Chapter 5. Equity

This chapter reviews some of the key social challenges facing Mexico, which form the social context for equity policy in higher education, before examining three key issues that influence the ability of the Mexican higher education system to support social equity and inclusion goals. The chapter first examines access routes to higher education and, in particular, the role of school education in preparing students for higher learning. It then considers the extent to which the Mexican higher education system provides a diversity of programmes that can cater effectively to the needs of students from different backgrounds, before assessing the effectiveness of current government and institutional policies to provide student support. The chapter concludes by providing a set of recommendations to support the development of policies to promote social equity in Mexican higher education.


The statistical data for Israel are supplied by and under the responsibility of the relevant Israeli authorities. The use of such data by the OECD is without prejudice to the status of the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem and Israeli settlements in the West Bank under the terms of international law.

5.1. Focus of this chapter

Equitable higher education systems ensure that access to and participation in tertiary education depend only on individuals’ abilities, efforts, and interests – rather than being the result of personal and social circumstances, such as socio-economic status, gender, origin, age, or disability. To this end, highly equitable higher education systems rely upon:

  • equitable access routes to tertiary education made possible by high quality, inclusive systems of primary and secondary schooling that develop the talents and aspirations of all young people to a high level, and without regard to personal or family circumstances;

  • wide opportunities for participation in tertiary study that are: made available to students on the basis of transparent processes of selection; adequate to meet student demand; sufficiently diverse to meet the varied needs of learners; offered at sufficient levels of quality and adequately resourced, and aligned to social and labour market needs; and,

  • support for learners that permits them to study without regard to their (or their family’s) ability to pay; and provides attention to academic, health, and socio-emotional challenges that can undermine prospects for success.

In this chapter, we first review some of the key social challenges facing Mexico, which form the social context for equity policy in higher education, before examining the three key dimensions outlined above, as well as evaluating the performance of the Mexican higher education system in ensuring equitable access, participation, and support for learners. We conclude by offering recommendations that hold the promise of further strengthening each dimension of equity in its higher education system.

5.2. Equitable access, participation and support: strengths and weaknesses of the Mexican higher education system

5.2.1. A challenging economic and social context for achieving educational equity

High income and wealth inequality in the population at large

Mexico is a country marked by high levels of poverty and inequality in income and wealth. 43.6% of the population lives in poverty, while 7.6% lives in extreme poverty (CONEVAL, 2017[1]). Mexico has the highest Gini coefficient value (after taxes and transfers) among OECD countries (OECD, 2018[2]). The Gini coefficient for Mexico – measuring inequality on a scale of zero to one, where zero is perfect equality and one is perfect inequality – is 0.459, compared to an OECD average of 0.318. The S90/S10 disposable income share ratio - the share of income received by the top 10% divided by the share of income received by the bottom 10% of the income distribution - is 20.9, compared to 9.4 on average in the OECD. This indicates a high level of inequality between the top 10% and the bottom 10% of the income distribution (OECD, 2017[3]).

Significant and often marginalised indigenous populations

Indigenous people constitute a significant part of the Mexican population. 21.5% of Mexicans self-identify as indigenous, 10.1% live in a household where someone speaks an indigenous language, and 6.5% of those aged three years or older speak an indigenous language (INEGI, 2016[4]). Over three-quarters of indigenous people live in poverty, compared to 41% of non-indigenous people (CONEVAL, 2017[1]). The rate of extreme poverty among indigenous people was 34.8% in 2016, about six times the rate of non-indigenous people. While extreme poverty decreased by about 10 percentage points between 2010 and 2016, overall poverty rates have decreased only about two percentage points among both indigenous and non-indigenous populations.

Educational outcomes for indigenous populations are lower than for non-indigenous populations. Among indigenous 25-64 year-olds in 2015, only 6.6% had completed tertiary education and only 9.7% had completed upper secondary, compared to 18.7% and 19.6% respectively in the rest of the population (Table 5.1).

Table 5.1. Education level by indigenous status, 25-64 year-olds, 2015

Total population (%)

Indigenous* (%)

Rest of population (%)

No schooling




Primary incomplete




Primary completed




Lower secondary completed




Upper secondary completed




Tertiary completed




Not specified




Note: * Difference is statistically significant at 90% with respect to the rest of the population. Data based on methodology by the National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples (CDI).

Source: Adapted from (INEE, 2017[5]). Breve panorama educativo de la población indígena.

There are also inequalities in labour market outcomes between indigenous and non-indigenous persons. The national activity rate stood at 50.3% in 2015, while for indigenous persons this rate stood at 43.9% (CDI, 2015[6]). It is estimated that 11.9% of indigenous persons that are employed have no income - a situation that describes, among others, subsistence farmers and those employed by members of their family without being remunerated - compared to 3.0% of the national employed population. About 52.9% of the employed national population earns over twice the minimum wage, while only 30.0% of indigenous persons have this level of earnings.

Economic and educational inequalities related to skin colour

Social and economic inequality follows “colour” lines as well. In 2017, skin tone was included in the National Survey on Discrimination in Mexico (INEGI, 2017[7]). The skin tone instrument, PERLA1, asked respondents 18 and older to identify with one of eleven skin tones. It found that about 59% identified as an intermediate skin tone, about 29% identified as a light skin tone, and about 11% identified as a dark skin tone. The survey results revealed that those with lighter skin tones had achieved higher levels of education (30.4% finishing at least one year of higher education, 18.0% not finishing basic education) than those with dark skin tones (16.0% and 33.5% respectively). Moreover, those with lighter skin tones were more likely to have jobs such as official, director, manager, professional or technician/expert, while those with darker skin tones were more likely to work in personal services, support, agricultural activities, and artisanship.

Persistent gender disparities

Large inequalities with respect to gender are also persistent characteristics of the Mexican economy and society. Women have a lower employment rate and earn less than men: tertiary-educated women earn only 66% of the average earnings of tertiary-educated men (OECD, 2018[8]). Women in Mexico held 5.2% of seats on boards of the largest publicly listed companies in 2016, compared to 20.0% on average in the OECD. 2.3% of employed women are employers, while 5.6% of employed men are employers (OECD, 2018[9]).

