Chapter 1. Assessment and recommendations

This chapter summarises the main findings and key recommendations of the OECD review of higher education in Mexico. Following the structure of the report, it focuses first on the governance of the higher education system at federal and state levels; the relevance of existing government strategies for developing the higher education system; and the way public higher education institutions are funded. The chapter then summarises the main findings and recommendations in relation to external quality assurance practices, and policies to promote equity in the system, before examining key challenges affecting two specific parts of the higher education system: technical higher education and Teacher Education Colleges.


1.1. Focus of this chapter

This chapter summarises the main findings and key recommendations of the OECD review of higher education in Mexico. The review was undertaken by a review team composed of OECD Secretariat staff and three international experts in the field of higher education. The findings presented here take into account a country background report prepared by the Secretariat of Public Education (SEP); interviews conducted with public officials, institutional representatives and stakeholder organisations during a ten-day fact-finding mission to Mexico in late June 2018; and subsequent document review and analysis by the review team.

1.2. Governance of the higher education system

1.2.1. Main findings

A complex and evolving system of federalism, lacking a clear legal division of responsibilities for higher education

Higher education in Mexico has developed within a system of government that is marked by strong national authority and comparatively weak state governments that operate within an evolving system of federalism. It is also characterised by a legal and doctrinal vision of institutional autonomy that has sharply circumscribed the role of public authorities in relation to the oldest and largest higher education institutions in the country. These features of the governance context in Mexico have resulted in a comparatively weak role for public authorities in steering large parts of the higher education sector (notably the autonomous research universities). The 1978 Higher Education Coordination Act is drafted imprecisely and provides insufficient clarity about the real division of responsibility for higher education policy among the federal government, the governments of the 32 federal entities, and individual higher education institutions.

Despite clear political will in some cases, states lack the resources and capacity to play a strong role in higher education policy-making and funding

Despite increased decentralisation over the last three decades and the formally shared responsibility for higher education between the federation and states (federal entities), the states continue to possess modest fiscal and administrative capacities, which limit their ability to take on a stronger role in higher education, similar to that seen in many other federal countries. The 32 federal entities receive over 90% of their revenue from transfers from the federal government and less than 10% from regional or local taxes. The fact that large proportions of the federal transfers that states receive are earmarked for existing fixed costs (payment of staff salaries and operating costs, for example), or tied to agreements with specific institutions, means that state governments have comparatively few resources they can use for discretionary spending on higher education. Some Mexican states have made efforts to develop coherent state higher education policies and to direct resources towards these initiatives, while others have been less active.

An uneven pattern of intervention by public authorities between subsystems: from laissez-faire to micro-management

The authority of public officials in relation to higher education institutions is highly uneven, depending on the legal status of the institutions in question. The distinctive understanding and practice of university autonomy in Mexican higher education means that while some parts of the higher education system function under comprehensive and detailed control from the centre of government, others - the autonomous universities - have functioned with virtually no guidance or steering from government. The scope of institutional steering by public authorities has widened since the 1990s, in particular, through use of targeted (“extraordinary”) funding, which has been used to incentivise state universities to work towards national goals. Non-autonomous federal and state institutions operate under the direction of public authorities, which may be exercised in great detail. For some public institution types, the SEP exercises control over funding levels, curriculum, staffing levels, and infrastructure improvements. Private universities have a regulatory process they must undertake in order for their programmes to be recognised as part of the higher education system, but can subsequently function with a high level of autonomy.

A proliferation of higher education subsystems and administrative units hinders development of system-wide policy-making and processes

Mexican scholars suggest that the complexity of the higher education landscape in Mexico means it is inaccurate to speak of a higher education system in the country (Mendoza Rojas, 2018[1]). Successive waves of policy initiatives have led national authorities to develop new institutions and institutional types in the interstices where they have freedom of action, creating Polytechnic Universities, Technological Universities, Intercultural Universities, Institutes of Technology and a National Open and Distance University. The proliferation of “subsystems” of different institutional types has led to a fragmented institutional structure in the federal administrative apparatus (the Secretariat of Public Education) that oversees higher education in Mexico. At the same time, it has further complicated the already challenging development of system-wide norms and administrative procedures, such as a national qualifications framework, a system-wide credit accumulation and transfer system, a common student identifier, and a robust national system of higher education statistics.

A lack of effective coordination bodies, despite strong sector organisations

The absence of strong coordination bodies at both national and state levels further hinders the development of strong, system-wide procedures and norms, and coherent regional higher education systems. State Commissions for Higher Education Planning (COEPES) are theoretically responsible for coordinating the development of state higher education systems, but have been largely inactive in most states in recent years. Over the years, there have also been various attempts to establish a national coordination body for higher education in Mexico, including the National Coordination for Higher Education Planning (CONPES) and the National Council of Higher Education Authorities (CONAES), but these too play a limited role. Non-governmental organisations, including the National Association of Universities and Higher Education Institutions (ANUIES) and the Federation of Mexican Private Higher Education Institutions (FIMPES) play a particularly strong role in Mexican higher education, to some extent compensating for the lack of strong formal federal coordination bodies.

1.2.2. Key recommendations

In the medium term, reform the federal legislation governing the higher education system to define a clearer division of responsibilities

Although, in the short term, it may be possible to improve coordination and develop more effective policies for higher education within the existing legal framework, ultimately a more transparent legal framework is needed to provide the clarity and certainty needed for the long-term development of higher education in Mexico. The federal government, in consultation with state governments and autonomous universities, should develop new federal legislation that specifies the respective roles of the federal government (SEP) and the governments of the states, ensuring that these are distinct and complementary, and makes clear the rights and responsibilities of autonomous institutions. The guiding principle should be that government tasks should be undertaken at the lowest level possible that guarantees effectiveness and efficiency. Responsibility for tasks related to a) creating system-wide norms and procedures and b) distribution of financial resources between territories and social groups should rest with the federal authorities.

