En conclusión, para que El Perú alcance a largo plazo la prosperidad económica, tendrá que mejorar la competitividad de sus recursos humanos y su sistema de educación superior.
Peru: Higher ground
As Peru’s economy continues to rapidly grow, the responsibility of keeping it on the road to economic development will increasingly fall on the shoulders of the country’s education system, particularly on its universities and technical institutes. According to data from the World Bank, Peru’s GDP has expanded an average of 7% over the course of the past five years, even amid an extremely weak exogenous environment. Indeed, much of this growth was due to increased revenues from exports with abnormally high commodity prices.
The ability to produce qualified professionals, particularly in key technology-related fields, is a vital ingredient to stimulating and sustaining economic growth, a fact recognised by the country’s National Education Plan 2005-15. Peruvian universities have fallen behind regional heavyweights Brazil and Argentina, but the implementation of a national accreditation system and increased budgetary spending should see the country gain ground in the mid-to-long-term.
Peru’s higher education system is broken into three segments: public universities, private universities, and vocational and technical institutes. Higher education in Peru dates to 1551 when the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos (National University of San Marcos) was created by royal decree, making it the oldest official university in the Americas.
Today, its strong tradition continues, as it remains one of the country’s top universities. In fact, Peru currently has 100 universities with more than 900,000 students, according to a census conducted by the National Assembly of Rectors (ANR) and the National Institute of Statistics (INEI) in 2010. However, despite its size and history, Peru still lags slightly behind regional peers when it comes to tertiary education.
According to QS University rankings, a globally recognised higher education assessor, the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Perú is the country’s preeminent university, followed by Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos. When taken in a regional context, these universities rank 34th and 49th, respectively, in a list dominated by institutions from regional neighbours Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and Colombia.
These rankings place Peru in the middle of the pack in the broader context of Latin America, a position both the government and private sector would like to improve upon. Major issues that had previously hindered the development of higher education institutions in Peru, such as a lack of proper regulation, budget and accreditation system, are all being addressed in one form or another.
For example, Peru was one of the last South American countries to implement a national system of accreditation. Indeed, for much of its history, Peru’s tertiary education system lacked any form of universal accreditation system and, as such, standards among many of the nation’s colleges and universities lacked consistency and faltered over time. This changed in 2006 with the formation of the National Council for Evaluation, Accreditation and Certification of University Education (CONEAU). CONEAU was responsible for accrediting 54 of Peru’s 100 universities in its first five years of existence.
Preceding the creation of CONEAU was the establishment of the National Council for Authorisation of Universities (CONAFU), which also plays a supervisory role, assisting with the creation of new universities as well as the preservation of existing ones. More importantly, CONAFU is responsible for evaluating and certifying new and existing universities so that they may operate legally.
The addition of these two supervisory institutions has already had a positive effect on improving the country’s tertiary institutions; however, there is still work to be done. Indeed, the tertiary education system has grown 75% since 1996 – when CONAFU was established – from 56 universities to the current 100. Undergraduate enrolment during that period averaged annual growth of 6.24% according to the ANR, increasing from 335,714 students to 782,970.
Meanwhile, other obstacles remain, such as further integrating university programmes with private sector needs. For example, establishing dedicated research and technology centres next to or within university campuses is one of the most popular ways of advancing the science, technological and medical industries.
In fact, such a park is already planned in the southern region of Tacna, which is conveniently located adjacent to the Tacna Free Zone. Such collaboration between the private sector and tertiary education institutions is almost always useful and would go a long way towards improving human resource development in a wide variety of sectors, from mining, to banking, to agriculture.
On the other end of the spectrum, Peru’s spending on primary and secondary education still falls short of spending by regional peers. Insufficient preparation for university-level education often leaves schools spending precious time going through pre-university course material.
Fortunately, budgetary spending on education is indeed moving in the right direction. The 2012 national budget will once again bring expenditures on education to above 3% of GDP, with a nominal increase of 8% on 2011. However, these figures still look paltry in comparison to neighbouring Chile, where education spending will likely reach 5.5% in 2012. To attain long-term economic prosperity, Peru will need to improve the competitiveness of its human resources and its higher education system.