STEM scholarships: building a brighter future for Latin America
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STEM scholarships: building a brighter future for Latin America

One of the most rapidly-developing regions in the world and home to a number of the world’s most prestigious companies, sporting and artistic talent– not to mention the ARSAT-1 satellite– Latin America is fast becoming a land of opportunity. Unbeknownst to many, two of the richest bankers on the planet, Joseph Safra and Luis Carlos Sarmiento, originate in Brazil and Colombia respectively.

Yet despite its marked progress in an increasing number of areas, there is one facet of this region that is seldom celebrated: its academic prowess. Latin American institutions were conspicuous by their absence from both the 2013-14 Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings and the QS World University Rankings 2014-15; the University of São Paulo is considered to be the best in the region by THE, yet is ranked only in the top 250 worldwide, falling behind institutions in South Africa, Turkey, Russia and Taiwan.

While Latin American academics might argue that such global academic rankings do not fully recognise the idiosyncrasies of the area, the harsh reality remains that countries such as Brazil must continue to increase in economic productivity, innovation and growth to survive; expansion of this nature can only be made with the support of a highly-skilled, better-educated workforce.

According to Robert Rigobon, Venezuelan-born Professor of Management and Applied Economics at MIT Sloan School of Management in the USA, the reason behind the lag in academic achievement in Latin America is simple: a lack of financial investment.

Speaking to the Financial Times, Rigobon comments on the fact that, in reality, “Latin America has an incredible history of education”. While acknowledging the region’s success in overcoming illiteracy in the early 19th century, and establishing centres of excellence in the sciences in the 20th century, he comments that governments have “underinvested tremendously in universities, meaning that the quality has stagnated.”

Government approaches to improving the quality of higher education have varied across Latin America. Certain public institutions in Brazil have attempted to sidestep problematic federal funding by forming partnerships with the private sector; some favour ‘for-profit’ tactics while others prefer the ‘not-for-profit’ approach. Chile’s President, Michelle Bachelet, has even promised- somewhat boldly- to make university education free.

Some of the most significant inroads, however, have been made in countries such as Mexico, where governments have expanded their student loan and scholarship programmes and chosen to become increasingly international, thus widening students’ access to higher education. The focus of such programmes falls on STEM disciplines, which are crucial to the success of the region.

One such funding opportunity in Mexico is the country’s National Council of Science and Technology (CONACYT), an organisation which takes responsibility for the advancement of knowledge and expertise in science and technology by offering scholarships for graduate study both in Mexico and overseas; a similar program exists in Argentina under the title of CONICET. Brazil’s Science without Borders programme is enabling the country to send approximately 100,000 STEM students overseas to study, while Mexico’s Proyecta programme is set to increase the number of Mexican students enrolled in the USA to 100,000 by 2018.

Such support continues in the form of programmes such as Beca Bicentenario in Chile and Fundayacucho in Venezuela.

By grasping such funding opportunities with both hands, today’s Latin American students have the power to shape not only their own careers, but also the progress and success of their nations.

The efforts of tomorrow’s engineers to improve Latin America’s transport infrastructure will not only boost its trade and prosperity; they will also reduce the number of deaths among its population. Employment prospects for science and engineering students are also blossoming through the region’s increasingly significant identity as a centre for high-tech manufacturing, oil, gas and petrochemicals.

As a ‘bright spot’ in the post-recession global economy, Latin America is far more extensively urbanised than any other region in the developing world, with approximately 85% of its relatively young population predicted to be living in cities by 2025. Such urban growth, however, naturally requires a strong engineering-centric workforce dedicated to tackling key issues such as housing shortages and traffic congestion. Yet again, tomorrow’s engineering graduates come into their own.

Education is fundamental to the continued growth and achievement of Latin America. For true progress to be made, the region’s younger generations must be willing to explore their raw talents and aspire to academic success in the disciplines their nations need most: namely, STEM subjects. Figures from a recent Top Universities Latin American survey reveal that over 33% of the students questioned were applying for STEM postgraduate degrees: a promising figure, certainly, but not high enough. Funding bodies are providing opportunities; now students must dare to succeed.

Read on for information on institutions which offer world-class Engineering tuition.

Kingston University is based in a vibrant town on the River Thames just 20 minutes by train from Central London. Kingston itself is a safe, leafy, London suburb with plenty of cafés, bars and shops – plus sprawling parks and historical Hampton Court Palace. Kingston University offers a diverse range of undergraduate, masters and research opportunities in engineering – from aerospace, space technology, motorsport and automotive engineering – to construction, surveying, civil and mechanical engineering.  Courses are developed with industry partners and accredited by key professional institutions to ensure they meet business needs – whilst our research active academic staff ensure lessons include latest developments. Read the full profile.

Ulster University, offers a dynamic learning environment where enthusiasm and ambition are rewarded.  It is a regional university with four campuses across Northern Ireland.  Engineering provision is spread across two faculties; Art, Design & The Built Environment and Computing and Engineering.  The University has earned a reputation for producing highly employable engineers, with relevant knowledge and skills in tune with industry needs.  Employment rates within the School of the Built Environment are above the UK average, whilst the BEng Civil Engineering has been ranked first for student satisfaction in the UK National Student Survey, 2014. Read the full profile.

The University of Dundee has an international reputation which attracts top-class students and academics from all over the world – more than 100 countries are represented in the student community. Innovative – and often world-leading – research into a wide range of disciplines takes place at the University, with pioneering post-graduate programmes enabling graduates to move to the next level. The School of Engineering, Physics and Mathematics (EPM) is dedicated to promoting academic excellence and preparing students for rewarding and successful careers. Graduates from the School are highly sought-after by leading employers; alumni have gone on to work for industry leaders across the globe. Engineering at EPM opens the door to a wide range of careers by mixing traditional core engineering principles with emerging technology. Read the full profile.

Firmly established as one of the top ten universities in the UK, the University of Bath maintains a global reputation for excellence in teaching and research. Students are drawn to the institution not only owing to its outstanding academic standards but also as a result of its impressive graduate employment record and world-class sports facilities. Globally respected for its academic and research prowess, the University’s Faculty of Engineering & Design comprises departments of Architecture & Civil Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Electronic & Electrical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering. The achievements of each department are extensive, with the Architecture & Civil Engineering department ranking Number 1 in the UK, the Chemical Engineering department enjoying accreditation by the Institution of Chemical Engineers and the Electronic & Electrical Engineering department maintaining an impressive 99% student satisfaction rate.

As a globally respected institution, the University of Swansea in Wales has a growing reputation for undertaking world-class research across numerous areas of academia. The University’s College of Engineering is also a thriving hub of high-quality research, links with industry and outstanding facilities, the combination of which is central to the institution’s dedication to kick-starting and furthering the careers of staff and students alike. Among the numerous activities taking place on-campus, the College is involved in beating the world land-speed record, solving the world’s water shortages and collaborating with globally-acclaimed companies.

The University of Birmingham has been challenging and developing great minds for more than a century. Dedicated to maintaining a unique balance between tradition and innovation, research at the University has covered new ground and pushed the boundaries of knowledge to change people’s lives. Birmingham’s College of Engineering and Physical Sciences comprises nine academic Schools which operate at the forefront of science and engineering tuition and research. Offering a broad spectrum of both undergraduate and postgraduate programmes, many of which provide the opportunity to study abroad or gain experience within industry, the College focuses on contributing to society by addressing the three core themes of Science Frontiers, Advanced Manufacturing and Resilience, Energy and Sustainability.