Strengthen the capacity of states to play a strong role in coordinating and steering regional higher education systems that respond to regional needs

State authorities should have freedom to shape policy to help develop their local and regional higher education systems, focusing on areas where they can achieve impact effectively and efficiently. This might include convening regional higher education institutions and supporting joint projects to foster cooperation and sharing of resources; identifying regional skills and innovation needs; promoting access to higher education among specific regional populations; and providing targeted funding that is clearly coordinated with national extraordinary funds. A differentiated system, whereby states that demonstrate greater capacity and meet established criteria gain additional responsibilities, could be considered. To strengthen administrative capacity, the federal government could consider a dedicated targeted funding programme, made conditional on high quality, rational proposals and some match-funding from state governments. More generally, the system of federal transfers to state authorities for education should to be reviewed to ensure it is effective and equitable.

Work towards a system of responsibly autonomous institutions

For publicly funded institutions, autonomy comes with the responsibility to act in the public interest and make good use of resources. It is incumbent on formally autonomous institutions to work constructively with federal and state authorities and institutions in other higher education subsystems to develop a more effective and coherent higher education system in Mexico. For some non-autonomous subsystems - notably Institutes of Technology and public Teacher Education Colleges - there is scope to grant individual schools of adequate size greater responsibility in budgetary and staffing matters, as well as more flexibility to tailor study programmes to local needs. For smaller institutes, responsibility could be devolved to regional alliances of institutions that would share management functions.

Complete work to create essential system-wide frameworks and procedures, while simplifying federal administrative structures steering higher education policy

The federal administration needs to take a stronger lead in the creation and implementation of system-wide frameworks and procedures, including a national qualifications framework; a credit transfer and accumulation system; a single student identifier; an effective educational statistics system; and, as discussed below, a national system of accreditation and quality assurance. Developing these frameworks and procedures will require an initial investment of federal resources. It may be appropriate to create a dedicated targeted funding programme to support development of procedures and administrative infrastructure in the SEP or associated non-governmental bodies, as well as the implementation of these procedures in higher education institutions. To support the process of creating a more coherent system of higher education in Mexico, it would also make sense to streamline some of the internal structures in the SEP and improve their coordination.

Clarify the mandates and strengthen the capacity of coordination bodies for higher education at federal level and in each federal entity.

It would be valuable to create coordination fora at the federal level and in each federal entity, bringing together higher education institutions, public authorities and other relevant stakeholders. A federal body should steer the development of system-wide frameworks and procedures and also provide a forum for identification of shared challenges, problems in policy implementation and possible solutions. State bodies, most probably building on the existing State Commissions for Higher Education Planning (COEPES), should focus on building coherent regional higher education systems.

1.3. Higher education strategy in Mexico

1.3.1. Main findings

A tradition of national planning and consultative strategy-setting, but a lack of clarity about implementation activities and limited transparency in monitoring

Mexico has a well-established tradition of strategic planning at the federal level, through the National Development Plans (PND) and Sectoral Education Programmes (PSE). However, the most recent Sectoral Education Programme partially duplicates the PND, rather than providing an easily understandable and actionable roadmap for future policy in higher education (and education more generally). The logical relationships between the challenges identified, the proposed actions, and the expected results and impacts are not adequately explained, while reporting on implementation and progress is not transparent. A programme with a distinct section on higher education and fewer action lines, each with better-formulated indicators of progress, would increase the likely effectiveness of the strategy and make it easier to monitor progress towards goals.

Despite recent improvements, incomplete data about the characteristics and performance of the higher education system still hinder policy-making

While key elements of a comprehensive data system for higher education are in place in Mexico, a number of variables that would be valuable for policy-making and evaluation are not currently available. The absence of transparent, consolidated, and comparable data on public and private spending on education per student makes it hard to compare resourcing levels and assess efficiency. A lack of true cohort data on students’ educational careers and subsequent education and employment status and outcomes hinders efforts to provide better information on the relevance, efficiency and effectiveness of higher education programmes for institutions, students and policy makers.

Considerable variation in planning capacity between states and a lack of clarity about implementation and follow-up

Each of the 32 federal entities in Mexico has planning legislation and a State Development Plan. It is clear that some states do have the capacity to undertake coherent, evidence-based analyses of the challenges facing their education systems. However, it is often hard to understand from State Development Plans which specific actions will be taken to support the development of higher education, who will take them, and how they will be financed. State plans appear to overlap with, rather than clearly complement, national strategies. Moreover, the broad and ambitious objectives established in some state plans, such as promoting equity and improving quality in higher education, sometimes appear to be disproportionate in light of the limited resources states have to achieve them.

1.3.2. Key recommendations

In the next iteration of the Sectoral Education Programme, include a dedicated section for higher education with fewer objectives, each linked to more precise action lines and indicative resource allocation

In the view of the OECD Review Team, the next iteration of the Sectoral Education Programme should aim to provide a clear and more precise programme of action in the field of higher education. To be useful, the new Education Programme should move away from being a wish list of general objectives to being a set of actionable projects. The Programme should clearly identify specific priorities for the higher education sector, recognising its distinct needs and challenges, and should specify a small number of well-defined thematic projects with realistic objectives and timeframes and an indicative allocation of resources.

Develop a comprehensive and integrated information system for higher education

Mexico needs to develop a stronger and more transparent national data system on higher education to support policy-making and ensure citizens and stakeholders are informed about the scope and performance of the sector. Priorities include: building capacity in the collection and management of data at the national level (improving the effectiveness of the current “Format 911” system and expanding its coverage), through increasing capacity within the SEP or by establishing a small arms-length agency; improving guidance to institutions on budgetary reporting; and developing and exploiting a single student identifier, based on the Unique Population Register Code (Clave Única de Registro de Población, CURP), to facilitate the transfer of student records and allow continuous, anonymised tracking of students throughout their educational career as well as their transition to the labour market.

