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Brazil Loses Out to Chile in New QS University Rankings: Latin America

Brazil Loses Out to Chile in New QS University Rankings: Latin America main image

**Click here to see the latest version of this article, based on the QS University Rankings: Latin America 2016.

Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (UC) has overtaken Brazil’s Universidade de São Paulo (USP) to top the QS University Rankings: Latin America for the first time. USP slips to number two, having previously retained the number one spot in each of the three years since the inaugural Latin American rankings in 2011.

With very fine margins separating the institutions at the top of the table, UC has built on a strong 2013 performance and edged out USP due to minor improvements rather than any dramatic change in either institution’s scores. Having once again made the top four in both the academic and employer reputation surveys, UC has this year improved its scores for student/faculty ratio and web impact, both areas of comparative weakness in the past. Whereas USP is the number one institution for research productivity (as measured by the ‘papers per faculty member’ indicator), UC is well ahead when it comes to citations, in which it makes the top 10. (See the full list of indicators used here.)

Overall, Brazilian universities still rising

Though the dethroning of USP may take the headlines, it is far from being indicative of a general downward trend for Brazilian universities this year. Indeed, USP is the only one of the top 10 Brazilian institutions not to maintain or improve its 2013 ranking, showing that the nation’s universities are consolidating their dominance as a group. Brazil now has 10 of the continent’s top 20 universities, two more than last year. USP is joined in the top five by Universidade Estadual de Campinas (Unicamp), which remains third, and Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, which moves up from eighth to fourth, making it the biggest climber in the top 10.

As in previous years, the indicator in which the Brazilian dominance is most complete is papers per faculty. The top eight institutions in this indicator are all Brazilian, with only Universidad de Chile preventing a total whitewash of the top 10. With 14 Brazilian and six Chilean institutions comprising the top 20 for papers per faculty it is clear that the leading universities from these two nations are currently the region’s most research-intensive, at least in disciplines, such as the STEM subjects, in which frequent journal publications are a relevant measure of productivity.

Yet when it comes to citations per paper, the other quantitative measure of research employed in the rankings, Brazilian institutions are absent from the top 10. Indeed, UC’s strong ranking for citations compared to USP is one of the reasons it beats it to the top spot this year.

Region’s best-reputed universities reveal weak spots

Despite once again being rated the region’s number one institution for academic reputation, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) has slipped two places to 8th this year, placing it behind Tecnológico de Monterrey (ITESM) for the first time. UNAM’s excellent academic reputation is not complemented by the same consistency across the board exhibited by institutions such as UC and USP; faculty/student ratio, papers per faculty and proportion of staff with a PhD are all areas of relative weakness. ITESM edges ahead of UNAM, having consolidated its all-round performance, ranking marginally lower than last year in just one of the seven indicators, compared to three weaker scores for UNAM.

Another big-name institution to have taken a hit is Argentina’s Universidad de Buenos Aires, which placed as high as 8th when the Latin America rankings were first compiled in 2011, but has this year dropped seven places to 19th. The Universidad de Buenos Aires is the region’s most popular institution among graduate employers, is second for academic reputation, and makes the top 10 for research citations. Yet despite these impressive credentials, it suffers from a comparatively poor student/faculty ratio and low proportion of staff with a PhD, longstanding weaknesses that were exacerbated this year by a drop in research productivity.

The divide between public and private universities in Argentina is starkly illustrated in the student/faculty ratio indicator, with the larger public institutions excelling in academic and employer reputation, but having nowhere near the staffing levels enjoyed by many of their smaller private counterparts, proportionate to a much larger student intake.

Focus on teaching lags behind research production

Faculty/student ratio is an issue not just in Argentina but at many of the major public institutions in the Latin American region, perhaps reflecting the region-wide drive to increase participation as well as traditionally inclusive admission policies. None of the top 10 institutions for academic reputation make the top 50 for their faculty/student ratio, a lack of correlation that suggests the institutions producing the best research are not currently those best equipped with teaching staff. This divide is evident in Colombia, the only one of whose top 10 institutions to make the top 100 for student/faculty ratio is the private Pontificia Universidad Javeriana.

Several Colombian institutions have slipped this year, with seven of the top 10 ranking lower than in 2013. Universidad de Los Andes Colombia remains in the top five despite falling a place, but Universidad Nacional de Colombia drops out of the top 10, falling five places to 14th. Yet the seven leading Colombian institutions have all improved their scores this year for both research citations and the proportion of staff with a PhD, suggesting a concerted effort is taking place in these areas.

A total of 18 countries can boast at least one institution in this year’s rankings, from Brazil with 78 to El Salvador and Puerto Rico, both with two. Brazil’s tally puts it ahead of Mexico, with 46, followed by Colombia (41), Argentina (34) and Chile (30). Between them these nations claim 229 of the 300 institutions that have been ranked this year, yet other nations also make their presence felt. Universidad de Costa Rica moves up three places to 23rd, making it the highest ranked institution from outside of the region’s dominant five nations, while Universidad Central de Venezuela (27th) and Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (30th) also make the top 30. Uruguay’s Universidad de la República (54th) rises significantly this year to the cusp of the top 50, while Ecuador’s leading institution Universidad de San Francisco de Quito ranks 71st, having failed to make the top 100 last year.

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Written by Laura Bridgestock
The former editor of TopUniversities.com, Laura oversaw the site's editorial content and student forums. She also edited the QS Top Grad School Guide and contributed to market research reports, including 'How Do Students Use Rankings?'

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