Long, C. (2012) President-elect plans to grow university enrolment by 50% University World News, July 29
Mexico’s President-Elect, Enrique Peña Nieto, who takes office on December 1, has pledged to create a National Digital University as one plank in a strategy to increase university enrollment by 50% by 2018, which would mean creating another 1.5 million places.
According to Nieto’s plan, ‘students will be able to access 13 majors through powerful technology platforms available in 135 access centres across the country.’
Currently, the university participation rate is 30%, and increased from 24% to 30% in the six years the current President, Felipe Calderon, has been in office.
Mexico currently allocates a mere 0.65% of GDP to higher education. (Canada spends 2.6% and the USA 3.1%)
This is a long awaited development. There is already quite a lot of online learning in Mexico. Tec de Monterrey has a long history of successful online course delivery (TecVirtual), and for over 10 years has offered a Masters in Educational Technology with now several thousand graduates. but this is an elite institution with high fees. Other private universities also have mainly graduate online programs. Some state universities, in particular, Universidad de Guadalajara through its Virtual Campus and its Masters in Learning Technologies, have also strong offerings online, supplementing home access with local access centres (‘casas’), often in small towns or villages.
One challenge though is Internet access. Very few in socio-economic categories E, D and C- (a vast majority of the Mexican population) have access to the Internet. This will change over the next few years, but Mexico has been slow to develop low cost, broadband home access. This is mainly because of a semi-monopolistic ownership of telecommunications in Mexico. Where the Internet does exist, monthly rates are high. It will be critical for the Federal government to find ways of reducing these costs, especially to the 135 access centres, which are likely to be overwhelmed by demand. This may require building or leasing a dedicated broadband network to link the centres.
However, Mexico does have an admittedly small number of managers, instructional designers and faculty with experience of teaching online to provide a foundation on which to build a quality national digital university. Tec de Monterrey and Universidad de Guadalajara have for the last five to ten years been producing qualified graduates from their masters in educational technology programs.
The main challenge will be dealing with scale and speed of development. Mexico has fallen behind other countries in Latin America, such as Brazil and Chile, both in terms of developing a national university system, and to a lesser extent in online learning. The leadership of a new President can make a big difference in enabling Mexico to surge ahead.