Among 25-54 year-olds in 2016, the labour force participation rate for men in Mexico was 94.2%, while for women it was 55.5% (OECD, 2018[9]). This is significantly lower than the OECD average for women, at 72.6%, while for men the average was 91.3%. 24.4% of 25-54 year-old women in Mexico were in part-time employment, compared to 8.5% of men. On average, women earned 16.5% less than men in Mexico in 2016. This compares to an average pay gap in the OECD of 14.1%.

36% of women aged 18-24 in Mexico were in neither employment nor education and training (NEET) in 2017, compared to 8% of men. The gap in NEET rates between women and men in Mexico – 28 percentage points – is the highest among OECD countries (OECD, 2018[8]). Over 90% of female NEETs in Mexico are inactive – neither employed nor actively looking for a job in the formal labour market – and this is the largest share among OECD and partner countries.

While enrolment at all levels of education have reached parity between men and women in Mexico, there remain small differences in educational attainment, and attainment rates are significantly below the OECD average. 52% of both male and female 25-34 year-olds in Mexico have attained less than upper secondary education, compared to an OECD average of 17% of men and 14% of women (OECD, 2018[8]). Among 25-34 year-olds in Mexico, the highest level of attainment for 25% of men and 26% of women is upper secondary education, below the OECD average of 46% and 37% respectively. 23% of both genders among 25-34 year-olds in Mexico have attained tertiary education, compared to an OECD average of 38% for men and 50% for women. In terms of tertiary education entry and exit, 50% of first-time entrants and 53% of first-time graduates are women, as compared to 54% and 57% respectively across the OECD on average.

Substantial inequality in income across the regions of Mexico

Inequality in Mexico has an important spatial dimension: its southern states contain larger indigenous populations and have higher levels of poverty than other regions of the country. States with above average poverty rates tend to have above average percentages of indigenous persons. The southern state of Chiapas has the highest percentage of its population living in poverty, with a rate of 77.1% in 2016 (CONEVAL, 2017[1]). This is markedly higher than in Mexico City (27.6%) and the northern state of Nuevo Leon (14.2%), which has the lowest percentage of people living in poverty. In 2016, the disposable income per capita in current prices and current PPP in Mexico City stood at USD 6 688, over three times higher than the income in Chiapas (USD 1 850) (OECD, 2018[2]).

Inequalities between rural and urban populations can also be observed. While poverty overall and the gap between rural and urban areas decreased between 2010 and 2016, rural areas have about a 50% higher incidence of poverty (58.2% in rural areas as compared to 39.2% in urban areas), with extreme poverty about 4 times as high (4.7% as compared to 17.4%) in rural areas (CONEVAL, 2017[1]).

In the area of education, some inequalities between rural and urban have decreased over time. In 2016, rural 15-24 year-olds had a literacy rate of 97.3%, compared to 57.1% among the rural population aged over 65 (CEDLAS and The World Bank, 2017[10]). The gap between rural and urban literacy rates is only 1.7% among 15-24 year-olds, compared to a gap of 27.2% among those over 65. However, in older students, large inequalities persist. Results from the PISA 2012 survey show a larger difference than most OECD countries between the performance of students in schools in cities versus rural areas. The difference in mean performance in mathematics - after accounting for socio-economic status - between schools in cities and schools in rural areas is 32, compared to an OECD average difference of 13 (OECD, 2013, p. 223[11]).

5.2.2. Challenges of quality and inclusion in secondary education constrain the further development of equity in higher education2

While the economic and social inequalities discussed above manifest themselves in the nation’s schooling system, public authorities have made concerted efforts to address disparities in opportunities for learning, focusing efforts on access to educational services and successful completion. As an example, expansion of pre-primary education has led to enrolment of three-year-olds in early childhood education nearly doubling since 2005, while enrolment by age four in pre-primary education in 2014 stood at 90%, 5 percentage points higher than the OECD average (OECD, 2018[12]).

At the level of secondary schooling, Mexico has also moved forward with important reform programmes. For example, in 2012, upper secondary education became compulsory in an effort to increase enrolment and attainment and reach a goal of universal coverage by 2022 (OECD, 2018[12]). Enrolment in upper secondary school stood at 76.6% in 2016-2017, up from 65.9% in 2012-2013, and first-time graduation rates in secondary education have increased significantly, from 40% in 2000 to 56% in 2015. In addition to reforms to the legal framework, various programmes have been put in place to improve educational outcomes. These include SEP’s federal Programme for Inclusion and Educational Equity (Programa para la Inclusión y la Equidad Educativa (PIEE)), created in 2014, and the reviewed and expanded PROSPERA programme, which have strengthened the capacities of education providers and provided cash transfers and scholarships to improve educational and other outcomes respectively. The PROSPERA programme, which will be discussed in more detail later in this chapter, is the largest anti-poverty programme in Mexico and is designed to support completion of school. However, further efforts are needed to improve in several areas of schooling.

Quality challenges and inequality between schools throughout the school system

There is evidence of poor and variable quality at different levels of the school system in Mexico. At the lowest levels of education, while enrolment in pre-primary education has increased, as noted above, capacity for the youngest age groups remains low and there are concerns about the quality of what is provided. Only 45.8% of 3-year-olds were enrolled in pre-primary education in 2015, compared to an OECD average of 77.8%. Moreover, data from the 2015 round of the OECD’s PISA survey indicate that 15-year-olds in Mexico who had attended at least two years of pre-primary education had no statistically significant difference in their performance in science, even after accounting for socio-economic differences (OECD, 2017[13]). This suggests that while, in many countries, attendance of pre-primary education has a positive impact on subsequent learning outcomes, this is not generally the case in Mexico.

