The fourth largest continent by area, South America’s twelve countries are home to over 400 million people. The number of universities in that region has grown considerably over the past 40 years. Quality of education in South America has also improved tremendously during that time as the opportunity for education has been extended to less developed areas as a result of reform. Even with such great strides, however, South America’s higher learning institutions tend to cluster in large urban centers. As such, equity of opportunity is an issue for South American students seeking university degrees.
In this article, TheBestSchools.org underscores the best university in each country of South America. Included are flagship institutions such as the University of Buenos Aires (Argentina) and the University of San Paulo (Brazil), which provide education to millions of students in the two most populous countries of South America. Also featured are smaller universities, such as Anton de Kom Universiteit van Suriname, which offers 16 disciplines of study in the smallest of the South American countries No matter where on the continent one wishes to study, there is a university that can offer an educational opportunity.
ArgentinaThe University of Buenos Aires
Argentina is a federal republic located in southeastern South America. With 1,073,500 square miles of land it is the eighth largest country worldwide and the largest Spanish speaking country. Argentina is bordered by Chile, Bolivia, Paraguay, Brazil, Uruguay, and the South Atlantic Ocean. The country is comprised of 23 provinces and one capital city, Buenos Aires, for a population of 43.4 million. Argentina maintains one of the largest economies in South America and commonly competes with Brazil and Mexico.
The University of Buenos Aires was founded in 1821 and maintains the status of being the largest in both the country and Latin America by enrollment. Free access to the university is offered for all students, including international students, and has kept enrollment at approximately 300,000. The post graduate programs, however, do not grant free access, but may be covered by research scholarships. Academically, the school is organized into 13 departments, 10 museums, six hospitals, and has connections to four high schools. The University is associated with four Nobel Prize Laureates.
Notable Alumni: Eduardo Duhalde (former President of Argentina); Juan Cabral (film director); and Alejandro Bulgheroni (oil billionaire)
A landlocked country in western-central South America, Bolivia is bordered by Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, Chile, and Peru. Its 400,000 square miles holds a population of 11 million with one third of the country living in the Andean mountain range. Spanish is the predominant language with 36 indigenous languages also present. Bolivia is wealthy in minerals and maintains a good economy in the areas of agriculture, forestry, fishing, mining, and manufacturing.
Located in the city of Cochabamba, the University of San Simon is a nonprofit public school founded in November of 1832 by Mariscal Andres de Santa Cruz. The University is comprised of 13 faculties and schools and manages the Research Institute of Anthropological and Archeological Museum. Nearly 60,000 students are in attendance, making it one of the larger schools in the world. It offers numerous degrees ranging from the Bachelors through the Masters and Doctoral level. It is officially accredited by the Ministerio de Educación.
BrazilUniversity of Sao Paulo
A total of 3.2 million square miles of land and a population of over 205 million citizens makes Brazil the fifth largest country in the world and the largest of the Portuguese speaking nations. The area is also known for having the highest population of Roman Catholics. Brazil encompasses 47.3 percent of the South American continent. Independence from Portugal was achieved in 1822 and it became a presidential republic in 1889. The current Federal District is comprised of 26 states and 5,570 municipalities.
The largest and most prestigious academic and research institution in the country is the University of Sao Paulo. Founded in 1934, the current University was born from the merger of the pre-existing Law, Engineering, and Agriculture schools. Today there are 11 campus locations throughout the country. There are 29 academic divisions, including schools and institutes, on the main campus in Sao Paulo. The University also operates four hospitals, five museums and art galleries, and 42 libraries. Over 90,000 students are enrolled making Sao Paulo one of the largest institutions for higher education in Latin America.
Notable Alumni: Michel Temer (President of Brazil); Aloízio Mercadante (Minister of Education of Brazil); and Euryclides de Jesus Zerbini (physician; did the first heart transplantation in Latin America)
ChileUniversity of Chile
Chile is a narrow South American country located between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean. Conquered and colonized by Spain in the 16th century, Chile declared its independence in 1818 and has since maintained an extremely stable republic. The 291,000 square miles are rich in copper to the north and forests and grazing lands to the south. The estimated population for 2015 is 18 million citizens.
