Market Snapshot: Chile

An unusual mix of factors is at work in the education landscape of Chile. Like other OECD nations, Chile has experienced dramatic increases in student numbers; however, many of its educational policies date from the time of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship.This is how the Boston Review characterises the changes wrought under Pinochet:

“During the dictatorship of Pinochet, education, previously considered a public good, was commodified and repackaged as a private investment yielding purely private gains. But since student protests began in 2006, Chileans have been trying to get their education back.

Pinochet’s neoliberal dream was that the free market would optimise education and wean educational institutions off state support. Military “rectors” were appointed to the universities and charged with purging them of dissenting faculty and students. Over time, funding for public education was systematically slashed in order to create an educational vacuum that could be filled by private enterprise.”

The legacy of privatisation, as the magazine points out, is that adjusted for income, Chile’s private higher education system is the most expensive in the world; “per student, the country spends less than any other, and the student spends more.”

Now, a massive student movement founded in 2011 is protesting to effect wholesale change to a system plagued by quality control, access, and funding issues.

It’s a turbulent time in Chile’s tertiary sector and the country’s presidential election is less than a month away. ICEF Monitor expands on our previous report to take an up close look at the market, and discusses how to best approach working with agents and educators in the country.

Market overview

Chile is home to 17+ million people; over 6 million of them are in Santiago, the capital and main city for student recruitment. However, for educators looking to broaden their scope, Valparaiso (seat of the country’s national congress) and Concepción each have populations approaching one million. Antofagasta and La Serena are also sizable metropolitan areas.

Some quick education-related facts about Chile:

  • The UN’s Human Development Index (measuring factors such as access to knowledge, security against crime, participation in community activities, health and nutrition, etc.) gives it the fourth highest rating in the Americas.
  • Chile’s literacy rate is the highest in Latin America; as of 2010, 38% of young Chileans aged 24 to 35 had attained tertiary education.
  • SIMCE scores from 2012 show that 18% of grade 11 students were proficient in English, which is the same as 2011 but an improvement over 2010. However, these scores are lower than in other Latin American nations.
  • In 2012 there were 174 universities, institutes, and centres for technical learning, up from eight in 1980, and down from a 1990 peak of 310.
  • Enrolment in university courses at all levels has increased in recent years. Of special note is the rise in master’s students from 6,632 in 2000 to 29,371 in 2010, and in doctoral students from 1,053 to 4,055 in the last ten years.
  • In 2010 Chile sent 8,850 students overseas (up from 6,664 in 2008), with the most popular destinations for English-medium instruction being the US, Canada, UK, and Australia. For Spanish-medium instruction, Chileans are attracted to Spain and Argentina. France and Germany are also popular destinations for Chileans.
  • Looking at Chile as a study abroad destination country, most of Chile’s foreign students in 2010 (9,618 in total) came from Peru (2,097), as well as the rest of Latin America (for example, 757 from Colombia and 646 from Ecuador). however, North Americans compose an increasingly important segment of the market.
  • Chile’s highly privatised higher education system is the second-most expensive in OECD countries (after the US).

Priorities for Chileans considering study abroad

Eliminating the expense of university education is a primary concern for young Chileans, who feel overwhelmed by costs. For those who wish to study overseas, the country’s Ministry of Education administers a study abroad scholarship programme known as Becas Chile, which aims to train 30,000 outstanding candidates, including teachers and technicians, in institutions of their choice around the world.

Established in 2008, the Becas Chile programme offers funding for masters, PhD, postdoctoral, and technical studies in energy, biotechnology, IT, environment, health, education, science, and engineering. The programme’s scholarships are often thought of as limited to studies only at highly ranked research universities, but it actually funds studies at all schools, as well as universities of applied sciences. This is how the Becas Chile programme is organised, via Nuffic:

“With a Becas Chile scholarship, students can study abroad for one or two years after graduation. The scholarship includes payment of a return ticket, full tuition fee, an installation and book allowance and an allowance for housing and insurance. After their study abroad, students are required to come back to Chile to work.”

There are roughly a dozen scholarship types included under the Becas Chile programme, and some are not for degrees but for teacher training and internships (e.g.. their mathematics and sciences internships and vocational and technical internships). For more information please see the Becas Chile website or the OECD’s publication on the programme.

Besides pricing, when choosing a study abroad destination another top concern among Chilean students is access to part-time work. Agents will want to be aware of the work visa policies in recipient countries, particularly whether work visas for partners and schooling for children are available. Chileans are not typically interested in permanent migration. Rather, their objective is usually to obtain international work experience that will increase their attractiveness to employers back home.

According to a 2012 Nuffic analysis, there is an oversupply of undergraduate places in Chile, and an undersupply of postgraduate programmes. The latter could provide an added incentive for postgrads to seek study places abroad, particularly in areas serviced by the Becas Chile programme.

Reaching out to the world

An important programme that has helped popularise the idea of overseas study among young Chileans is Pingüinos sin Fronteras (Penguins without Borders), a linkage with New Zealand that sees high achieving 15- and 16-year-old public school students attend schools there for two terms to improve their English skills, gain overseas experience, and build connections. And now this year, Canada is participating in the programme: 40 Chilean high school students are studying in Canada for six months under Penguins without Borders.

Pablo Longueira, the Chilean Economy, Development and Tourism Minister, while visiting a group of pingüinos (named for the design of their school uniforms) at three separate New Zealand schools, said that the programme might soon send 1,000 participants abroad each year. He stressed the importance of instilling a desire in Chilean students to study overseas: “We hope that [the Penguins] will bring hope, if I may say, to future students and show that they can come and participate in this programme.”