Ensure state higher education programmes are complementary to the sectoral education programme, and focus on issues where states can make a real impact

States should focus on building strong and coherent regional higher education systems to meet the needs of their citizens and economies, while leaving certain system-wide regulatory and financial allocation tasks to the federal level. In this context, state-level strategies for higher education should focus exclusively on issues where legal competence and resources will allow states to have real impact.

1.4. Funding higher education in Mexico

1.4.1. Main findings

Public spending on higher education has grown, but more slowly than enrolments, resulting in falling spending per student

In 2015, annual spending per student in public institutions in Mexico was calculated to be under USD 9 000 adjusted for purchasing power parity (PPP). This is roughly one third of the PPP-adjusted level of per-student spending in public higher education institutions in the United States. Recent analyses suggest that, despite real terms increases, government spending per student on public higher education institutions in Mexico has failed to keep pace with the expansion of enrolment. Although data from the SEP show that the federal budget for higher education increased in nominal terms year-on-year in the years 2016-2018, analysis by ANUIES, the national university association, suggests that the federal budget for higher education, excluding research, fell in real terms by almost 8% over the two years from 2015 to 2017. According to the same ANUIES analysis, over the same period, enrolment in public institutions (excluding Teacher Education Colleges) rose by 8%.

A complex system of core funding to higher education institutions, lacking transparent allocation mechanisms

The complex network of subsystems of institutional types within Mexican higher education and the division of responsibility for higher education between the federal government and the states is mirrored in a complex system of funding for public higher education institutions. Allocations to federal public institutions are made in the annual federal budget, and state governments co-fund institutions under their responsibility through allocations in their annual budget processes. Allocations are based on historical costs and the outcomes of individual negotiations. No formulae exist to guide the allocation of resources for different budget lines, meaning there is no direct relationship between enrolment, activities or outputs and the budget institutions receive.

Unjustified differences in funding per student exist between and within subsystems, with some subsystems systematically underfunded

There is wide and often unexplained variation in public subsidy per student between higher education institutions in Mexico. This is largely related to the lack of a transparent allocation mechanism for public resources. Although some variation in per student funding between institutions is to be expected, wide variation in per student funding is visible in Mexico between public institutions in single subsystems and with theoretically similar missions and profiles. In particular, there is significant variation in the level of federal and state subsidies per student received by State Public Universities in different parts of the country. Within individual states, there is evidence of institutions in the same subsystem receiving widely varying subsidy per student, with particularly low funding levels seen in some Polytechnic and Technological Universities and Institutes of Technology.

A well-established system of competitive and targeted funding, but programmes are fragmented, with partially overlapping objectives

Since the early 1990s, the Mexican federal government has operated a series of additional funding programmes to support higher education, in addition to the direct (“ordinary”) subsidies it provides to institutions. These “extraordinary” funding programmes provide to public higher education institutions targeted funding for specific objectives under the remit of the states. There is a general sense among those policy makers and stakeholders in Mexico consulted by the OECD review team that the extraordinary funds have had positive impacts, such as increases in the qualification levels of staff and an increase in the number of programmes with external quality accreditation. Even though there have not been systematic impact evaluations, it seems that the extraordinary funds have focused attention within institutions on issues, such as quality, that are national priorities. However, in some instances, extraordinary funds are used for activities that are not “extraordinary” but rather part of the everyday operation of institutions. Moreover, the objectives of some of the funds overlap and there is no systematic programme of evaluation of the extraordinary programmes.

Unpredictability in funding levels and programmes has hindered medium to long-term planning within institutions

The absence of transparent mechanisms for awarding core “ordinary” funding to public higher education institutions and considerable instability in the design and funding levels attributed to the various extraordinary funding programmes together reduce the predictability of income streams for institutions and act as barriers to long-term institutional planning and projects. Many institutions are focused on finding resources to keep their institutions running, rather than engaging in activities to drive the longer-term improvement of their work.

1.4.2. Key recommendations

Ensure the federal budget allocated to higher education is proportionate to political goals

Expanding participation in higher education has been a key goal in the 2013-2018 National Development Plan and is likely to remain a priority for the new government. If the political choice of the Mexican government is to rely on public funding sources for public education institutions, then the public resources allocated to the sector overall must be adjusted to reflect increasing student numbers, if quality is to be maintained and increased. Furthermore, transitioning to a more rational allocation model for institutional funding will inevitably require some additional resources. To deal with these challenges while maintaining the principle of a fully publicly-funded system, Mexico will need to commit additional public money to higher education. In return, higher education institutions should cooperate in the transition to a transparent and rational funding system – which will create losers as well as winners in financial terms – and demonstrate more efficient use of resources.

Establish a rational system for allocating public funding to federal and state higher education institutions, taking into account institutional missions and real costs

Mexico should introduce a rational system for allocating core (“ordinary”) public funding to federal and public state higher education institutions. The new system of funding should reflect the activities undertaken by higher education institutions, with funding for different types of activity (tertiary education, research, engagement) clearly distinguished in allocations. It should take into account real unit costs per student and/or graduate for delivering different types of educational programmes, while seeking to encourage maximum efficiency. An expert committee composed of financial experts from inside and outside the higher education system and a clear mandate may be the most appropriate way to proceed with the development of such a model. This committee should draw on the experience of other OECD countries in this area.

