Higher Education World June 2016: QS University Rankings: Latin America

The Latin American ranking is perhaps the most eagerly awaited of the four regional comparisons published by QS. Over six editions, competition has become intense and media interest in the results exceptionally strong.

One reason is the diversity of the ranking: seven countries are represented in the latest top 20, a record number that confirms the continuing growth in high-quality provision throughout the region. The top three universities are unchanged since 2015 and there are no new entrants to the top 10. But, with universities from 20 countries among the top 300 in the region, there is more interest than ever in the ranking as a whole.

Universidade de São Paulo (USP) maintains its accustomed position at the head of the ranking, outperforming its city neighbour Unicamp (Universidade Estadual De Campinas) and Santiago’s Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile. Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) has become the nearest challenger to the top three, moving up two places since last year.

Universidad Central de Venezuela (UCV) has made the most progress towards the top of the ranking, jumping from outside the top 30 to a share of 18th place this year. It is the first time that Venezuela has been represented in the Latin American top 20 and the same is true of Costa Rica, whose national university is the other occupant of 18th place.

Brazil still has by far the largest number of universities in the top 300, however. Although the country has one fewer university in the top ten compared with 2015, there are 76 in the ranking as a whole.  Brazil has been investing heavily in research, particularly through its Science Without Borders programme, and shows the highest research productivity in the region in terms of papers per faculty member, but its universities still have relatively low research impact, as measured by citations per paper published.

Mexico has also had a good year, with two universities in the top ten – Tecnologico de Monterrey joining UNAM in the leading group after a rise of two places. Monterrey, which has moved up more than 40 places in two years in the QS World University Rankings, is in Latin America’s top four in the estimation of employers. UNAM, with more than 300,000 students, including 28,000 postgraduates, is one of the giants of the region in every sense, rated top in Latin America by academics.

Colombia also has two universities in the region’s top ten and is regarded by many commentators as the country to watch in Latin American higher education. Only Brazil and Mexico – both with much larger populations – have more universities in the latest ranking than Colombia’s 41.

Argentina is not far behind in terms of its overall representation in the new ranking. More than half of its 34 representatives have improved their positions since last year. Improved data from the University of Buenos Aires have enabled it to move up four places to the verge of the top ten, reflecting its good showing in the 2015 world rankings, when it jumped 75 places to become Latin America’s highest-placed university.

Chile is another country with two universities in the top ten, but half of the 30 Chilean universities represented overall have slipped down the ranking. Nevertheless, both the Pontificia Universidad and Universidad de Chile remain among the region’s top six and two others – Universidad de Concepción and Universidad de Santiago de Chile (USACH) – are in the top 20.

The 2016 ranking includes a new measure, assessing each university’s international research network, making eight indicators in all. The new indicator has been added to reflect the growing importance of research collaboration across national borders and has been accompanied by a reduction in the weighting for the overall number of papers produced by each faculty member.

Written by John O’Leary
Executive Member of the QS Advisory Board