Research Project (to be discussed at the Winter Academy) by Carmela Chávez.
Carmela Chávez is a researcher at the Pontificia Universidad Catòlica del Peru (PUCP) and is currently pursuing a PhD in sociology. She is interested in the relationship between state and society and the development of citizenship, particularly in Peru’s post-conflict context of democratic consolidation.
This project explores the changes in higher education in Peru since the neoliberal economic reforms during the nineties, especially in the offer of low-cost-private universities. My hypothesis is that those changes, related with organizational and academic changes, have been part of a bigger social change in which either university students or investors are part of a new social middle class that values higher education as a private good for social mobility. Because of that, all the university system has changed and a new institutionalism has arrived related with education. These new universities have developed in a completely different way to traditional universities and have created new institutional models in terms of organization-administration, the organization of the academic community and mechanisms for student participation within the university community.
Over the last 20 years, the major change to have affected Peruvian universities has been the rise and dominance of the private university. Today, in 2014, there are 140 universities in Peru, out of which 64% are private universities and more than half are profit driven. The majority of these are run as businesses and cost less to attend than their traditional counterparts. They are profit making universities that are being set up and promoted by the so called new educational businesses (who often own other pre-school centers, schools, technical colleges, etc.), important national and international corporations and even political leaders from national political parties.
There is a new type of university student who have high expectations for achieving social ascendency via higher education, but limited capacities for competing at an academic level and social restrictions (higher standards required in entrance exams, agreements signed with first class schools, language proficiency as a prerequisite for completing studies, etc.) which, in turn, means low cost, private universities bring down their standards of quality to allow for the admission and continuation of their university students. However, there are serious doubts about the quality of this higher education and the medium-term consequences of this in terms of how these new professionals will then access a labor market that is constantly more and more competitive and demanding. Within this context, it is important to study the transformation of the private university as a key institution for preparing new generations of young professionals and for developing a new type of educational institution. Underlying this question is the debate over whether or not higher education is a public good or a private exchangeable good.