At the secondary level, learning outcomes by the age of 15 are low, viewed in comparison to other OECD member countries. In the PISA 2015 survey, Mexico performed below the OECD average in science, reading and mathematics (OECD, 2016[14]). Performance has remained relatively unchanged in recent cycles: average science performance has not changed significantly since 2006 and reading has remained stable since 2009. In all three domains, less than 1% of students in Mexico are top performers. The share of low-performing students in Mexico is 48%, the highest among OECD countries, and this share has not changed significantly since 2006. The 2015 PISA survey also found that 11% of the variation in student performance in science in Mexico could be attributed to differences in students’ socio-economic status, compared to an average for the OECD of 13% (OECD, 2016[14]).

One of the contributing factors to the low average performance in PISA of the Mexican school system is an inequitable distribution of resources between schools. Data from PISA reveals striking differences in educational resources between advantaged and disadvantaged schools, as reported by schools heads (Figure 5.1). Disadvantaged schools have a higher shortage of educational material than advantaged schools - the largest gap among OECD countries - and disadvantaged schools have a higher shortage of qualified staff than advantaged schools.

Figure 5.1. Differences in educational resources between advantaged and disadvantaged schools

1. The index of shortage of educational material is measured by an index summarising school principals' agreement with four statements about whether the school’s capacity to provide instruction is hindered by a lack of and/or inadequate educational materials, including physical infrastructure.

2. The index of shortage of educational staff is measured by an index summarising school principals' agreement with four statements about whether the school’s capacity to provide instruction is hindered by a lack and/or inadequate qualifications of the school staff.

Note: Statistically significant differences between advantaged and disadvantaged schools are marked in a darker tone.

Countries and economies are ranked in ascending order of the difference in index of shortage of educational material between advantaged and disadvantaged schools.

Source: (OECD, 2016[15]), PISA 2015 Results (Volume I): Excellence and Equity in Education,

Social and cultural factors and the quality of upper secondary provision affect completion of upper secondary education

The scope of high quality of upper secondary education and access to it on the part of disadvantaged students places limits on the continued expansion of higher education, and hamper further progress in making entry into - and completion of - higher education more equitable.

The completion of upper secondary education, through the attainment of a bachillerato, is a requirement for entry into higher education. However, the highest level of education attained by more than half (52%) of 25-34 year-olds was below upper secondary education in 2017, as compared to an OECD average of 15% (OECD, 2018[12]). In 2016, the first-time upper secondary graduation rate, which represents the estimated percentage of an age group expected to graduate upper secondary at least once in their lifetime, in Mexico reached 57%, 30 percentage points lower than the OECD average of 87%. In Mexico, research suggests that the most relevant factors identified with leaving before completing upper secondary education include “having a head of household unemployed, becoming a household head, low household income, living in rural areas, large household size, and low levels of education of the household head and spouse” (Bentaouet Kattan and Székely, 2015[16]).

Social background has a major influence on students’ likelihood to enter and succeed in upper secondary education. Research from Mexico City suggests that a family’s social origins influence lower secondary students’ decision to take the COMIPEMS exam that gives access to upper secondary education, as well as their choice of schools, performance in the exam, and the final decision to attend upper secondary school (Solís, Rodríguez Rocha and Brunet, 2013[17]). High achievers who come from lower-income families underestimate their ability to perform well on COMIPEMS more than high achievers from higher-income families. Students from lower socio-economic backgrounds select, on average, a range of less selective schools to apply to, and they are more likely to apply to non-elite technological or technical schools (Ortega Hesles, 2015[18]). Research suggests that students whose parents are less-educated and students who have lower course marks in lower secondary school have a higher probability of dropping out when admitted to such elite schools (de Janvry, Dustan and Sadoulet, 2012[19]).

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. In Mexico City, for example, upper secondary schools are stratified, “with more resources being allocated to schools that incorporate mostly high-achieving students from the top quartiles of the socio-economic distribution,” and the more selective schools admitting students from higher family incomes per capita (Ortega Hesles, 2015[18]).

Those who do complete upper secondary education may be exiting upper secondary programmes that leave them weakly prepared for higher education. The comparatively low performance in PISA across all domains discussed above suggests students are entering upper secondary education already behind their OECD peers. Nationally, the newly implemented PLANEA exam, which tested all students in their final year of upper secondary school in 2017, indicates 66% and 34% of students are not achieving key learnings established in the mathematics and language and communication curricula respectively (INEE, 2017[20]).

While the focus of this review is on young people in higher education, it should be noted that access routes for adults with work experience or who are working and study also depend on the quality of schooling, as well as the quality of training they have received over the course of their working life. In the future, Mexico will have a rich base of evidence about adult skills, participation in education and training, and skill use as a result of conducting the Survey of Adults Skills as part of the OECD’s Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC).

Government financial support programmes have had limited impact on increasing entry rates into tertiary education

Direct outlays and the opportunity cost of staying in school contribute to high early secondary school leaving rates, particularly among marginalised populations. It is estimated “that the average direct costs of studying (fees, books, exams, etc.) in a public high school represents about 15% of median yearly household income,” and this percentage is higher for private high schools (Binelli and Rubio-Codina, 2013[21]). Young people needing to contribute to household income may choose to work rather than study. Recent research on the Mexican economy suggests that a large increase in the demand for low-skilled labour generated by a boost in manufacturing activities and informal employment has decreased the opportunity cost of leaving education, contributing to low graduation rates from secondary education (OECD, 2018[12])

The Prospera programme offers one of the main vehicles for the provision of scholarships to support students in meeting the costs of education (Binelli and Rubio-Codina, 2013[21]). Initially implemented in a rural context in 1997 and known as Progresa, the programme enrolled 400 000 families during its first year, and by 2004, after expanding to urban areas in 2001, it was serving five million families (Secretariat of Social Development, 2008[22]; Secretariat of Social Development, 1999[23]). The programme served over 6.7 million households in 2016-2017 (CONEVAL, 2017[24]). The programme is the largest anti-poverty programme in the country, providing cash transfers to low-income families conditional on primary, secondary and (starting in 2001) high school attendance (Binelli and Rubio-Codina, 2013[21]). Today, the Prospera programme includes scholarships for higher education and vocational training, and it promotes financial, labour market, productive and social inclusion through a variety of mechanisms (Secretariat of Social Development, 2017[25]; World Bank, 2014[26]). The programme has been widely studied, and recent research has found that “childhood exposure [to the programme] improves educational attainment, geographic mobility, labour market performance, and household economic outcomes in early adulthood” (Parker and Vogl, 2018[27]). However, research also suggests “that childhood exposure to Progresa does not raise college attendance,” which suggests that the labour market returns of the increased educational attainment of Prospera recipients is or is perceived to be high enough to forgo college attendance (Parker and Vogl, 2018[27]). Additionally, while Prospera has been able to address some of the socio-cultural factors that affect school completion, it has not addressed issues of school quality that prevent students from completing secondary education and accessing tertiary education.

