Amid growing demand, profit-driven private universities and institutions have expanded considerably over the past two decades, significantly increasing access to higher education. However, lax quality regulations have allowed many of these institutions to provide substandard learning conditions, creating major concerns for students, professors and sector professionals. Implementing a standardised national accreditation system and establishing more direct links with the business community will be key to improving standards.
While a national accreditation system exists for all levels of basic education, evaluations for higher education institutes remain optional. This umbrella structure, known as the National Evaluation System for the Evaluation, Accreditation and Certification of Educational Quality (Sistema Nacional de Evaluación, Acreditación y Certificación de la Calidad Educativa, SINEACE), has made little impact on higher education since its creation in 2006. Currently, only seven university programmes are accredited, while 13 are in the process of receiving accreditation; no Peruvian university is yet fully accredited under the national system. Overseen by the Ministry of Education ( MINEDU), SINEACE should become a key tool in the near future, as institutions begin to realise how important quality recognition is for attracting new students.
According to Liliana Miranda Molina, chief of MINEDU’s Department of Strategic Planning and Education Quality Assessment, the government’s focus on enforcing a national accreditation system originated from the influx of poor-quality private institutions. “After 20 years our assessment is concerning because there are so many private institutions where the minimum quality standards are not upheld,” she told OBG. Miranda associates the profit-driven character of many institutions with the low standards of quality, highlighting that non-profit private universities, such as the Universidad del Pacífico (UP), offer high-quality education.
Some universities have sidestepped national procedures, aiming instead for global quality standards. Such is the case for the Universidad San Ignacio de Loyola (USIL), currently in the process of obtaining international accreditation. Rodolfo Cremer, dean of the USIL Graduate School, believes accreditation is slowly becoming an important factor for students when deciding where to study and for employers when deciding who to hire. This value will only increase as MINEDU administers quality standards, he told OBG. Cremer also explained that obtaining international accreditation is a means to compete both locally and globally.
For Mario Rivera Orams, executive director of technical institute Tecsup, the creation of an independent education authority would not only help control quality standards but also promote further collaboration with the private sector. According to Rivera, few guidelines exist to promote hands-on industry experience for students. “The shortage of graduates in certain disciplines is not due to a lack of numbers, but rather to a lack of quality,” he told OBG. “By improving the quality of education, which involves practical experience, this shortage can be overcome,” he added.
Many top private universities maintain links with the private sector by only hiring professors that simultaneously work in their fields of study outside academia. It is the combination of high academic standards and industry connections that place private universities, like USIL and UP, in the upper tier of higher education. Such recognition comes with competitive compensation for professors in the undergraduate market, which at USIL can surpass $36 per academic hour, compared to as low as $10.50 per hour in public universities.
Passing The Test
At the beginning of 2013, Peru received a loan of $25m from the World Bank, to help fund major improvements in the education sector. A large portion of these funds will go towards higher education and expanding the reach of the accreditation system. Furthermore, a law was recently proposed to make national accreditation obligatory, which, if passed as hoped in late 2013, will shut down universities that do not comply with accreditation procedures.