Higher Education in Uruguay

Uruguay has only two public universities, the University of the Republic founded in 1849 and the Universidad Tecnológica del Uruguay founded in 2012, and four private universities; Universidad Católica del Uruguay (www.ucu.edu.uy), Universidad ORT Uruguay (www.ort.edu.uy), Universidad de la Empresa (www.ude.edu.uy), and Universidad de Montevideo. Education at the University of the Republic was free and, in general, open to all those possessing a bachillerato, or certificate awarded for completion of both cycles of general secondary education. Despite the free tuition, however, access to a university education tended to be limited to children of middle and upper-income families because the need to supplement the family income by working, coupled with the expense of books and other fees, placed a university education out of the reach of many. Moreover, the fact that the only public university was in Montevideo severely limited the ability of those in the interior to attend university unless their families were relatively well off financially. In 1988 about 69 percent of university students were from Montevideo.

The number of university students continued to grow rapidly, from nearly 22,000 in 1970 to over 61,000 in 1988. Of that total, women accounted for about 58 percent. Most courses of study were intended to last from four to six years, but the average time spent at university by a successful student was usually considerably longer. As in the rest of Latin America, maintaining the status of student had various advantages, such as reduced fares on buses and subsidized canteens. This was one reason that the student population was so large yet the number of graduates relatively low. In 1986 only 3,654 students (2,188 women and 1,455 men) graduated from university, whereas 16,878 entered that year. Uruguayans exhibited a strong preference for the disciplines and professions they deemed prestigious, such as law, social science, engineering, medicine, economics, and administration.

Observers continued to note the discrepancy between university training and job opportunities, particularly in the prestigious fields. This gap contributed to the substantial level of emigration of the best-educated young Uruguayan professionals.