Chile maintains other international connections as well. Among those are four state-subsidised Corfo (Production Development Corporation) centres founded by foreign universities or research organisations:

  • France’s National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Control operates an applied mathematics centre;
  • Germany’s Fraunhofer Society operates a systems biology centre;
  • The Netherlands’ Wageningen University and Research Centre maintains a facility devoted to food research;
  • Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation operates a mining and metals centre.

Chile maintains an important link with Australia known as the Chile-Australia Group of Eight Agreement on Human Capital Development (Go8). Eligible students enter Master’s, PhD, English, and teacher training programmes, as well as postdoctoral research exchanges, at eight Australian universities: Australian National University, the University of Melbourne, the University of New South Wales, the University of Western Australia, the University of Adelaide, the University of Queensland, Monash University, and the University of Sydney.

Chile-US connections are strong as well. Chile has had a link with the University of California school system since 1963, directed toward cooperation in agriculture, education, water-resource management, and transportation. A new agreement was signed in 2008 establishing the Chile-California Partnership for the 21st Century. And the Chile-California Program on Human Capital Development was formed to create more pathways for Chilean students into University of California graduate programmes.

Looking toward Asia, student exchange programmes are a focal point of South Korea’s policy toward Chile. Since 1984, nearly 20 universities in the two countries have formed relationships or signed bilateral academic exchange agreements, and in 2009 the countries signed an agreement to expedite people-to-people exchanges.

And in 2011, the Chilean government signed a research collaboration agreement with the Chinese government in which China will reserve places for postgraduate students from Chile.

Educational challenges at home

Anyone looking to work with Chile needs to be aware that the shadow of the Pinochet dictatorship hangs over the education sector. At that time, radical free market changes were made, and today the sector is characterised by high costs and middling performance. Educators and agents should bear in mind not only that Chilean students are deeply dissatisfied with the status quo, but also that the Chilean public overwhelmingly supports their demands.

Chile’s education sector faces challenges in every area – political, qualitative, financial, and legal:

  • Politically, there is public anger toward for-profit universities – technically illegal but able to generate revenue thanks to loopholes. The central issue: students argue that education is a basic right while the government defines it as a consumer good. Students want Ley General de Educación (or the General Education Act) modified to guarantee tuition-free higher education. Front-running presidential candidate Michele Bachelet has vowed to try to end for-profit education if she is elected in November, though many question her commitment to that promise.
  • Qualitatively, standards and accreditation need improvement. Seventeen of the 30 institutions ranked among Latin America’s top 300 dropped in the QS University Rankings in 2013, including four of Chile’s top five universities. As a point of comparison, Brazil has 81 universities listed in the top 300. Chile’s loosely regulated educational sector has produced a number of private universities that don’t require students to meet any type of academic admission requirements, and the World Economic Forum (WEF) ranks the higher education system as a whole 91st out of 144 countries. Moreover, the quality of teaching at all levels has been found to be substandard; this summer, over half of new Chilean teaching graduates taking the Prueba Inicia, a voluntary national exam that assesses the competence of Chilean teaching graduates, “did not know their specific subjects or how to impart them.”
  • Funding problems affect many Chilean families. They pay, as a national average, 85% of education costs from their pockets (compared with 5% in Scandinavia and 40% in the US), and must take out expensive educational loans that could require twenty years for many students to repay. Reforms enacted in 2012 reduced student loan interest rates from 6% to 2%, but the move was criticised by student leaders as inadequate.

In another development, in May 2013 the Ministry of Education announced that qualifications for student grant eligibility would change. The Ministry assured the public that the adjustments would affect as few as 200 students, but a report released by the Direction of Student Affairs made the counterclaim that as many as 10,000 students could be at risk of losing their government grants.

  • In the legal arena, several university directors have been imprisoned for running illegal schools, and the private institution Universidad del Mar, with more than 15,000 students, was decertified by government regulators and slated to be closed after it and two other schools were accused of generating more than CL $16 billion in illegal profits. In April 2013, education minister Harald Beyer was impeached for professional misconduct and replaced by Carolina Schmidt.

One of the universities affected by the for-profit scandal was the University for Arts, Sciences and Communications (UNIACC), which is operated by the US education giant Apollo Group. Last July the school’s accreditation was rescinded, which means its students are no longer eligible to receive state-backed student loans.

The school was criticised in several areas, among them its potential to provide quality education at the same time that it was projecting higher profits in an education landscape shaped by greater access to e-learning. University rector Juan Enrique Froemel said the situation would not affect the validity of certificates and degrees awarded by the university, and described the decision as unjustified and inexplicable.

The accreditation loss was the latest in a string of difficulties for UNIACC. In 2008 it agreed to repay the Ministry of Education US $4.8 million after accusations that it had profited from a fellowship programme for victims and descendants of victims of human rights violations that occurred during Chile’s military dictatorship.

Chilean students working hard to improve their educational prospects

Ultimately, in every story about Chilean education one common element emerges: the level of passion among students.

In no other country have students managed to generate such broad public support for an agenda of educational change.

Several members of the student movement are even standing for Congress in the November election. And just this summer, they were instrumental in forcing Chile’s justice minister, Teodoro Ribera, from office due to his association with a major player in a corruption scandal involving several private institutions.

Whether such passion can effect change, and what shape those changes might take, is still undetermined, but against this backdrop the Chilean economy remains stable, university enrolment continues to rise, and language proficiency is expected to increase with the initiation of a government programme to promote bilingualism in English, French, German, and Mandarin. The recruiting landscape has challenges, but also potential rewards for those who make the leap.



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