Overview of the Chilean Higher Education System

The group has arrived, and everyone seems to have had fairly smooth travels to Santiago!


Last night, our first evening in Santiago, we took the subway to Universidad Diego Portales (UDP). Dr. Lawrence presented on the University of Michigan and the US higher education system. Then a PhD student and faculty member from UDP provided presentations on UDP’s Centro de Politicas Comparadas de Educacion and Chilean higher education.  One of the points Dr. Lawrence discussed was the endowment and operating budget for UM (quite large when you consider the UM health system). When the UDP faculty member spoke, he started by sharing, “The budget of Chile for higher education is approximately the budget of your university.” As mentioned in a previous post, Chile’s higher ed system takes a very market-based approach with limited government involvement.


The research center we learned about, founded in 2008, focuses heavily on the K-12 system, but it also includes some postsecondary work. One example is a college prep program that is now at 12 institutions across Chile. Because Chile provides primarily merit-based support to successful students in high-achieving schools, this program is a newer effort to offer remedial training and other support for the top 5% of students from “the most vulnerable” schools in Chile.

After presentations, we spent time in discussion among our group and the Chilean scholars. One phrase we heard several times throughout the evening from our Chilean counterparts was “this system is changing.” For example, during previous years in Chile, 70% of a student’s admission application depended on his or her national exam score, with few to no considerations as to why someone may not have scored well. Soon, however, 50% of a student’s application will be based on his or her national exam score, while the remaining 50% will be a combination of high school rank and high school performance.

Four overarching challenges the Chilean higher education system now faces were summarized for us as relevance, quality assurance in a suddenly very heterogeneous system, financial sustainability, and system governance. Each of these factors is greatly influenced by the sudden and dramatic increase in the higher ed system over the past 30 years.