Short courses

Short courses could give much-needed boost to Latin America

Browse the results of the 2022 Latin American University Rankings


In the aftermath of the pandemic in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), skills have become more crucial than ever. Not only has the pandemic affected LAC more economically than other regions, but it has also affected the unskilled (without post-secondary education) the most. Many jobs were destroyed, but many others – related, for example, to automation, electronic platforms and data analysis – were created. The economy clearly needs skills and needs them fast. Does higher education measure up?

In LAC, higher education has expanded considerably in the new millennium, but a full third of employers in the region, the highest fraction in the world, struggle to find skilled workers. Why disconnect? Perhaps because the region essentially offers one type of higher education: bachelor’s degree programs, which attract 90% of all higher education students compared to 76% globally. But it is not producing enough technology, science and engineering graduates; and less than half of tertiary students graduate.

According to a new World Bank study, The fast track to new skills, a glimmer of hope emerges in this landscape: short cycle higher education (SCP). Also called technical, technological or short programs, SCPs last two or three years and are strongly business-oriented. They attract many students, not only those without the interest, time, or academic preparation for a longer program, but also those seeking new skills even after a bachelor’s degree. Nevertheless, SCPs only host 10% of all higher education students in LAC. Their stigma might be partly to blame for this: they are seen as second-class programs and an academic dead end, giving degrees of little market value.

Much of the stigma, however, is unwarranted. Although they attract more disadvantaged and less traditional students than bachelor’s degree programs, SCPs have higher graduation rates. SCP graduates get more formal jobs and higher salaries than high school graduates – as expected – but also more than baccalaureate dropouts, who make up a staggering half of all tertiary students. Not all SCPs are equally good, but not all license programs are either. As a result, some SCPs, especially in engineering, science, and technology, have higher returns than many bachelor’s degree programs, especially those in social sciences and humanities. Thanks to their close connection to the local economy, SCPs respond with agility to the demands of the local labor market, opening or closing programs and updating programs according to the needs of local employers. This feature is essential in this time of rapid and frequent technological change.

So should all SCPs be extended? No. Only good SCPs (those that help students find good jobs by adapting to their background) should be created, expanded or replicated. In order to identify the distinctive characteristics of good PCSs, we interviewed more than 2,000 BAC program directors for our study and collected information on their practices and student results. We have learned that the best programs apply deliberate and intentional practices. They first learn the needs of local businesses, then structure every aspect of the program (such as curriculum, training, and faculty) to produce the desired graduates. In addition, top programs have strong relationships with the private sector, help students find jobs, provide adequate infrastructure for hands-on training, hire faculty with hands-on experience, teach digital skills, and monitor employment. diplomas.

The urgent task, then, is to build a system where many programs like these are offered and where students have the interest and the means to pursue them. This system will only emerge through urgent and deliberate political action on four fronts. The first is information, as students need detailed information about every higher education program in the country (Bachelor and SCP), regarding labor market outcomes, costs, and academic requirements in order to make informed choices.

The second policy area is funding. In LAC, governments subsidize undergraduate students at higher rates than SCP students, provide little or no financial aid to those in private institutions (about half of the region’s SCP enrollment), and fund programs and areas regardless of performance or strategic importance. It is essential to reallocate public funding between programmes, students and fields.

The third policy area is regulation: overseeing and regulating programs with an emphasis on student labor market outcomes rather than program inputs, and through agile systems that do not stifle dynamism. SCPs. The fourth area is lifelong learning: facilitating the acquisition of skills in the modules and the transition from SCPs to bachelor programs.

At this critical juncture, one can hardly imagine a better policy to promote employment and inclusion than building a good PCD system. It’s time for SCPs. If not now when?

María Marta Ferreyra is a Senior Economist in the Office of the Chief Economist for Latin America and the Caribbean at the World Bank.