A brief comparison of higher education in Mexico and Colombia

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A brief comparison of higher education in Mexico and Colombia

Over the past few weeks, we have reviewed how higher education and accreditation works in Mexico and Colombia. However, it is interesting to see on a comparative basis trends and challenges for each country.

Mexico and Colombia are two of the most important economies in Latin America. At the same time, they have significant challenges in developing their higher education system. 

Numbers at a glance:





122.3 million (2013) 48.32 million (2013)

N° of higher education institutions

7,776 313

N° of undergraduate students

3,718,995 2,010,366
N° of graduate students 313,997 127,429
High school graduation rate 50% 60%

In terms of total years of education, both countries have different school systems. Mexican students leave high school at age 18 while Colombian students enter higher education at age 16.

Mexico Colombia
– 2 years of preschool
– 6 years of primary education
– 3 years of middle school
– 3 years of secondary education
– 2 years of preschool
– 5 years of primary education
– 3 years of lower secondary education
– 2 years of secondary (vocational) education

 After this, students can opt for different technical and university degrees.



– Higher Technical Ed.: 2 years
– Bachelors: 4 to 5 years
– Masters: 2 years
– Doctorate: 3 to 5 years
– Higher Technical Ed.: 1 to 3 years
– Technology Education: 1 to 5 years
– Bachelors: 1 to 5 years
– Graduate level: 1 to 3 years
– Doctorate: 4 to 5 years

When looking at the gross numbers, Mexico is twice the size of Colombia. On the other hand, Colombia has larger gross entry rates as a percentage of their population.


However, this figures can lead to misunderstandings unless we look at some trends

1. Even though Mexico exceeds Colombia in numbers of students and institutions, they have similar figures in international quality evaluations.

Ranking per country at the QS Ranking of Top Latin American Universities 2015, assessing the best quality universities in Latin America.

Colombia Mexico
Total 41 47
Top 50 5 7
Top 100 7 7
Top 200 11 16
Top 300 18 24

2. Even though Colombia has higher entry figures, they need to improve student retention

Colombian students enter higher education very young and at a very low foundation level. That is why the government has an entire institution dedicated to studying student dropouts and understand behaviors and causes of people leaving higher education, with the System for the Prevention of Higher Education Desertion (SPADIES).

In high school, the results of the OECD PISA examinations for 2012 speak for themselves. Both Mexico and Colombia have low results compared to the OECD average. However, Colombia is over 100 points below average in math and science.

Math Reading Science
OCDE Average 494 496 501
Mexico 413 424 415
Colombia 376 403 399

These figures are even more disturbing when looking at average math standards.

Performance quota in math, per student Worst results High performance
OCDE Average 23 12.6
Mexico 54.7 0.6
Colombia 73.8 0.3


Distinctions in the quality assurance institutional system

Both countries difference a diagnostics evaluation with a more thorough quality assessment process.

  1. What is Accreditation?

In Mexico, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (COPAES) defines it as “the public recognition from a non-governmental accreditation organization, recognized formally by the council. The program complies with certain principles, criteria, indicators and quality standards in its structure, organization, administration and teaching outcomes.”

In Colombia, the National Accreditation Council (CNA) defined it as “the testimonial given by the State regarding the quality of a program or institution, from a prior process of evaluation where the institution, the academic community, and the National Accreditation Council intervene”.

  1. Differences in quality assessments

In Mexico, the quality assurance system makes a clear distinction between evaluation and accreditation. While evaluation is a diagnostic and a set of recommendations to raise the quality of programs and institutions, the accreditation process can revise those programs following standards set by external parties. Unlike evaluation, where the institution merely commits to improving the quality of a program, the accreditation certifies externally that this quality is a reality.

In Colombia, higher education has a distinction between registered programs, where an external party recognizes that the program complies with a set of minimum standards, and accredited programs, where the State gives a formal recognition, with a thorough revision of the quality of programs, their organization and management.

  1. Distinction in the process of accreditation

Both countries have a certification process comprised of a self-evaluation, peer review, and resolution stages.

The main difference lies in the nature of the peer reviewers.

In Colombia, the State through the National Accreditation Commission, designates professionals and renowned academics to run the process.

In Mexico, the process is entirely independent of the State. The Ministry of Education delegates the procedures in a Council to accredit higher education (COPAES) as a civil society institution that makes the resolution to accredit or not an institution. The peer review is undertaken by a series of independent accreditation agencies.

Collaboration between Mexico and Colombia

Even though they accreditation processes have distinctions, both ministries of education signed an agreement to recognize and give validation to accreditations or quality assessments on the higher education programs of each country. The agreement sets as official counterparts the following institutions:

Mexico Colombia

The higher education system in these countries are a topic of several debates, and we shall continue talking about it in the upcoming weeks.

What else would you like to know about higher education in these countries? We appreciate your comments and suggestions.