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Considerations from Latin America

UNESCO Forum “Knowledge, Access and Governance: Strategies for Change”

1-3 December 2004, Paris.

Carmen García Guadilla

Director Center for Development Studies

CENDES/Universidad Central de Venezuela

(November, 2004)

Access to Higher Education

It wasn’t just casual that 1963 had been the year when the first comparative study appeared with regard to higher education access. The research, carried out by Frank Bowles and edited by UNESCO, reported a sustained increase as to the access to higher education in almost all regions of the world. This growth continued along the subsequent decades and thus the reason why the second half of the 20th century is considered as the most spectacular epoch of expansion of the higher education system, particularly in the most developed countries. From 1960 to 1995, the number of graduates in the whole world grew more than six times, passing from 13 million to 82 million (UNESCO, 1998). The expansion in the access to higher education in the sixties had a great relevance in the discussion agenda due to its social and political implications. In all regions of the world, and as of the beginning of the sixties, enrollment rates boosted upwards, especially in the developed countries. Europe with a 2.2% of enrollment rates in the sixties, moved to almost 40% in the middle nineties; and, the United States along with Canada, from a enrollment rate of 7.2% they reached almost an 80%. The non-advanced countries also showed an increase in their rates, from 1.3 to an approximate 7.8%, however there still exists a tremendous gap among the former and the latter ones. In Latin America the figures passed from 1.6% in the sixties to 18% in the nineties. (García Guadilla, 2000)

The private educational sector played an important role in this expansion, at least in some regions. The levels reached by the national private sectors, worldwide, are shown in Table No.1.
Table 1: Scope of the private sector, worldwide.

Countries with large size private sectors

(more than 50% enrollments)

Japan, Philippines, South Korea, Bangladesh.

In Latin America: Colombia, Brazil, Chile, Dominican Rep., El Salvador.

Countries with middle size private sectors

(between 25-50% enrollments)

United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India and some English speaking African countries.

In Latin America: Paraguay, Peru, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Guatemala, Mexico.

Countries with small size private sectors

(less than 25% enrollments)

Most of West Europe.

In Latin America: Costa Rica, Ecuador, Argentina, Honduras.

Countries with incipient or non-existent

private sectors

(less than 10% to none)

China and almost all Eastern European countries.

In Latin America: Bolivia, Panama, Uruguay, Cuba.

Source: Salmi & Alcalá, 1998: and García Guadilla, 2002
Another classical book that analyses the general access to higher education is written by Martin Trow (1994). His contribution helped conceptualize the growth of enrollment demands for higher education, in accordance with the enrollment rates that different countries reach at a certain moment. He identified three models: -the elite access model: when a country has less than 15% enrollment rates; -massive access model: when enrollment percentage ranges between 15% and 35%; and -universal access model: when enrollment percentages are higher than 35%. According to these criteria, now-a-days, only the developed countries would have accessed the universal model.
However, considering the new knowledge society, with a high educational value, the figure seems to fall short in taking 35% as a starting point to access the universal model. In fact, as it was outlined before, many advanced countries have duplicated this percentage in the last decades. On the other hand, the concept of “access to higher education” itself is being substituted by ‘access to knowledge’ and when it comes to less advanced countries it is referred to as “access to significant social knowledge”; that is, pertinent knowledge. The overall contexts of globalization and knowledge management, wherein new processes are moving all about, demand for higher educational levels in all the countries. So amplification in the access to knowledge is, in fact, a necessity that all countries are facing, especially those that have precarious enrollment rates in higher educational systems.
Now, the knowledge society unveils two dynamics; on one side, it demands for higher levels of education, and on the other hand, it seems to favour the possibility of it being possible by means of the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT). Both dynamics are transforming the access to information per se and therefore also contribute enormously in the access to higher education.
The ICT are being used to respond to the new demands for amplifying the access, both by the traditional providers the existent institutions are experimenting distance education forms, generally in combination with presence systems and the new providers who, nonetheless they too use mixed systems of education, many of their offers are oriented by means of education at distance.
Among the new providers, in the latter days, it has been identify three modes:
Corporative Universities: as the name indicates, they belong to important enterprise conglomerates that require permanent and up-dated personnel.1 Some authors estimate that by the end of the present decade, the corporative universities will surpass in number the traditional universities, since whereas the corporative ones are growing permanently, the traditional universities are decreasing.2 On the other hand, the learning modes of the corporative universities are continuously incorporating the modality of distance teaching.
Enterprise or lucrative model: compared to the private traditional institutions, the owners of these ones have no problem in admitting that what moves them is the profit obtained, more than the prestige. The power of the lucrative models resides mostly in the managers and the users, and the knowledge application is more important than the production of it. The Phoenix University is a clear example of this.
Virtual Universities: in 2001, some 1180 institutions were identified which offered courses starting with post-graduate programs via Internet. It is also estimated that in less than two decades, the number of students assisting the virtual modalities will be larger than those of the traditional presence modalities. (Rodríguez, 2003)
In all regions of the world, one can observe new providers and new offers. The new providers in non-developed countries are emerging with different options: foreign conglomerates acquiring national private institutions; virtual universities; campuses, and foreign representative institution offices; franchises of foreign institutions in local areas. Articulated programs have also proliferated amongst foreign institutions and the local ones, with mix modalities as far as the type of providers is concerned and as far as the public/private conditions.
Studies are also starting to appear which gives account of the scope and configuration of this new phenomenon. Recently, in Latin America, a Seminar had been organized by UNESCO/IESALC where national studies had been presented providing information of a good number of regional countries.3 What follows is an exposure of the comparative results of these works.

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