The demand for higher education in Latin America is booming. This is a long-term trend associated with the region’s pronounced economic growth. According to the Bonn Based, ICEF (International Consultants for Education and Fairs), participation in higher education across Latin America and the Caribbean has increased dramatically from 1970 to 2000 and now represents 11 to 12% of the global enrollment.
If you are a provider of higher education, consider this fact: Latin America and the Caribbean will be the third largest region in terms of higher education enrolment by 2035. With the increased prosperity and economic growth, which the region has experienced recently, the surge in demand for higher education has created an interesting market niche for foreign universities.
Traditionally, going to college in the United States and Europe was considered a prestige item for Latin America’s elites. However, studying in the USA and Europe increasingly is becoming not just a matter of prestige but also of economic rationality. The cost of a quality education in Latin America is rising as the demand drives fees higher. Tuition fees at some of Mexico’s most prestigious private universities, for example, are already higher than these of many institutions of higher learning in the USA.
Forecasts of a good return on educational investment are much brighter for a student who has pursued studies abroad with all the advantages entailed by studying abroad. What are these advantages?
What advantages can foreign institutions offer to Latin American students?
The prestige that comes with studying in foreign colleges needs to be substantiated in programs that are actually rigorous and of high standard. The possibility of developing strong analytical and problem-solving skills at a high level as well as enhancing communication skills in a foreign language (frequently English) earns students (with degrees earned abroad) a competitive edge in the work market. This is a characteristic that colleges should by all means address when interviewing students: “having the goods”, i.e. offering a challenging and rigorous program delivered by a competent faculty offering personal contact with students, are important criteria for students and their families as they consider educational options.
The possibility of doing networking with fellow classmates and to pursue internships or connections with prospective future employers is also a highly desirable feature sought after by Latin American students. This is an important selling point for university level education providers to always keep in mind.
In many countries, the holders of student visas are entitled to work a certain number of hours per week and a higher number of hours during academic holidays. Educational destinations offering students the prospect of working on campus or doing internships during the summer will experience a considerable gain in their attractiveness to prospective students, not only because students may seek those employment possibilities as a way to partially cover their living costs, but also because of the positive curricular value of such experiences during a graduates first job interviews.
A candidate, who can show up at a job interview and demonstrate significant previous job exposure through internships (or on-campus employment), fluency in two or three languages, ability to adapt to and work with different cultures, in addition to a degree from a rigorous and accredited program, has a competitive edge over his peers. Therefore, schools promoting themselves should not omit to mention these aspects of their offerings.
What are the traditional destinations of Latin American students and what are the growth niches?
Traditionally, Latin American students are primarily interested by education in English overwhelmingly in the US although Canada and the United Kingdom are increasingly popular. After this, France and Spain hold important number of foreign students from Latin America.
The last decades have seen an increasing number of students venturing into Germany and Switzerland. English taught programs in the Continent, which allow students to enhance their skills in English, while learning another European language, such as French or German, have a high probability of appealing to Latin American students, not least because of the large foreign direct investment on the part of German, French, and French Canadian automotive, aeronautical, and pharmaceutical industries in the region.
The special case of Mexico
Mexico’s current government has articulated plans for a dramatic increase in Mexican students at US universities from the current 13,800 to 100,000 by 2018. The government plans to turn Mexico into the second or third larges source of foreign university students in the US after China and India.
As a part of these plans to make the Mexican economy more competitive, the United States and Mexico have signed in 2013 a Bilateral Forum on Higher Education, Innovation, and Research. Both governments are expanding educational exchange and there is an increase in the amount of government scholarships.
The rapid economic development of Latin American and the Caribbean and its traditional cultural ties with the United States and Europe, coupled with a purposeful drive towards higher competitiveness in the entire region make this part of the world a promising location for the recruitment of university students by North American, European, and Asian universities.
As the economies of Latin America become better integrated with those of America, Europe, and Asia, students seek better understanding and job exposure in these region as a way of furthering their careers. Universities which, in addition to offering a rigorous program of study, can also provide networking and initial career experiences through (for example – internships) will find an attractive base of prospective clients in Mexico, Guatemala, Panama, Costa Rica, Brazil, Columbia, Venezuela and the other countries in the region.