5.2.3. Opportunities for tertiary study are more numerous and diversified, but the quality and relevance of study opportunities for disadvantaged students raises equity concerns

Political leaders and wider Mexican society have supported the very substantial expansion and diversification of higher education in Mexico, and this has reduced inequalities in higher education participation to some extent, especially socio-economic inequality. However, there has been less success in ensuring the quality and relevance of this swiftly expanding provision, putting at risk the equity-enhancing effects of higher education expansion.

A significant expansion of supply has been achieved, but enrolment gains are smallest among the lowest income groups

There has been a substantial expansion in the scale of higher education. Governments have made raising the gross enrolment rate - or “coverage” - a leading target of federal policy, as evidenced by objectives found in Sectoral Education Programmes over the last 10 years (SEP, 2013[28]; SEP, 2007[29]). Moreover, there have been efforts to monitor the expansion of enrolment across the income distribution, particularly through the creation of Indicator 3.2, which calls for the monitoring of gross enrolment rates in upper secondary and higher education among the bottom four per capita income deciles, in the 2013-18 Sectoral Education Programme (SEP, 2013[28]).

In less than two decades, total enrolment has more than doubled, growing from almost 2.2 million in 2000-2001 to over 4.5 million in 2017-2018 (ANUIES, 2018[30]). Higher education coverage (not including enrolment in graduate programmes) has also increased substantially during the same period, from 20.6% to 38.4% among 18 to 22 year-olds (ANUIES, 2018[30]).

Access to higher education among those in the bottom half of the income distribution has improved along with the overall expansion of enrolment rates. Between 2000 and 2012, among young people aged 18-24, the share of higher education students that belong to the poorest 50% of the population rose in the majority of Latin American countries with data, including Mexico (Figure 5.2). Nonetheless, Mexico still stood roughly in the middle of Latin American countries with respect to participation among those from the lower half of the income distribution, and trailed several countries with lower GDP per capita (at PPP) in 2012, such as Bolivia and Ecuador (World Bank, 2018[31])

Figure 5.2. Participation of the poorest 50% among higher education students, circa 2000 and 2012

Source: Adapted from (Ferreyra et al., 2017[32]), At a crossroads: higher education in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Enrolment in higher education remains much higher among Mexican students from higher-income families than from lower income families (see Figure 5.3). In 2016, students from the lowest decile of family incomes accounted for only 3.1% of enrolments in higher education, while young adults ages 18 to 23—the age range used by SEP when calculating higher education “coverage” rates—from the lowest income decile accounted for 10.5% of the distribution of this age cohort across income deciles. Students from the highest income decile accounted for 13.9% of enrolments, while young adults ages 18 to 23 from the highest income decile accounted for only 4.8% of this age cohort.

Figure 5.3. Distribution of higher education enrolment and distribution of population of 18-23 year-olds, by income decile, 2016

Source: Adapted from (ANUIES, 2018[30]), Visión y acción 2030.

Although the national supply of study places has expanded, there appears to be some imbalances in aggregate demand and supply. According to data published by ANUIES, public higher education institutions offered about 890 000 study places at the undergraduate level in 2017-2018 (ANUIES, 2017[33]). In that same year, over 1 360 000 applications for first-time entry were reported in total across all public institutions, and the public system as a whole enrolled almost 700 000 first-time entrants. Private institutions, in aggregate, offered about 770 000 spaces, received about 550 000 applications for first-time entry and enrolled about 420 000 first-time entrants. While there are more first-time applicants than spaces available in the public system, the inverse is true in private institutions. In the combined public and private sectors, there are more first-time applicants than study places available, though it is possible that individual first-time applicants who apply to more than one institution are counted more than once. However, in both the public and private sectors, as well as overall, there are more spaces available than first-time enrolees. This suggests that the system has the potential to absorb more first-time applicants than it currently does, though this would depend on the extent to which available spaces are going to non-first-time applicants, as well as the geographic mobility and individual preferences of first-time applicants.

Regional and local imbalances in demand and supply also exist. While 14 states had more spaces available than first-time applicants in 2017, the remaining 18 states have more first-time applicants than spaces available (ANUIES, 2017[33]). However, it is important to distinguish the total number of places nominally available from those for which there is real demand. In the Mexico City metropolitan area, for example, the Secretariat of Public Education has argued that there are 120 000 more places available in the City of Mexico and the surrounding states of Morelos, Hidalgo and Mexico than the number of graduates from upper secondary in these areas. Thus, they argue, the supply of study places is sufficient to meet demand (SEP, 2016[34]). ANUIES reports that in these four entities, both individually and combined, the number of first-time enrolees was lower than the number of places available (ANUIES, 2017[33]).

Yet certain schools are in high demand, and there are reports that students would rather postpone their studies than attend a less selective institution, which suggests that the supply of quality study places - in other words, those in selective institutions - is not meeting the demand. Indeed, there have been recurring calls for a substantial expansion of enrolment capacity in higher education institutions with low admission rates, most especially at UNAM, where in 2017 about 9% percent of bachelor’s programme applicants were admitted (UNAM, 2018[35]). It should be noted that this admission rate does not include those students admitted under UNAM’s policy of pase reglamentado, whereby students who graduate from one of UNAM’s associated upper secondary programmes and meet certain requirements are granted admission outside of the regular selection competition (UNAM, 2018[36]). Indeed, 55% of students admitted to bachelor’s programmes entered under the pase reglamentado policy in 2017-2018.

