Do Latin American Universities Need to Embrace English?

According to The Guardian, universities in Latin America are not getting the global respect they deserve because they are not putting enough effort towards embracing and adopting English in higher education on their campuses. Leandro Tessler writes that having a campus that’s easily navigable by English-speakers is a necessary first step towards international recognition of [...]

According to The Guardian, universities in Latin America are not getting the global respect they deserve because they are not putting enough effort towards embracing and adopting English in higher education on their campuses. Leandro Tessler writes that having a campus that’s easily navigable by English-speakers is a necessary first step towards international recognition of any college or university around the world.

Tessler writes this warning at the time when schools in Latin America are devoting increasing resources towards internationalization and hoping to take their place on the global higher education stage. The move towards globalization has not been ignored, as universities around the world are seeking new partners and markets in hope of making themselves more attractive to students and bringing in additional tuition dollars.

But institutions with a strategic view should now be thinking about taking the opportunity to go beyond simply hosting exchange students. Latin Americans still confound higher education and university education and expect all their higher education institutions to be research institutions, although most do not do any relevant research of course. Latin American institutions (including universities) adopt the 19th-century continental European tradition of professional training.

There’s hardly a general education aspect to a Latin American education at the moment. The universities are viewed strictly as places for vocational training, with students selecting a profession prior to enrolling. Attending college in Latin America is quite unlike a whole-life experience at a typical American or European school. The priority is always on academics, and little time remains for any kind of extra-curricular or cultural engagement outside the lessons being taught.

According to Tessler, this creates and atmosphere of intellectual isolation, something that a few schools around the regions are now working to change. Some are taking the steps to adopt a liberal arts-style of instruction which dominates universities in the United States. However, only a few seems willing to consider such possibilities, and those that do are viewed with suspicion by institutions of higher learning of a more traditional bend.

The Times Higher Education World University Rankings contains no more than four Latin American universities among the top 400: two in Brazil, one in Mexico and one in Colombia. Why is this number so small? Brazil alone produces almost 3% of all scientific publications in the world, mostly in universities, which would suggest that perhaps the ranking is too strict with them.

Tessler blames the poor showing on “linguistic isolation” that comes from schools failing to encourage students to learn English by offering learning opportunities or even entire programs in the language. This would not only open Latin American colleges to the world, but would also make them more appealing to international students from Europe, the United States and other parts of the globe where the language is widely spoken.

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