Interview: Elsa Del Castillo
What more needs to be done to improve the tertiary education system in the country?
ELSA DEL CASTILLO: Education is a key factor in the country’s wider development and remains central to ensuring sustainable, long-term economic growth. The fact that less than 20% of the over 80 universities currently operating in Peru would meet the requirements of the new University Law shows that the process of university accreditation has been misguided.
As we already know, establishing the methods by which we set minimum quality standards is a very complex matter. There have to be built-in guarantees that the supervisory body in charge of awarding university licences is very efficient, or the system will not work.
The truth is that students spend some of their best years at university, and therefore there needs to be a system that ensures that this period is spent learning skills that will make them more employable in the future. Tertiary education in Peru needs to change its approach and go back to the way things were 30 years ago – when quality was valued above quantity.
In a country so dependent on mining, why is there still a significant lack of qualified technicians?
DEL CASTILLO: The country is sorely in need of both technicians and institutions with the means and aptitude to educate them. If many universities were closed due to the new law, the technical institutes would need to play a bigger role as an alternative for students unable to get a spot in college. However, this is not to say that the level of these institutes needs to improve – as recent studies have indicated, Peru has an absence of talent that simply cannot be filled domestically.
That said, in a country so dependant on minerals, the fact that an institute dedicated to training and supplying technicians to the mining sector does not exist speaks to a lack of planning within the education sector. It is the job of the Ministry of Education to identify the economy’s employment needs. In order to remedy this, the ministry is creating an employment observatory that will help the education system adapt to satisfy these requirements.
To what extent is centralisation affecting the level of education in the country’s provinces?
DEL CASTILLO: Centralisation in Peru is evident in all sectors of the economy, and education is of course one of them. One initiative that has been effective is working to bring professors to Lima in order to broaden and deepen their skills, but this has been done only on a small scale and has not had a large enough impact on raising the level of education in the provinces.
In order for these projects to be effective, there has to be greater communication between the government and the institutes, as well as communication among the schools themselves, to create a nationwide programme with the capacity for long-term success.
Are post-graduate programmes satisfying demand in terms of both quality and quantity, and are business programmes pushing other kinds out?
DEL CASTILLO: What is available now has changed drastically from 15 years ago, when the offer was almost nonexistent and students had to go abroad, mainly to the US or Spain, to acquire a PhD or master’s degree. In recent years postgraduate schools in Peru have been working towards international accreditation and foreign universities have launched programmes in the country. The overall level has increased, but again we go back to the issue of quality versus quantity. As for business degrees taking precedence over other specialties, this has not been the case, as there are also high-quality, non-business courses available.
The focus now has to be on creating a national set of university accreditations that are comparable to international standards, which will help raise the level of post-graduate studies. This model has been successful in both improving the quality of education and bridging the competitiveness and talent gap in other countries in the region, such as Chile or Colombia.
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