In order to find alternative placements for those who were denied admission into highly selective universities in the Mexico City metropolitan area, including UNAM, the programme Un lugar para tí has been created. Through its online portal, students can select from available study programmes in participating public and private institutions in the Valley of Mexico Metropolitan Zone (greater Mexico City) and the states of Mexico, Hidalgo and Morelos (SEP, 2018[37]). Applicants are also offered access to scholarships at public institutions and preferential rates at private intuitions affiliated with FIMPES or ALPES. Whether the programme will significantly better balance student demand for coveted study places with supply remains to be seen.

Elsewhere in Latin America - and in OECD countries - leading public research universities within differentiated higher education systems have similarly low admission rates. In Brazil, about 7% of applicants at the University of São Paulo were admitted in 2017 (via competitive exams), while at the University of Campinas about 22% of applicants were accepted (University of São Paolo, 2017[38]; AEPLAN, 2018[39]). In the University of California at Berkeley about 18% and the University of Helsinki about 16% of applicants were admitted in 2017 (UC Berkeley, 2018[40]; University of Helsinki, 2018[41]). In these systems, the focus of policy is typically meeting aggregate demand rather than demand for study places in particular institutions, and efforts are made to ensure that students are able to obtain a study opportunity that is fitted to their needs, interests, and abilities within their higher education system. This is done though provision of study options of sufficient quality and relevance to all students, and by developing student tuition and maintenance support sufficient to permit students to freely choose among the options available to them. This is often accompanied by a unified and coordinated admissions process in which student preferences are prioritised and linked to available study places. Indeed, most OECD member and partner countries in their application process for entry into first-degree public tertiary programmes use either a fully centralised or combined centralised and direct to institutions method (OECD, 2017[42]).

Diversification in educational programmes available, but concerns about the resourcing, quality and relevance of new provision

The expansion of total enrolment capacity has been accompanied by the diversification of higher education programmes in Mexico with respect to: the range of missions or educational profiles offered by higher education institutions; location; and the modes of instruction available to learners. This diversification has had important consequences - both positive and negative - for equity.

New Types of Institutions

In terms of institutional profile, the most significant diversification has occurred in the area of technical and professionally oriented higher education in the public sector. Between 2006-2007 and 2016-2017, 217 new public higher education institutions (HEIs) created - not including new sites, campuses or units of or within existing institutions - were created, or about public 22 HEIs per year (Mendoza Rojas, 2018[43]). About 70% of these institutions (150 of these 217) were in the “technical sector”, taking the form of Polytechnic Universities, federal and decentralised Institutes of Technology or Technological Universities. Public HEIs in the technical sector “tend to cater to less affluent students in search of job security,” and, as described later in this chapter, they often struggle with lower rates of completion and fewer resources, particularly as compared to elite public schools (Ordorika, Rodríguez Gómez and Lloyd, 2018[44]). We discuss the specific challenges and opportunities faced in these institutional types in Chapter 6.

A second main type of diversification in institutional profile has been the creation and expansion of Intercultural Universities. In 2004, the first institution under the Intercultural University subsystem was created, though another institution, the Autonomous Indigenous University of Mexico in Sinaloa, had been established in 2001 to meet the higher education needs of indigenous persons (Mendoza Rojas, 2018[43]). The subsystem as such was the result of policies set forth in the 2001-2006 National Education Programme, which sought to promote inclusion of local and regional cultures and to meet the higher education needs of populations from traditionally excluded regions (SEP, 2001[45]). Specifically, the plan called for the establishment of innovative institutions that could: meet regional needs, with a focus on inter-culturalism; pertinently meet the increasing demand from indigenous populations; and promote ethnic and regional development and the development of indigenous cultures and languages (SEP, 2001[45]).

Intercultural Universities have been built in regions with large populations of indigenous persons, and, by 2006-2007, the sector had grown to five institutions and about 3 000 enrolees. By 2016-17, 11 institutions were in operation, between them enrolling over 14 000 students (Mendoza Rojas, 2018[43]). Intercultural Universities are small - seven out of 11 had fewer than 1 000 students in 2016-17 - and they have been the most heavily subsidised on a per student basis among public universities (Ordorika, Rodríguez Gómez and Lloyd, 2018[44]). For example, per student funding for the Intercultural University of the State of Puebla was about three times higher than the level of per student funding at the Metropolitan Polytechnic University of Puebla (Chapter 3).

However, on balance, the Intercultural Universities account for only 0.3% of total enrolment in higher education in 2016-2017 and they have accounted for only 1% of the growth in the total public enrolment since 2006-2007, although enrolment in Intercultural Universities leapt from about 3 000 enrolees to almost 15 000 in the same period. It is estimated that over half of students in Intercultural Universities are of indigenous origin (Mendoza Rojas, 2018[43]), while official statistics report that about 36% of students enrolled in these universities spoke an “original” language in 2016-2017 (SEP, 2018[46]). Though the precise figure of indigenous persons studying across all higher education institutions in Mexico is unknown, past estimates have placed this figure between 1% and 3% (Schmelkes, 2009[47]). Most indigenous persons study outside the Intercultural University subsystem.

These new Intercultural Universities - along with State Public Universities with Solidarity Support, most of which have been established in remote areas of the country and share some characteristics with Intercultural Universities - have helped to substantially diversify the location of offer, ensuring that much larger proportion of higher education institutions were located outside of the nation’s capital and traditional centres of learning.

Distance Education – Promise or Peril?

An important part of expanding access in Mexican higher education has been provided by the expansion of distance education. Accounting for 6-7% of all enrolment in higher education between 2000-2001 and 2006-2007, distance programme enrolment began to rise in 2007-2008, and by 2017-2018 had reached 15% of all higher education enrolment (ANUIES, 2018[30]). By field of study, the administration and business field and the social sciences and law field dominate at the undergraduate level, each representing about 32% of distance enrolment in 2017-2018 (ANUIES, 2017[33]). At the postgraduate level, education is the most popular field of study, with 39% of enrolees, followed by administration and business (31%) and social sciences and law (22%).

