Overcoming barriers to research at Latin American higher education institutions

As we prepare for the QS Higher Ed Summit: Americas 2022 next month, we reflect on one of the most significant challenges facing higher education institutions in the region: increasing the quality and scope of research output.  

Data collated for the QS World University Rankings revealed that growth of research output for Latin American institutions lags far behind that recorded for many other regions (see chart below).

Papers per faculty growth
Papers per faculty growth

In North America for example, ‘papers per faculty’ grew from 3059k/406k in 2018 to 3853k/469k in 2022. In Europe, this ratio stood at 3698k/659k in 2018, expanding to 5591k/900k across the next four years.  

In comparison, the growth in Latin America was far less drastic – rising from just under 419k/207k in 2018 to just 740k/370k. While the number of faculty grew in the region, it is clear that this growth was not reflected in the quantity of research conducted. 

To investigate this further, we spoke with Patricio Conejero Ortiz. Previously Vice President for International Affairs at the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina, he is now Chief Advisor to the President of Strategic Projects at the institution: 

Patricio Conejero Ortiz
Patricio Conejero Ortiz

1. In your opinion, what are the biggest barriers facing Latin American institutions regarding research output and quality? 

“The scientific and higher education system in Latin America has great potential, but one of its main limitations is financial. 

Latin America has very low levels of investment in research and development, both from the public and private sectors. Especially in recent years, the trend in research spending in the region remains constant and relatively low, while in other regions – such as Europe, Asia and North America – it has increased considerably.  

It is essential that the science and technology development policies within the region are strategic, featuring both public and private investment, allowing it to be the basis of the sustainable research and development model.  

This strategy must also be aimed at reducing the gap that exists between the central countries and wider region with regards to generating knowledge. Latin America is a widely heterogeneous region, and strategic plans to address research and knowledge output at higher education institutions must include an integration measure that aims to reduce intra-region inequalities.”

2. What do you think needs to change in order to successfully increase and improve research output by Latin American institutions?

“It is essential to increase the number of doctoral and postgraduate students in order to expand scientific research output. It is also essential to improve working conditions and access to relevant opportunities to be able to retain the talent of scientists and technologists.  

It is also necessary to collaborate and improve relationships within the region. This includes expanding the dialogue between our researchers, broadening research networks and encouraging more fluid knowledge exchange.” 

3. How has your institution worked to overcome the barriers?

“The University of Buenos Aires has been committed to, and accompanied its researchers in, efforts to overcome barriers through several strategies. 

We have increased our access to national and international financing for large-scale research projects, and a lot of hard work has been done to make the process of financing this research more efficient – particularly through the development of new university networks. 

The university has also committed to improving the management of the research and development process itself. For example, it has modified its regulations for indexing publications in order to optimise the records of the publications of its partner research institutes, which is essential in institutions such as ours who are large and decentralised.”

4. What does the future hold for research at the University of Buenos Aires?

“One of the main assets of the University of Buenos Aires is that it is a large university, in terms of the number of students is hosts, its excellence (67th in the QS World University Rankings 2023) and the intensity of its research output. Research, both basic and applied, is the basis for the generation of knowledge and we feel is an important and necessary focus for any university.  

In recent years we have initiated a strong internationalisation policy to improve the way in which the research generated at the University of Buenos Aires is linked between our region and research centers in other parts of the world.  

We will continue to build on this path in the coming years.” 

To learn more about elevating higher education in the Americas, register for our upcoming event taking place on 22-23 September 2022 both in-person at Universidade Vila Velha, Brazil, and online: 

Register for QS Higher Ed Summit: Americas

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