University of Chile is comprised of five campuses, 14 faculties, and four Interdisciplinary Institutions. Founded in 1842, the University is the oldest institution for higher education in the country. Nearly 40,000 students are currently in attendance and have over 60 Bachelor’s, 119 Master’s, and 36 Doctoral programs to select from. Alumni of the University include 20 Chilean Presidents and two Nobel Prize recipients.
The school is home to a thriving Health network, including a clinical hospital and research laboratories, and hosts one of the first National Astronomy Observatories in Latin America. A total of 48 libraries with over three million volumes are also maintained. The University participates in over 200 networks and has signed over half a million collaborative agreements with other institutes and organizations in 46 countries.
Notable Alumni: Michelle Bachelet Jeria (President of Chile); Gabriela Mistral (first Latin American author to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature); and Ricardo Lagos Escobar (former President of Chile)
In the northwest of South America lies the 440,000 square miles that comprise the country of Colombia. Discovered by the Spanish in 1499, Colombia gained independence from Spain in 1819 and officially became the Republic of Colombia in 1886. The country has maintained a unitary constitutional republic consisting of 32 departments. The 48.4 million citizens in Colombia have the benefit of being part of the fourth largest economy in Latin America.
Founded in 1867, the National University of Colombia operates 20 schools across seven campus locations. The 44,000 students in attendance have 430 academic programs to select from; these include 56 Doctoral tracks, 152 Master’s programs, 38 specializations, and 38 medical concentrations, in addition to the undergraduate programs. There are 30 research Institutes, 29 research Centers, and 41 research groups.
Over 430 international academic and research agreements have been signed in 125 countries. The university maintains memberships in the Association of Colombian Universities, the IberoAmerican University Network, and the IberoAmerican Association of Postgraduate Universities.
Notable Alumni: Gabriel García Márquez (Nobel Prize in Literature); Salomón Hakim Dow (neurosurgeon, known for his work on the precursor of the modern valve treatment for hydrocephalus); and Jaime Hernando Garzón Forero (Colombian journalist, a comedian, lawyer, peace activist and political satirist)
The 109,000 square miles which comprise the country of Ecuador include the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean. Now a democratic presidential republic, Ecuador was colonized by Spain in the 16th century. Though Spanish is the official language, there are 13 other Amerindian languages also recognized among the estimated 16.1 million citizens. The country achieved independence from Spain in 1820. Economically, Ecuador is dependent on commodities such as petroleum and agricultural products.
The Escuel Superior Politécnica del Litoral was founded in 1958 through Executive Decree 1664 by President Camilo Ponce Enriquez. Managed as a public institution for higher education, the school is located in Guayaquil, Guayas Province in Ecuador. The Escuel Superior operates three campus locations, five faculties or schools, and 15 research centers.
There are a total of 26 undergraduate degrees and 10 Master’s degrees available. Over 9,000 students are currently enrolled. Affiliated with the university is the Polytechnic High School for secondary education.
GuyanaUniversity of Guyana
Also known as the ‘Land of many waters’, Guyana is the fourth smallest country in the northern South America mainland encompassing a total of 83,000 square miles. The country was first settled by the Dutch and then came under British control in the 18th century. Guyana achieved independence in 1966, and officially became a republic within the British Commonwealth in 1970. With a population of 735,000 citizens, Guyana has the distinction of being the only South American country with English as the official language.
A public university established in 1963, the University of Guyana initially offered three areas of study: the Arts, Natural Sciences, and the Social Sciences. As the school expanded additional faculties were added and the first graduate program in the country was established in 1973. Today the University is comprised of four Institutes and five major faculties which offered over 60 graduate and undergraduate programs of study. There are more than 5,000 students currently in attendance.
Notable Alumni: Mahadai Das (Guyanese writer) and Neil Pierre (Director of Policy Coordination Branch, UN)
ParaguayUniversidad Nacional de Asunción
Located in the middle of central South America, Paraguay has also been called the ‘Heart of South America’. This landlocked country of 157,000 square miles was historically ruled by the Spanish Empire. In 1811 Paraguay gained independence from Spain but then fell into political and social turmoil and was subject to a series of dictators. Today the seven million citizens are governed by a unitary presidential constitutional republic.
The Universidad Nacional de Asunción was founded in 1889 and is recognized as both the oldest public institution for higher education in the country and the most traditional. Initially consisting of only three faculties, Law, Medicine, and Mathematics, the school today is comprised of 12 faculties, five institutes, and four centers and schools. Campus centers are spread throughout the country in 14 cities with the main campus residing in San Lorenzo. There are approximately 43,000 students in attendance taught by well over 6,000 faculty.