Use the new funding model as a basis for correcting unjustified differences in institutional funding across the system

In the short-term, the new funding mechanism should be used to ensure, in particular, that individual institutions in the technical and professionally oriented subsystems (Institutes of Technology, Technological Universities and Polytechnic Universities) and public Teacher Education Colleges are funded at a level that allows them to deliver high quality programmes. All state public higher education institutions, including autonomous State Public Universities, should be funded on an equitable basis, most probably with half of their core funding from the Federation and half from States. The transition to a more rational system of funding is likely to lead to budget reductions in some institutions, as well as increases in others, so the system must be designed to minimise financial shocks for individual institutions.

Reform extraordinary funding programmes to focus exclusively on quality and equity-related projects that complement the core activities of higher education institutions

The extraordinary funding programmes should be maintained, but focused exclusively on projects that go beyond the day-to-day operation of institutions. The funds should be explicitly linked to priorities established in the new Sectoral Education Programme. Priorities should include supporting quality and innovation in learning and teaching, promoting equity through targeted institutional measures, and supporting the establishment and implementation of system-wide norms and procedures.

Move to long-term budget planning

The SEP and the higher education sector should work together with the Secretariat for Finance and Public Credit to find a method to provide multi-annual budget commitments to institutions. In return for greater financial predictability, institutions should be required to present clear institutional development plans and report in an accurate and timely manner on their use of resources, activities and performance.

1.5. Quality in higher education

1.5.1. Main findings

The SEP has undertaken reforms aimed at simplifying and updating the programme registration process for private providers, but shortcomings remain

The participation of private institutions in programme registration (Recognition of the official validity of study programmes, RVOE) is likely to remain incomplete. Institutions with few resources and little reputation to safeguard are likely to remain weakly motivated to register, in part because labour market penalties for unrecognised degrees may be small. The recently revised RVOE process does not set requirements for the profile of instructional staff that are measurable and rigorous with respect to the number, contractual status, educational qualifications, and specialisation of instructors associated with a programme.

Well-developed ex-post monitoring and enforcement can mitigate the risk of poor quality that results from insufficient ex-ante requirements. However, the RVOE process lacks these capacities. Programmes holding a RVOE are not subject to planned compliance inspections. Authorities do not have information systems that permit them to monitor the performance of recognised programmes against a dashboard of indicators that might signal quality problems. Rather, authorities act in response to news reports or complaints, and de-registration of programmes is rare.

Sound processes for external programme accreditation and evaluation exist, but they remain voluntary and are not appropriate for all sectors of higher education

Mexico has stable and mature processes for quality assurance of undergraduate education managed and guided by independent, fee-based, non-profit organisations. They operate following established and well-documented procedures, draw upon a range of scholars to participate in their peer review processes, and produce results that are generally trusted within the higher education community. Partly as a result of federal government policy, slightly less than half of undergraduate students are now enrolled in programmes the quality of which has been assured by CIEES or by a COPAES-recognised accreditation organisation (DGESU, 2018[2]).

There remain important limitations to the external assurance of programme quality as currently configured. Its coverage remains incomplete; it can be poorly adapted to vocationally oriented education and the demands of working life and to the distinctive challenges of distance education. In the private sector, just under two in ten students study in programmes that have been externally accredited or evaluated. Some sectors of public higher education also have limited or very low rates of participation in external evaluation.

Quality assurance policies have focused on programmes and not supported the development of institutional capabilities and responsibilities with respect to quality.

Educational programmes within higher education institutions – rather than institutions themselves - have been the focus of public policies with respect to quality assurance, including external evaluation, accreditation, and registration. In the private sector, although some private institutions have strong and consistent records of achievement in providing educational programmes of high quality, they have no option by which they may exit the RVOE process and take institutional responsibility for the quality of their programmes. In the public sector, institutions wishing to demonstrate the quality of their educational processes have the option to seek external evaluation and accreditation only on a programme-by-programme basis.

Programmatic autonomy, or self-accrediting status, requires that higher education institutions participate in a rigorous institutional evaluation process that permits them to demonstrate regularly that they have the capacity to take responsibility for the quality of their programmes. It also requires a process that is public and accessible to all institutions and fully independent of the membership process for a private association. This feature is missing from the policy landscape of higher education in Mexico.

1.5.2. Key recommendations

Promote further quality improvements in strong institutions by increasing institutional responsibility for programme quality

A process of institutional quality review leading to self-accrediting status should be established for Mexico’s public and private higher education institutions, open to all institutions in which its programmes have successfully undergone external review (accreditation or evaluation) for more than one cycle. The process of external institutional review should be organised by a body that is independent of government and higher education institutions; employs differentiated criteria to take account of the varying missions of higher education institutions; awards approved institutions self-accrediting status for a fixed duration; and monitors their performance on a continuing basis.

Expand external quality assurance in other higher education institutions, including through processes better tailored to professional programmes

The federal government should expand participation in external programme-level review among higher education institutions where it is currently limited. Government should continue the support provided by Programme for Strengthening Educational Quality (PCFE), potentially at past levels. However, as leading public universities transition to institutional accreditation, government should target these funds at those parts of the public sector in which participation in quality assurance has been lagging.

Federal authorities should focus on supporting the development of suitable diversity in quality assurance, so accreditors and evaluators define and measure quality in ways that are consistent with the missions of all types of institution, and with various modes of provision. For technical and professionally oriented institutions, quality assurance needs to pay significantly greater attention to labour market outcomes than is presently the case, and to include a stronger focus on the mechanisms used by programmes to equip students with key skills needed in professional life.

Raising the bar – ensure better protection for students by enforcing minimum quality standards in the private sector more rigorously

Mexico should prioritise reform of RVOE, putting it on a new legal basis. Borrowing from the experience of other higher education systems in the region and across the OECD, Mexico should consider a compulsory registration process in which private institutions must obtain permission from the federal government to operate and to enrol students.

The aim of the RVOE process should be modest and realistic: to ensure an acceptable minimum level of provision through a process of inspection that focuses on educational inputs and processes for new institutions and programmes. It should make staffing requirements more rigorous than at present; and it should extend its focus to past performance and outputs for programmes seeking re-accreditation.