The private sector share of distance education provision has also grown: 28% of all distance programme enrolment in 2000-2001 was in the private sector, while in 2017-2018 it accounted for 65% of enrolment (ANUIES, 2018[30]). Notably, 61.8% of undergraduate enrolments and 81.4% of postgraduate enrolments in distance education programmes were from the private sector.

Since the late 1990s, Mexico had been discussing the possibility of the provision of distance education, as part of a global conversation on the use of information technology in higher education (Secretaría de Educación Pública, 2018[48]). In 2000, ANUIES called for the creation of a “virtual university”, and in 2009, the first students were enrolled in the Secretariat of Public Education’s Programme of Open and Distance Higher Education (Programa de Educación Superior Abierta y a Distancia). The programme ended in 2012 and by presidential decree the National Open and Distance Education University (UnADM), a federal university under the Secretariat of Public Education, was formally founded in the same year.

The aim of UnADM’s creation was to use emerging information and communications technology to expand higher education coverage and provide access to quality programmes for those who were not able to participate in on-campus programmes (SEP, 2009[49]). In 2017-2018, UnADM accounted for 8.8% of all distance programme enrolment at the undergraduate level and 0.4% at the postgraduate level, and has the largest number of students enrolled in undergraduate distance programmes of any higher education institution in Mexico (ANUIES, 2018[30]). In 2017-2018 about 14% of all undergraduate students and 32% of all postgraduate students were enrolled in distance education programmes (ANUIES, 2018[30]).

The expansion of distance education holds the potential to widen opportunities for study among students who are far from campuses, or whose work and family obligations may not permit conventional site-based study. However, distance educational models bring with them specific challenges in terms of development of effective pedagogical approaches, motivation and follow-up of students and effective use of technology.

Rigorous experimental and quasi-experimental research reveals that the effectiveness of distance education varies by how its provision is organised and by the types of students it serves. Pure online education, with no face-to-face instruction, produces significantly worse learning outcomes than blended courses, in which students spend time both in a physical classroom with an instructor and time online with instructional videos and digital content (Escueta et al., 2017[50]). Online courses are especially difficult for students who are least prepared. “These students’ learning and persistence outcomes are worse when they take online courses than they would have been had these same students taken in-person courses” (Bettinger and Loeb, 2017[51]).

Mexico’s National Open and Distance Education University (UnADM) has taken special measures to address the risks associated with distance education, both in the design of its courses and in providing learner support. However, UnADM provides only a very small share of distance education at the undergraduate level, and virtually none of Mexico’s postgraduate distance education. While it is a federal institution that is affiliated to the Secretariat of Public Education, it is not currently positioned to play a leading role - though it could play this role in the future - in shaping the delivery of distance education throughout the nation’s higher education system, whether through research, identification and dissemination of best practices, training or advising with respect to quality assurance.

Most distance education is provided by private institutions, and offered in programmes that have not participated in external evaluation or accreditation (Chapter 4). Much of it delivered in ways, and to students, that does not lead to successful outcomes. Some of the public institutions developing distance education programmes with which the review team met did not appear to possess a well-developed understanding of its limitations and pedagogical demands.

Under the current policy framework, distance education is an attractive low-cost means for expanding the nation’s higher education enrolments, but it offers an educational option to vulnerable student populations that carries an elevated risk of little learning and high drop-out.

Social stratification within the Mexican higher education system limits its capacity to promote equity

The Mexican federal government does not collect and report data on the socio-economic backgrounds of students in each of the different subsystems of higher education. However, the higher education institutions with which the OECD Review Team met identified the composition of their student bodies. They did this using “multiples of minimum income” as the metric with which to describe their student profile. Their accounts, taken in total, point to social stratification among higher education institutions – with normal schools, Intercultural Universities, Technological Universities, Institutes of Technology, and low-cost private institutions serving a comparatively large share of students from disadvantaged social backgrounds. Using this field interview data, we note several patterns.

Many students from families in lower income deciles study in public higher education institutions in the technology sector operating with modest physical, financial and human resources. The Instituto Tecnológico de Pachuca, for example, is reported to have the highest percentage of low-income students among higher education institutions in the state of Hidalgo. This HEI reported a 2017 operating budget - from all sources of revenue - equivalent to MXN 32 368 per student, a per-student funding base substantially lower than that of institutions serving more affluent student populations. This can be compared to a reported per student funding level of MXN 29 810 at Universidad Politécnica de Pachuca and a funding level of MXN 123 588 at UNAM in fiscal year 2018 (UNAM, 2017[52]).

Elite public and private institutions in Mexico disproportionately educate students from families in the highest income deciles, many of whom have studied at preparatorias within higher education institutions, or private upper secondary schools. As noted earlier in this chapter, 55% of students admitted into bachelor’s programmes at the Autonomous National University of Mexico entered under the pase reglamentado policy available only to those who attended associated preparatoria programmes.

Students from the lowest income deciles are disproportionately enrolled in inexpensive and comparatively low status private higher education institutions, popularly known in Mexico as patitos (ducklings).

Higher education institutions that serve disadvantaged student populations appear often to have high rates of non-completion, though comparable figures are not readily accessible due to gaps in data collection and reporting. Mexico does not have a true cohort-based graduation rate for higher education. The measure used to report on completion is the “terminal efficiency” rate. This rate is calculated by dividing the number of students exiting the institution at the end of their programme (egresados) in a given school year by the stock of new entrants (primero ingreso) four school years prior (under the assumption that higher education programmes take five years on average to complete). In 2016-17 this ratio was 69.4% nationally for higher education (Gobierno de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos, 2017[53]).

