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Tertiary education in Chile is ready for a second generation of reforms


Education has been a persistent priority of Chile since the early 1990’s. The government’s firm commitment to access and equity has led to ever-increasing numbers of young people entering tertiary education, posing challenges for both its financing and quality. A new joint OECD and World Bank review of tertiary education finds that the government has responded admirably to these challenges, creating a dynamic and responsive system. Indeed, the review team was impressed by many aspects of tertiary education in Chile.  But as Chile accedes to full membership in the OECD and enrolment continues to grow, reforms in key areas are now needed.


The review team noted that despite recent major expansions of coverage in tertiary education,  students, students from different backgrounds and income groups still have unequal access to tertiary education. Student aid is not available to many needy students and students from low income backgrounds are both less likely to graduate and more likely to end up paying the full cost of their studies. The length of many university degree programmes – often over seven years for a first degree – is also a strong disincentive for students from poorer backgrounds to take up university studies. Scholarship and loan programmes should be simplified and refocused on improving equity. 


Chile has put in place a strong quality assurance system which is contributing to on-going quality improvement in higher education.  Further refinements to the systems should increase transparency,  consistency, consistency and differentiation while seeking greater impact on teaching and learning practices in the classroom.


Chile could consider a rationalisation of its degree framework, moving toward the Bachelors, Masters, and PhD degree system increasingly favoured in OECD countries. This will allow accreditation and programme quality to indicate the differences between institutions. It would also eliminate an unnecessary distinction between bachillerato and licenciatura degrees. Moreover, the government or professional bodies should grant the right to practice selected professions involving public interest without necessarily linking these to university degrees. 


The review team found that the Consejo de Rectores de las Universidades Chilenas (CRUCH) plays an important role in representing the interests of institutions before the Government and believes that membership should be open to all accredited universities. 


With respect to system finance, the review team recommends: designing a long-term vision for tertiary education funding; aiming to double public investment in tertiary education and research over the next few years.  The Direct Public Grant (AFD –  Aporte Fiscal Directo) should be made more performance-based and offered to more institutions while the Indirect Public Grant (AFI – Aporte Fiscal Indirecto) should be eliminated in its present form. Overall, the team endorsed  expanding the use of performance contracts and confirming a competitive funding mechanism as the Government’s principal channel for investment funding.

Many employers have misgivings about the relevance of the knowledge and skills that university graduates bring to the labour market. This may explain why Chilean university graduates take relatively longer to find jobs than their counterparts in OECD countries. Employers seem to lack opportunities to make regular, systematic input into university curriculum content, teaching practices or institutional governance. The team noted significant progress in the availability of information on tertiary education for both prospective students but remained concerned about the lack of comprehensive reliable information for policy purposes.
The review team recommends that Chile’s research and development system increase funding and strategic orientation while decreasing fragmentation of programmes.  More funding should be directed to centerscentres of excellence—both national  andnational and regional—rather than smaller, discrete projects. This will allow the development of more critical mass of research capacity for national priorities. 


The review team concluded that effectively implemented, the above recommendations offer Chile a road to reform that will achieve the country’s goal of a world class tertiary education system responsive to the requirements of a global economy.


For further comment, journalists are invited to contact Ian Whitman (Tel +33 1 45 24 99 the OECD’s Directorate for Education or Michael Crawford, Senior Education Specialist at the World Bank (  Tel +1 202 473 3673).