The federal government should strengthen its monitoring and enforcement capabilities. Permission to operate should be linked to a requirement for institutions to provide federal authorities with a minimum data set each year. This would increase capacity of SEP and, potentially, state authorities to undertake ongoing monitoring and enforcement and diminish their exclusive reliance on complaints as the basis for intervention. Clear and effective sanctions for non-compliance with RVOE conditions should be introduced.

Refocus external quality assurance for postgraduate education

Higher education institutions are gaining experience in monitoring and improving quality, and external accreditation and evaluation bodies are developing further experience in supporting HEIs. As they do, they should be able to take responsibility for assuring the quality of professionally oriented postgraduate education (at the specialisation and master’s degree levels), thereby permitting CONACyT to focus its attention on programmes that train doctoral students. This is a pattern of responsibilities often seen in other systems of quality assurance.

The link between CONACyT funding and quality assurance should continue, with the award of postgraduate study scholarships made dependent on students studying on a quality-assured programme. Doctoral students studying in quality-assured programmes in Mexico should be trained at an international level. This could be achieved, in part, by consistently engaging international researchers in the evaluation of doctoral programmes. This will have the added benefit of granting a higher degree of impartiality to evaluations in specialised fields that contain few national experts, and expand beneficial learning from other university systems.

Adapt institutional arrangements for external quality assurance to implement the preceding recommendations

Mexico should establish a national quality assurance body to guide the work of quality assurance for undergraduate and professional postgraduate education, while continuing to rely upon CONACyT to organise quality assurance in doctoral education. The body should be trusted, impartial and stable. This is best achieved if it is independent of both higher education institutions and government. Given the success that non-profit, non-governmental bodies – such as COPAES, CIEES, and CENEVAL – have had in taking forward the work of quality assurance, it is advisable that a quality assurance body take the form of a non-profit, non-governmental body. In the near-term, targeted public funding would be necessary to develop properly the capacities of the organisation, while in the longer term the organisation would best achieve independence by operating on a fee basis.

Responsibilities of the body should include, among others:

  • Taking a strategic view of the relationship between quality in undergraduate and postgraduate education, and ensuring that quality is being properly cared for across the entire system of higher education: by institutions that are self-accrediting; by institutions that are gaining increasing experience of external programme-level review; and by institutions that operate within a reformed system of institutional registration or licensing (RVOE).

  • Setting the conditions that higher education institutions need to achieve to become self-accrediting organisations.

  • Ensuring that programme-focused quality reviews are sufficiently diversified to accommodate the range of higher education providers.

  • Ensuring that selection and training processes for peer reviewers, including foreign academics, are rigorous and appropriate.

  • Advising the Secretary for Public Education which bodies should be recognised to perform the work of evaluation, assessment, and accreditation of higher education institutions and programmes.

  • Giving advice to government on questions of policy related to quality, including on suitable policy targets for the Sectoral Education Programme, and the means best suited to achieve them.

  • Advising the Secretary for Public Education on programmes or institutions that fail to meet quality standards, and should therefore be subject to de-recognition (in the private sector) or loss of eligibility for public funds (discretionary funds awarded through calls and competition).

  • Advising the SEP on the data infrastructure that is needed to support the monitoring of quality in a reformed RVOE process, and to determine whether HEIs are eligible for self-accrediting status.

1.6. Equity in higher education

1.6.1. Main findings

There is a challenging economic and social context for achieving educational equity

Wider economic and social conditions in a nation establish opportunities and challenges with respect to equity in its higher education system. In Mexico, inequalities of wealth and income are especially large, disadvantaged indigenous populations are numerous, gender inequalities are persistent, and regional inequalities are wide.

Weaknesses in the quality and inclusiveness of upper secondary education constrain the further development of equity in higher education

The availability of high-quality upper secondary education and access to it by disadvantaged students place limits on the continued expansion of higher education, and hamper further progress in making entry into - and completion of - higher education more equitable. Public authorities have made concerted efforts to address disparities in opportunities for learning. These include making upper secondary education compulsory, the federal Programme for Inclusion and Educational Equity, and (in part) the PROSPERA programme. However, the social background of students has a major influence on their likelihood to enter and succeed in upper secondary education. Moreover, upper secondary schools vary in quality, and students from economically and socially disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to enrol in higher quality upper secondary schools.

Higher education study opportunities for disadvantaged students are more numerous and diversified, but their quality and relevance raise equity concerns

Mexican authorities have supported the very substantial expansion of higher education in Mexico, and this has helped to reduce socio-economic inequalities in higher education participation. Expanded enrolment capacity has been accompanied by the diversification of higher education provision with respect to the missions or educational profiles offered by higher education institutions, the locations in which institutions operate, and the expansion of distance education. However, there has been less success in ensuring the quality and relevance of this expanding and diversifying provision, putting at risk the equity-enhancing effects of higher education expansion. In some regions – though not the nation as a whole – demand for study places and supply are not well balanced.

Many students from families in lower income deciles study in public higher education institutions with a professional and technical focus and operating with modest physical, financial and human resources. Much of the nation’s distance education is provided by private institutions, is offered in programmes that have not participated in external evaluation or accreditation, and is delivered in ways that do not lead to successful learning outcomes for students. Higher education institutions that serve disadvantaged student populations often appear to have high rates of non-completion, though comparable figures are not readily accessible due to gaps in data collection and reporting.

The responsibilities of institutions to offer academic and social support are insufficiently defined, and the support they provide is weakly targeted and variable

Mexican higher education institutions provide academic and social support to the students they enrol. However, there is no publicly accessible data source that makes it possible to know which institutions make such support available, the extent it is used, or its effectiveness. Federal authorities do not routinely collect information from higher education institutions about student services, or information from students about their use.