Behind this national rate there appears to be wide variation among institutions in rates of completion, with institutions serving disadvantaged populations having low rates of completion. The Instituto Tecnológico de Pachuca offers one postgraduate programme recognised for its quality by CONACYT (CONACYT, 2018[54]) and nine bachelor’s programmes accredited by COPAES (three of which were, at the time of writing, in “extension” status pending re-accreditation) (COPAES, 2017[55]), and about 15% of its full-time instructors are recognised for their “desirable profile” in PRODEP (SEP, 2018[56]). Notwithstanding this commitment to quality, “45% of all enrolled students complete their academic programme [and] 38% of all enrolled students obtain their Degree” (Instituto Tecnológico de Pachuca, 2018[57]). The Autonomous University of Mexico City (Universidad Autónoma de la Ciudad de México) was established to widen access to higher education and to give “preferential support” to those populations who struggle most to meet their educational needs (UACM, 2018[58]). However, it had a 2016-17 terminal efficiency rate of 9% for students in Licenciatura programmes, with 3 097 first-time entrants in 2012-2013 and 266 students exiting at end of programme in 2016-2017 (ANUIES, 2017[33]). By comparison, among elite private schools, the consistently top-rated Tecnológico de Monterrey had a graduation rate of 70.1% in 2016-2017, with graduation rate defined as graduating “within 150% of the estimated time for a full-time student” (Tecnológico de Monterrey, 2018[59]).

Graduates of Mexico’s leading universities, such as Tecnológico de Monterrey, appear to be more likely to complete their studies and to achieve strong employment outcomes. Within three months of graduation, 85.3% of undergraduates in 2016-2017 were employed, and the institution ranked first in Mexico and second in Latin America in employability rankings (Observatory of Educational Innovation, 2018[60]). Such labour market outcome data are not readily available for most HEIs, so reliable comparisons among higher education institutions are difficult. However, many disadvantaged students are enrolled at higher education institutions that are weakly engaged with employers and labour market demands, such as so-called patitos. These graduates may find it difficult to gain formal employment - or employment in positions requiring higher education training - after completing their studies.

5.2.4. Some support for learners exists, but responsibilities of institutions are insufficiently defined and support is provided inconsistently across the higher education system and lacks precise targeting

Higher education systems that achieve high levels of equity ensure that a wide range of students obtain a high quality secondary education and that opportunities for higher education study are sufficiently numerous and varied to meet demand. Ideally, they also adopt policies permitting students to study without regard to their ability to pay, and ensure that higher education institutions attend to the academic, health and socio-emotional challenges that permit students to achieve success in their studies.

Governments in many OECD countries develop policy frameworks and incentive programmes for higher education institutions to promote inclusion and encourage institutions to support students from less advantaged backgrounds. The sections below review the development and effectiveness of these aspects of government policy and institutional practice.

Federal steering mechanisms to promote inclusion at institutional level

A range of laws and policies exist at the federal level designed to combat discrimination, promote inclusion, and improve equity in Mexican higher education (Alcántara Santuario and Navarrete Cazales, 2014[61]). However, Mexican higher education institutions are not under legal obligation to provide a defined set of student supports and services available to all students, nor are they obligated to provide specific supports to particular student populations, such as students with disabilities. Indeed, most institutions are not aware of the existence of students with disabilities on their campuses (Cruz Vadillo and Casillas Alvarado, 2017[62]), and few are prepared to provide the range of supports and services that would allow them to integrate fully into HEIs (Pérez-Castro, 2016[63]).

One funding stream by which the federal government has attempted to steer institutions to better serve vulnerable populations is the Programme for Inclusion and Educational Equity (federal budget programme S244) which aims to “increase coverage, inclusion and educational equity” (SEP, 2016[64]). Through competitive calls for proposals run by SEP, the programme funds specific projects to help institutions, particularly those with infrastructure and equipment needs, provide educational services to vulnerable populations. A recent evaluation of the programme found a number of important deficiencies. Some institutions receiving funds may already be well-equipped to serve the target population; there is no documented federal strategy for increasing participation rates among target populations; there are no documented technical criteria for constituting the expert committees that approve projects; and there are no documented criteria for deciding which projects will be approved and how they will be prioritised in case of limited funding (N.I.K. Beta S.C., 2018[65]).

Even without government stimulus, some individual higher education institutions in Mexico adopt thoughtful and systemic measures to support the academic, health, and socio-emotional needs of higher education students. The OECD Review Team saw evidence of good practice in some higher education institutions. However, little is known about the range of supports that institutions choose to provide, which institutions make this provision available, and the scope of its use and effectiveness. Federal authorities do not routinely collect information from higher education institutions about student services, or information from students about their use.

Institutional pricing

Public higher education institutions in Mexico are committed to a policy of minimal fees and charges, and their commitment to this policy is maintained by strongly held social and political convictions with respect to this choice. In the view of those who lead public institutions, maintaining symbolic or very low fees for study is an important means by which to promote equity. As UNAM’s Rector Enrique Luis Graue Wiechers stated, “We are in a country which is full of inequality, where there is a huge difference between rich and poor. If we charge [the students] tuition, it would limit their access to higher education, which would mean that we would contribute to ongoing inequality” (The Guardian, 2016[66]).

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. In some higher education systems where there are no tuition fees, such as the Nordic countries, the regressivity of this fee policy coupled with high levels of taxation is accepted as part of a cultural belief “that families and/or students should not have to pay for the instructional costs of tertiary education” (OECD, 2008, p. 179[67]). This tax structure, however, is not present in Mexico. A more equitable tuition pricing policy would be to link tuition fees to the student’s ability to pay, reducing fees to zero (and providing maintenance grants) through a targeted, means-tested subsidy for those who cannot pay.

Autonomous public universities in Mexico, which are authorised to set their own tuition fee policies, typically charge symbolic or very low fees for registration and/or tuition. In 2015-16, Benemérita Universidad Autónoma De Puebla (BUAP) charged MXN 100 (about five USD) per semester for undergraduate study. The nation’s largest public university, UNAM, charged an annual registration fee of MXN 200 (about 10 USD), and a per course registration fee of MXN 60 (about three USD).

