In his book Saving the Americas, Oppenheimer examines at great length the example of the publicly-funded Mexican mega-university the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) to illustrate the myriad problems facing Mexican higher education.
- UNAM is the country’s largest university, enrolling 269,000 students whose tuition is heavily subsidized by the state, regardless of their ability to pay. This means that a large number of wealthy students are on the government tab, taking up funds that might otherwise go to students who need financial aid. Thus, access to education as a potential leveler of income inequality is compromised.
- The quality of students and teachers is considered to be substandard when compared with high ranking universities around the world. UNAM admits 85% of students who apply, without requiring an entrance exam. In some years, only 30% of those who registered as freshman actually graduate. Teachers are not independently evaluated; the university is not subjected to accreditation and quality control standards.
- Public funding has made UNAM a government “sacred cow,” lessening the incentive for the university to raise the quality of education or for the private sector to donate. Whereas Harvard spends $2.6 billion to educate 20,000 students; UNAM spends $1.5 billion to educate 260,000.
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