Notable Alumni: Luis Federico Franco Gómez (former President of Paraguay); María José Maldonado Gómez (singer, model and beauty pageant titleholder); and Juan Carlos Wasmosy Monti (former President of Paraguay)
Originally home of ancient empires such as the Inca’s, Peru was conquered by the Spanish Empire in the 16th century. Located in western South America, the 496,000 square miles declared independence from Spain in 1821. Now a representative democratic republic, the country is divided into 25 regions with an estimated population of 31.2 million citizens. The majority of the population speaks Spanish; however Quechua and other native languages are also recognized.
Founded by Father Jorge Dintilhac in 1917, the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru is the first private, non-profit institution in the country. Located in the city of Lima, the school has grown from the initial two schools to 10 schools offering 38 specialties, in addition to a Graduate School. There are 15 academic departments, 11 faculties, and more than 17,000 students in attendance. Additional facilities include eight academic and research Centers, eight Laboratories, two Institutes, and a Weather Station. The school is affiliated with nine inter-university partnerships.
Notable Alumni: Rosario Del Pilar Fernández Figueroa (former Prime Minister of Peru and Minister of Justice); Sally Thomas (former Judge of the Supreme Court); and Pepe Barreto (Los Angeles reporter, television and radio personality)
On the Atlantic coast of northeastern South America lays the smallest country in the continent. The 64,000 square miles of Suriname were highly disputed by various European powers until the conquering of the Dutch empire in the 17th century. In 1975 Suriname declared its independence, but maintains Dutch as the official language of government and trade. Home to approximately 566,000 people, Suriname has been greatly influenced by the Caribbean culture.
Named in honor of the freedom fighter Anton de Kom, the University of Suriname was established in 1966 and opened for classes in 1968. The university came from the merger of the 1882 Medical School and the Suriname Law School. During military rule of the country in 1980 the school temporarily closed due to student and teacher protests and reopened in 1983. There are five major faculties with at least 16 disciplines in which students may enroll. Additional facilities affiliated with the University include the Medical Scientific Institute and the Academic Hospital Paramaribo.
Notable Alumni: Jennifer Simons (Chairperson of the National Assembly of Suriname); Winston Lackin (Surinamese politician); and Niermala Badrising (Surinamese politician)
Uruguay is a small nation nestled in-between Argentina and Brazil. It is probably the most culturally European of the various South American nations. It has a stable economy, working health care, and a first world standard of living. Uruguay has a population 3.3 million, 1.8 million of which live in or near its capital city of Montevideo. It also has legal cannabis, abortion, gay marriage, and grants a disproportionate number of troops to United Nations efforts, making it one of the most liberal nations in the world.
The University of the Republic is located in Montevideo. It is a large school with over 108,000 students. It was founded in 1833. Its law school was founded in 1838 and remained the only law school in the country until 1984. Thus, most of the nation’s leadership has come from this school. In an effort to decentralize higher education the university now offers classes at other sites such as Salto and Rivera.
Notable Alumni: Tabaré Ramón Vázquez (President of Uruguay) and Jorge Gestoso (Principal Anchor and symbol of CNN en Español)
VenezuelaUniversidad de Los Andes
Located on the northern coast of South America, Venezuela is comprised of more than 353,000 square miles divided into 23 states. Conquered by Spain in 1522, the country was one of the first Spanish-American countries to declare independence from Spain. Today the 33.2 million people are governed by a federal presidential socialist republic. Economically, Venezuela is known for having the world’s largest oil reserves. Nevertheless, it is currently trapped in a full-fledged hyperinflation.
The University of Los Andes was originally founded in 1785 as a seminary. It was recognized as a full public university in 1810. Today there are 11 faculties in four main campus locations with additional affiliated locations throughout the country. Furthermore, there are over 30 schools, eight departments, and more than 60 Institutes, Centers, and Laboratories for study and research. Most instruction is provided in Spanish. There are approximately 59,000 students in attendance.
Notable Alumni: Marger Sealey (Venezuelan singer, songwriter, and actress); Adán Chávez Frías (former Governor of Barinas state); and Tareck Zaidan El Aissami Maddah (governor of the state of Aragua. He’s currently playing as a striker for Aragua Fútbol Club)