Public higher education institutions in Mexico also support students financially through a policy of minimal fees and charges. Seen from an economic vantage point, a decision to charge no fees (or, nominal fees) is an untargeted subsidy, the benefits of which often accrue to middle-income families that have the ability to pay fees. A far more equitable tuition policy would link tuition fees to the student’s ability to pay by creating modest fees for all and then reducing fees to zero through a targeted, means-tested subsidy for those who cannot pay. Such a system would be complemented by an effective programme of maintenance grants.

Mexico supports higher education students though a system of federally funded and sometimes state co-funded student grants known as the National Scholarships Programme (Programa Nacional de Becas). Some state-level or state-funded grants support special populations or state residents, and some public institutions offer additional scholarships. Students in private higher education institutions pay tuition fees to study. Some have sufficiently low incomes that they would be eligible to obtain financial support, but cannot do so because they are enrolled at a private institution. Instead, private institutions are obligated, as a condition of obtaining a RVOE, to award financial support to at least 5% of their students.

1.6.2. Key recommendations

Focus on improving upper secondary education to provide equitable access to higher education

More disadvantaged students need better opportunities to continue their studies towards completion of upper secondary education, and to obtain a high quality upper secondary education. While secondary education is outside the scope of this review, we note that some continuing challenges merit further attention on the part of Mexican education authorities. Efforts to expand coverage and increase the quality of higher education institutions need to take into account that many students are finishing upper secondary education with low skills, if they finish (or enter) at all. Given the long tradition and the large-scale of involvement of Mexico’s universities in upper secondary education - and their broad geographic dispersion - they might play an important role in quality improvement. For example, performance-based funding premiums for strong CENEVAL entrance examination results among disadvantaged students might provide universities with helpful incentives to enrol and strongly support their studies.

Ensure adequate supply, diversity, and sufficient minimum quality in higher education programmes

To address the imbalance of enrolment demand and supply in some areas, federal authorities could consider going beyond programmes such as Un lugar para tí, which is an ex-post strategy for students who have already been rejected from the most competitive institutions. The balancing of demand and supply in upper secondary education in Mexico City through a common examination (COMIPEMS) and matching process - with students indicating more than one preferred institution, campus, and programme - could provide a model that can improve the matching of students to enrolment opportunities.

The largest challenge in providing higher education opportunities for disadvantaged students is that they appear often to be enrolled in study programmes that are poorly resourced, and of limited quality and relevance. These challenges are the focus of the analysis of quality assurance in higher education and the equitable resourcing of higher education institutions in this report.

If institutional funding and quality assurance are to support equity, federal authorities need much better data about students. For example, the SEP does not collect reliable and comparable data on the socio-economic background of students in each public higher education institution (and subsystem). This prevents the federal and state authorities from designing equity-oriented funding methodologies that allocate resources based on student characteristics, and limits transparency with respect to the equity performance of public institutions. The use of a unique student identifier – which could make use of the Unique Population Register Code (Clave Única de Registro de Población, CURP) – would allow for the collection of longitudinal data across the education pipeline, producing true cohort-based measures of completion of studies, and transitions into the labour market that could support equity policy.

Improve financial support for students

Maintenance scholarships and transport benefits should preferably be a federal programme. This would allow student need to be assessed according to a federal methodology, the student benefit to be calculated based upon a federally established payment schedule, and students to be eligible for assistance irrespective of the institution in which they enrol. Such a system would increase transparency, improve the targeting of support to those most in need, and support student mobility.

Maintenance scholarships are not a mandated benefit indexed to the cost of living, and they have lost purchasing power, since raising the benefit requires legislative authorisation, and therefore occurs infrequently. The federal government should consider restoring the lost purchasing power of Maintenance Scholarships – in combination with making them a fully federalised benefit - linking them to a consumer price index to maintain stable purchasing power. They should also extend eligibility for public scholarships to students attending private institutions, and make eligibility for such student financial assistance dependent on study in programmes that are externally quality assured.

1.7. Educational sectors: Specific challenges and opportunities

1.7.1. Technical higher education in Mexico

Many technical higher education institutions are small and poorly networked with other HEIs, while Institutes of Technology lack the flexibility to adapt their work to local circumstances

From a governance perspective, two main issues stand out in the relation to the technical subsystems of higher education in Mexico. First, there is scope to improve cooperation and coordination between the different systems on a regional (state) level. Institutions consulted during the review mission reported they have limited cooperation with other institutions in the same subsystem within their state and virtually no formal contact with other institutions, such as State Public Universities. As many technical institutions are relatively small (with fewer than 1 000 students), greater cooperation with other institutions in the same region could open up new opportunities for joint projects and sharing of facilities to increase effectiveness and efficiency.

Second, while the Technological and Polytechnic Universities appear generally able to develop coherent institutional development plans and adapt their education to regional skills needs, the Institutes of Technology suffer from an excess of centralised control. This, in combination with the entirely inadequate infrastructure and facilities witnessed in some campuses, limits the ability of individual Institutes to develop distinct institutional development plans and respond to changing regional skills requirements.

Technical higher education is comparatively poorly funded, with large discrepancies in funding levels between institutions within the same subsystem

In comparison to university-based education, technical higher education in Mexico receives significantly less funding per student; this difference between university and technical education is greater than that seen in some of the best-regarded higher education systems in the OECD. Differences in funding levels between institutions within the technical higher education sector in Mexico also raise questions. In Puebla State, for example, the decentralised Institute of Technology with the lowest funding level receives less than 60% of the funding per student received by the best-funded institution in the same subsystem. There is also inadequate capital investment in infrastructure and equipment in some subsystems. In particular, staff in many Institutes of Technology appear to struggle to provide programmes that reflect the latest advances in their fields and equip students with relevant knowledge and skills for the modern Mexican economy.

