s not just because of the World Cup. Brazilian universities dominate the recently released 2014 QS Rankings: Latin America, with Brazil accounting for 78 of the region’s top 300 universities. And the Brazilian government itself even found time amidst the World Cup preparations to pass a new and ambitious National Education Plan. This includes targets of spending 10% of GDP on education within a decade (from about 6.4% at present), and having 50% of 18-24 year olds enrolling in higher education by 2013 (from 30.2% as of 2012).

Brazil is by no means the only Latin American country setting high targets for higher education development. Mexico, for instance, has been a prominent contributor to the “100,000 Strong in the Americasinternational mobility initiative. This aims to increase the number of US students studying in Latin American countries (currently about 40,000), and the number of Latin American students studying in the US (currently 60,000) so that both figures reach 100,000.

Prioritization of STEM subjects and international mobility

One priority shared by many Latin American countries is producing more graduates in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Concerns about imminent or current STEM skills shortages have also been voiced by numerous countries worldwide, but for many Latin American nations the problem has been given special urgency. In Chile, for instance, the student- and academic-led campaign group Más Ciencia para Chile (“More Science for Chile”) has pointed out that within the 33 OECD members, Chile has the sixth lowest investment in science.

This focus on STEM subjects is paired with a second major priority for Latin American countries: increasing international mobility among students and academics. Brazil’s “Science Without Borders” is among the largest and best-known initiatives spanning both of these aims, setting out to provide scholarships for 100,000 Brazilian students to study STEM subjects abroad, while also offering funding for overseas academics to conduct research in Brazil.

Similarly, Mexico is providing 4,000 scholarships to support Mexican students studying abroad – with engineering proving particularly popular – alongside funding for overseas students and scholars to spend time in Mexico. Alejandro Estivill, Mexico’s ambassador to the UK, recently emphasized the importance of viewing this as a two-way exchange and part of a wider relationship-building initiative. Other Latin American countries offering substantial international scholarship schemes include Chile, El Salvador, Ecuador and Colombia, while grants given to Latin American students via the Fulbright Program have also increased significantly.

Student survey results reflect focus on STEM subjects

The results of our international student survey suggest that Latin American students largely reflect the ambitions and goals of their governments – in terms of both international mobility and interest in STEM subjects. In 2012-13, the student survey collected more than 4,000 responses from prospective postgraduates worldwide, including more than 500 from prospective graduate students in Latin American countries (specifically Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela).

Compared to the global average, Latin American student survey respondents were especially likely to be applying to study a STEM discipline. As the chart below shows, more than 33% of those responding to the Latin American student survey were applying for postgraduate degrees in STEM subjects; this compares to less than 21% of students when considering the total global sample.

Latin American students looking beyond own region

In terms of favored study destinations, the most popular choice among our Latin American respondents was the UK, followed by the US. As well as being the world’s top two study destinations overall, both have also adopted a high profile in scholarship schemes such as those offered by Brazil and Mexico. Germany and France were the next most popular countries, followed by Canada and Australia. Overall, almost 60% of selections went to European destinations, over 20% to the US and Canada, almost 10% to Asian countries, and 9% to Australia and New Zealand.*

Less than 2% of selections were for Latin American nations – suggesting that Latin American students interested in studying abroad are overwhelmingly keen to travel outside of the region. This contrasts with the majority of other world regions, in which students were typically more likely to be considering studying overseas but in a neighboring or nearby country.

Given their preference for non-Spanish or -Portuguese-speaking countries, it’s unsurprising that our Latin American respondents were particularly likely to identify language skills as a major motivation when choosing an international study destination. Compared to the global trend, they were also even more likely to prioritize “international recognition of qualifications”; this aligns with their preference for countries outside of their own region, which is still in the early stages of establishing its universities on the global stage.

*Respondents were asked which countries they would like to study in; they were able to select as many as applied.