In the late 1950s, Mexico enrolled approximately 3 million students at its elementary, secondary, and higher education institutes. In 2011, the Secretariat of Education announced that enrollment had reached 34 million. As the country’s population grows, the number of high-quality universities has expanded at an even more rapid rate. The country’s largest school, the National Autonomous University of Mexico, provides education to more than 315,000 students, and is the 19th-largest in the world in terms of enrollment. In 2011, approximately 50% of Mexicans finished secondary school, with more than 13 million students graduating. To support these students in their quest for higher learning, the government has announced new initiatives for financing and accreditation, and has also increased the state’s budget for education.
In 2012, Mexico plans to spend approximately 5% of GDP on the sector, a respectable level compared to other major economies. Mexico’s economic rival Brazil also focuses approximately 5% of its GDP on resources for education. However, these funds do not translate into concrete gains in the quality of education, experts say, as only 20% of the government’s $20 billion in resources makes its way into areas such as infrastructure, capital investments, and materials. However, the government has allocated $380 million in educational grants for 2012, $189 million for loans, and $45 million will be aimed at programs that help young people enter the workforce.
There are currently 5.8 million students enrolled in secondary schools, and 2.9 million in post-secondary institutes, 30% of which are private. Autonomous institutions, mainly universities, manage 4.7% of the schools, largely in upper-secondary and tertiary education.
In addition to programs aimed at boosting the quality and accessibility of higher education, the Secretariat of Education has been focused on initiatives to promote safety, boost literacy, and award scholarships across all levels.
Of Mexico’s more than 130 public higher education institutions, 10 are top universities, 32 are reputable institutes of technology, and 32 are autonomous universities, which are not required to follow state mandates and regulations. Mexico also boasts 50 private institutions that do not receive funding from the state, but are entitled to diverge from the government’s secular education policies and follow their own curricula.
Although private universities are not fully government supported, President Felipe Calderón launched a funding program in January 2012 in collaboration with 20 private institutions and five major banks to provide support to students in financial need. Under the program, students at the undergraduate level receive $16,000 and graduates pursuing PhDs or Master’s degrees are entitled to $21,000. The students then have 15 years to pay off the loans, with fixed rates of 10%. Any student accepted at one of the participating institutes is eligible to apply.
The government is working to increase higher-education attendance from 29% of college-aged people to an ambitious 65% by 2030. To reverse the trend of establishing unaccredited and low-quality universities across the nation, the recently created National Council for Higher Education Accreditation (COPAES) seeks to inspect and report the progress of schools.
Despite huge progress in education, the challenges that Mexico faces have not been easy to overcome. While most young children attend primary school, only 62% obtain secondary education. At the secondary level, approximately half of the students fail to graduate. However, Mexican authorities and NGOs recognize the problem, and are actively taking steps to increase enrollment. One such group is Mexicanos Primero (Mexicans First), which is pushing for reforms of the system, drawing attention to the fact that the average Mexican spends just 8.6 years in school, whereas in Norway and Canada this figure is 13.2 years. With the teacher’s union largely guiding the state budget and holding current policies in place, increased NGO and parent awareness could accelerate progress.
Rural parts of the country are more likely to receive less-experienced teachers, due to a career structure that is outdated and geared toward urban areas. Moreover, the growth of telesecundarias, secondary schools in rural areas broadcast through internet or TV, stunt the growth of traditional schools in remote areas and threaten Mexico’s performance with less-than-satisfactory results.
The strengths of the country’s education system do offset the challenges to some extent. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Mexico’s performance rankings have improved in recent years, as President Calderón has introduced education reforms, such as ending the practice of teachers selling or inheriting their positions.
By Latin American standards, Mexico’s schools are excellent. According to a survey conducted by the Programme For International Student Assessment (PISA), an international test of 15-year-olds in reading, math and science, Mexico has the region’s second-best educated children after Chile. In math, the country is improving faster than anywhere else in the 65-country study. The OECD agrees that Mexico is on track to meet the 2012 targets that President Calderón set near the start of his administration, especially in math and reading. Furthermore, education accounts for 22% of public non-capital spending, which represents the highest share in the OECD.
In terms of higher education, Enrique A. González Álvarez, the Rector at the Universidad La Salle, told TBY that “Mexico has achieved incredible results in its higher education system in the last few years. Many new universities have been founded and the existing institutions have deepened their networks, quality, and the diversification of their academic offers.”
Looking to the future, both public and private institutes agree that a more international approach to education is crucial to the success of the sector.
At Tecnológico de Monterrey, 40% of students have international experience during their studies, and the school boasts 400 exchange agreements with foreign universities. “We hope that in four years all of our students will have at least one international experience,” David Noel Ramírez Padilla, Rector of Tecnológico de Monterrey, told TBY. Universidad La Salle also supports a variety of agreements around the world, focused on student and professor exchanges.
In terms of students coming to Mexico for education, substantial numbers have yet to be seen. However, pioneers in the field, such as the Universidad Iberoamericana, have set the trend to receive more foreign nationals. José Morales Orozco, Rector of the school, told TBY that almost 300 students study at the university on an annual basis. As more and more learners trickle in from abroad and Mexican students and professors continue to foster international integration, the Mexican education system is set to grow and evolve rapidly.
© The Business Year