Some institutions have very low proportions of full-time staff, while full-time staff in Institutes of Technology perform poorly in federal staff incentive programmes

The balance between full-time and hourly staff varies depending on the profile of the institutions and the historical patterns of employment. The federal Institutes of Technology have a higher proportion of full-time staff, largely as a legacy of their longstanding status as part of the federal civil service, while Polytechnic Universities operate with noticeably few full-time staff, even taking into account the important role of external lecturers with professional expertise in this subsystem. Although it is more challenging for staff in the technical higher education sector to meet the requirements for the “desirable profile” specified by the federal PRODEP programme, a particularly low proportion of full-time teaching staff in federal Institutes of Technology have acquired this status. This warrants further investigation.

Technical subsystems serve many students from disadvantaged backgrounds, but some of the qualifications offered lack recognition in the labour market

Stakeholders consulted by the OECD review team affirm that the technical higher education sector in Mexico, like its counterparts in many other OECD countries, caters to a student population that comes disproportionately from lower socio-economic backgrounds. Numerous Mexican commentators note that short-cycle programmes – provided primarily in Technological Universities - suffer from low prestige among families, students and employers. Employment data confirms that graduates from these programmes achieve modest earnings premiums compared to upper secondary graduates. Addressing these issues and providing more pathways for TSU graduates to gain bachelor qualifications are necessary to ensure students in these programmes gain real benefits.

Current external quality assurance systems are not well adapted to the needs of all types of technical programmes, while there are specific challenges in developing work-based learning opportunities

Data from August 2018 show that around 50 percent of students in Institutes of Technology (both federal and decentralised) study in programmes externally recognised by CIEES or COPAES for their quality (DGESU, 2018[2]). The equivalent figure for Polytechnic and Technological Universities was below 40%. Those working in the technical sector of higher education have made considerable efforts to implement study programmes focused strongly on equipping students with knowledge and skills relevant to the labour market. Curricula have been radically overhauled and there is a clear emphasis on acquiring generic competences alongside subject-specific knowledge. However, providers of technical higher education in Mexico face particular challenges in cooperating with employers - although levels of cooperation are higher in these subsystems than in others - and securing appropriate work placements and internships for their students. The high proportion of micro-businesses in the Mexican economy, high levels of informal employment and limited engagement from small and medium-sized businesses makes it more difficult to develop effective work-based learning than in countries with many medium-sized and large employers and a strong tradition of participation in education and training.

Key recommendations

Increase cooperation among technical higher education institutions and between technical subsystems and universities

  • As part of wider efforts to re-establish State Commissions for Higher Education Planning (COEPES), ensure efforts are made specifically to promote cooperation between institutions in the technical higher education sector.

  • Consider the introduction of an extraordinary federal funding programme to support institutional cooperation projects bringing together several technical institutions from a specific region of Mexico and partner institutions in another country to act as a framework for staff and student exchanges for skills development and capacity building.

  • At the national level in Mexico, develop cooperation with representative organisations for the professional and technical sectors of higher education in other OECD countries to support exchange of ideas about effective programme and curriculum design and models for cooperation with employers.

Devolve greater responsibility to Institutes of Technology

  • Within the Tecnológico Nacional de México, initiate a process to devolve greater responsibility for institutional planning, design of study programmes and staffing matters to individual Institutes of Technology. Ensure rules allow sufficient flexibility for individual institutions to make necessary decisions about staffing.

Implement a concerted package of measures to increase the capacity of technical institutions to provide high quality, relevant programmes

  • Within the framework of a wider reform of mechanisms for allocating public funding to higher education institution in Mexico, ensure that transparent funding criteria are established for the technical sector, reflecting the true costs of providing good quality technical education, and which ensure that institutions receive an equitable level of funding per student.

  • Particularly focusing on Institutes of Technology, undertake a systematic analysis of requirements for new equipment and infrastructure in the technical higher education sector in each state. On this basis, where necessary, provide dedicated funds for investment in new infrastructure and equipment.

  • Review the ratio of full-time to hourly contracted staff in all institutions, taking steps through the budget allocation to strengthen the full-time staff contingent in justified cases.

  • Encourage institutions to implement internal performance review and incentive systems that encourage and support staff to acquire desirable profiles. If the PRODEP programme is continued, review the criteria for desirable profiles to ensure that they are appropriately adapted to the circumstances of the technical higher education sector.

  • Support, as necessary through reconfigured federal extraordinary funding programmes, CIEES and COPAES to take steps to develop accreditation procedures relevant for all types of technically oriented higher education programme.

  • Ensure broader measures are taken to track graduates’ progress in the labour market and provide a breakdown of evidence on labour market outcomes for the technical subsystems of higher education.

Take specific steps to improve the profile of short-cycle programmes

  • Draw on existing feedback from employers, convene additional discussions where necessary to identify the real barriers to better employability outcomes for graduates from short-cycle programmes. General campaigns and promotion are unlikely to be effective in increasing the prestige of these programmes. Rather, efforts should focus on demonstrating how graduates from such programmes can succeed in the labour market. Intensive, local cooperation projects, linking higher education providers and employers, supported by public incentive programmes could be one option to explore.

1.7.2. Teacher Education Colleges in Mexico – the normal schools

Normal schools are subject to strong top-down control

In contrast to other types of public institution under state responsibility, public normal schools have very limited autonomy in their day-to-day activities. Both the structure and content of programmes are specified centrally for the whole country by the SEP’s Directorate-General for Higher Education for Educational Professionals (DGESPE), with individual schools then responsible for delivering these standardised programmes. Pay and conditions for staff are also established centrally. Normal schools are responsible for preparing teachers to deliver school-level education, which has been increasingly standardised for the whole country, meaning close articulation between the system of normal education and school education is needed. However, there is a risk that centralised regulations and curriculum guidelines are too prescriptive, leaving insufficient freedom to individual schools and academic staff to adapt their programmes to local needs or exploit the specific expertise of individual staff members.

There is evidence of structural underfunding in the subsystem

The allocation of funds to normal schools, via funding streams destined for school-level education, means it is difficult to identify the level of resourcing they receive and compare it with other public subsystems. However, stakeholders consulted by the review team argued that normal schools face structural underfunding problems and that many normal schools are small, operating in poor quality buildings and with limited access to modern teaching resources. Normal schools have been eligible for federal extraordinary funding schemes, but participation in project-based financial incentive programmes can be challenging for institutions with limited internal management and financial capacity.

Many teaching staff lack high-level qualification and exposure to the wider academic community working on educational issues

There are risks attached to the high degree of inbreeding (endogamy) among teaching staff working in public normal schools and their comparative isolation from other parts of the academic sector. Teaching staff who have themselves been trained primarily (if not exclusively) in normal schools may not have been exposed to alternative and valuable approaches to teaching and teacher training. Teaching staff responsible for programmes for aspiring secondary school teachers may not have studied the specific disciplines they are teaching (Spanish, maths, physics etc.) at university. It is also striking that almost 60% of those responsible for teaching the next generation of Mexican schoolteachers still lacks a postgraduate qualification. Many public normal schools are also operating with very few permanent, full-time staff, further complicating the process of building strong, cohesive teams and developing and implementing long-term strategies for quality and innovation.

Enrolment in normal schools has fallen sharply and students come disproportionately from low-income backgrounds

Total enrolment in public normal schools in Mexico has declined from over 101 000 in 2013-14 to around 84 000 in 2016-17. This has resulted from falling demand for schoolteachers, increased entry requirements and the decision, in 2013, to remove automatic entry to a teaching career for those successfully completing programmes in normal schools and to open the general entrance examination for the teaching profession to graduates from other institutions and programmes. Representatives of normal schools interviewed by the OECD team believed that their students continue to come disproportionately from lower income backgrounds.

Significant concerns exist about the quality of programmes in normal schools – problems compounded by the small size of many institutions

Challenges relating to infrastructure and staffing (and the availability of resources to pay for these), as well as the small size of institutions are all likely to affect adversely the quality of education in public normal schools. Normal schools have expertise in didactics, unrivalled experience of providing practical training to teachers working in different contexts and a close connection with the regional school systems and communities they serve. These factors probably contribute to graduates from normal schools achieving the highest average scores in the national entry examinations for the teaching profession, ahead of graduates from the National Pedagogical University. Nevertheless, the quality and relevance of the education provided in normal schools remains a concern for public authorities in Mexico. Although the successive federal funding programmes have sought to improve quality, only 16% of students in public normal schools study in programmes that have been externally accredited. Commentators in Mexico also argue that existing staff in some normal schools struggle to provide the kinds of academic supervision required by the study plans provided by the SEP.

Key recommendations

Take short-term measures to improve the financial conditions of public normal schools, while planning for the longer-term sustainability of the subsystem

  • In the near term, create transparent national guidelines on funding of public normal schools. These should take into account assessments of the real costs of operating such institutions and assumed requirements for full-time staff to evaluate the level of investment required to operate existing normal schools effectively. On the basis of the conclusions, the budgets allocated to normal schools should be adjusted accordingly to ensure the schools can operate effectively in the short term.

  • In the medium term, review the capacity of individual normal schools to provide quality educational experiences, taking into account improved data. On the basis of these results, consider options for improving effectiveness and efficiency through more intensive networking of normal schools in each state, including through shared administrative and financial services and shared programmes or modules provided online to different campus sites. Consider whether normal schools in a given region should be merged to form campuses of a single regional normal school.

Promote networking between normal schools in each state, communication between the SEP and normal schools and better links to State Public Universities and the National Pedagogical University

  • Building on the Strategy on the Transformation of Normal Schools, provide incentives from the federal level to ensure all states incorporate their normal schools into a network to allow them to contribute more effectively to strategic planning and to communicate with SEP authorities in Mexico City. These networks should be part of the broader policies for enhanced cooperation and networking between institutions in each state recommended earlier in this report.

  • Require all subject-specific bachelor programmes in normal schools for aspiring secondary school teachers to develop systematic cooperation with regional public universities, seeking where possible to ensure students can benefit from courses and learning resources (libraries, etc.) in these larger institutions. Support this requirement through additional funding, including resources for joint projects, potentially allocated from existing funds set aside for the transformation of normal schools.

  • In support of this upgrading of staff capacity – and more generally – promote more systematic cooperation between the National Pedagogical University and normal schools (or the networks of normal schools). Cooperation could include provision of continuous professional training programmes and online materials, more systematic dissemination of UPN research results among normal schools and professional exchanges.

  • Improve communication and cooperation between the DGESPE and normal schools, both on an individual basis and through the regional networks proposed above. In particular, normal schools should be involved more directly in the development of new study programmes that they must then implement.

Enhance requirements for teaching staff in normal schools

  • Require new teaching staff in normal schools to have at least a master’s degree in a relevant field and continue to support existing normal school teaching staff to upgrade their qualifications and skills.

Improve monitoring and support for students from disadvantaged backgrounds

  • As part of wider efforts in the higher education system, improve monitoring of both the social origin of students, their completion rates and their subsequent career development post-graduation. This information should feed into the planning of the sector at regional level and institutional quality plans.


[2] DGESU (2018), Corte 31 de Agosto 2018 - matricula de calidad, Dirección General Educación Superior Universitaria, (accessed on 24 October 2018).

[1] Institucional, C. (ed.) (2018), Subsistemas de Educación Superior. Estadística básica 2006-2017, DGEI-UNAM, Ciudad de México,

End of the section – Back to iLibrary publication page