Private institutions, in contrast, charged tuition fees for higher education studies at the bachelor and postgraduate degree levels that averaged, together, USD 4 711 (PPP) for full-time students in 2014-2015 (OECD, 2018, p. 301[8]). Pricing by private institutions is linked to selectivity, reputation and programme mix. The Tecnológico de Monterrey, an internationally ranked research institution, is able to set an annual tuition fee of MXN 111 168 per semester (USD 5 913) (PIE, 2018[68]). At Anahuac University, a private institution with facilities and study programmes modelled on private institutions in the United States, registration and tuition fees total MXN 112 000 per semester. Large for-profit companies, such as Laureate International in Mexico City, offer convenience-oriented programmes (with flexible schedules and shorter programmes) combined with relatively lower costs ranging from MXN 24 000 (USD 1 630) to MXN 93 000 (USD 6 500) per semester in Mexico City (International Finance Corporation, 2015[69]).

Student Financial Support

Mexico supports public 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, formerly known as PRONABES3). There is no federal public student loan programme. The National Scholarships Programme is managed by the National Coordination office for Higher Education Scholarships (CNBES), which operates under the guidance of SEP’s Under-secretariat for Higher Education. Various scholarships are available to undergraduate students, postgraduate students, and teachers under this programme, the largest of which is the Maintenance Scholarship (Beca de Manutención). This scholarship is available to Mexican undergraduate students in public institutions who meet a minimum grade point average and whose monthly household per capita income does not exceed four times the national minimum salary per capita in the country. The national minimum salary per capita was MXN 2 905.53 in autumn 2018, calculated by dividing four times the monthly minimum salary by the average household size. Recipients of this scholarship are also eligible for additional support for transportation allowances if the recipient or their family is a beneficiary of the PROSPERA programme or if the recipient spends MXN 500 or more per month in transportation to reach their educational institution (SEP, 2018[70]). According to SEP’s latest quarterly update, 486 340 students have received a Maintenance Scholarship during the 2017/18 school year, and 120 133 received a transportation supplement (Subsecretaría de Educación Superior, 2018[71]).

Additional federally funded scholarships are available, as well as some state-level/state-funded grants that target special populations or state residents. The Beca Inicia tu Carrera SEP-Prospera, designed for students in economic need and to prevent drop-outs, provides MXN 5 500 to first-year and MXN 5 980 to second-year undergraduate students whose families are beneficiaries of the Prospera programme (CNBES, 2018[72]). States also implement their own support schemes. Scholarships are available in the State of Mexico for economically disadvantaged students who are at risk of dropping out (Becas desarrollo Social Permanencia Escolar), for indigenous students (Becas para Estudiantes Indígenas), for students in teacher education schools (Becas para Estudiantes Destacados en Escuelas Normales), and to promote international studies and experiences (Becarios y Becarias de Excelencia) (Gobierno del Estado de México, 2018[73]).

Public institutions may also supplement federal and state scholarships with institutional funds, including funds provided by public foundations that they have established. At the Autonomous Benemérita University of Puebla, for example, students with demonstrated academic abilities have access to scholarships and awards for achievements and research, as well as opportunities to receive financial aid through participating in intern programmes (BUAP, 2018[74]). The Fundacíon BUAP, an autonomous non-profit foundation, provides scholarships and aid for disadvantaged students at risk of dropping out, among its many activities (Fundación BUAP, 2018[75]).

Private higher education institutions are not eligible to participate in the National Scholarships Programme. Although students pay tuition fees to study, and some of them have sufficiently low incomes that would make them otherwise eligible to obtain financial support, they 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 some of their students. Institutions are responsible for providing scholarships to five percent of students who are “in need of assistance” to commence, continue or complete their studies, taking into account a student’s socio-economic situation . Annual reporting of scholarship awards to the entity awarding the RVOE (e.g. state government) is part of the annual reporting requirements private institutions are to carry out for continued validation of their RVOE. Some private institutions assist students in obtaining loans to finance their studies. According to interviews conducted by the review team, these loans are not capitalised or recovered through higher education institutions themselves, but instead through banks, which offer loans based upon criteria of borrower creditworthiness.

5.3. Key recommendations

5.3.1. Focus efforts on increasing quality in school education to promote equitable access to higher education

The “pipeline” leading to higher education requires continued improvement. 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 purview 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. Key priorities include:

Improve the quality of upper secondary education available to disadvantaged students, not just its duration

  • To raise the rate at which disadvantaged youth complete upper secondary education, the government has attempted to reduce financial barriers to continued study. The Prospera programme and its precursors have since 2001 reduced the costs of continued study by providing cash transfers to beneficiaries and their families conditional on school attendance. Independent and rigorous evaluations have shown that the programme increases persistence in schooling.

  • Large-scale international assessments of adult skills (such as PIAAC) provide strong evidence that additional years of schooling and higher levels of educational attainment can vary widely in their contribution to the skills acquired by adults. Where the quality of education offered to disadvantaged students is uneven – or consistently poor – persistence in schooling may not yield measurable gains in numeracy and literacy skills needed for success in labour markets or higher education. Moreover, research using PIAAC data suggests that “a national HE sector’s success in fostering its participants’ skills generally reflects the success of the lower educational sectors” (Lindberg and Silvennoinen, 2017[76]). Consequently, additional time in school must be of higher quality if it is to translate into stronger skills and increased rates of entry into higher education.

Use performance-based funding to reward upper secondary institutions for achievement among disadvantaged students

  • Given the long tradition and the large scale of involvement by Mexico’s universities in preparatoria education - and their broad geographic dispersion - they might be key to quality improvement. For example, performance-based funding premia for strong CENEVAL higher education entrance examination results among disadvantaged students might provide universities with preparatoria programmes with helpful incentives to enrol more disadvantaged students and strongly support their upper secondary studies.

5.3.2. Ensure sufficiency of provision – adequate supply, diversity, and sufficient minimum quality

Equity in higher education is achieved, in part, by providing wide opportunities for study adequate to meet student demand; programmes of study that are sufficiently varied to meet the needs of all learners; and courses offered at a level of quality and relevance sufficient to assure that students and society will benefit from their completion. In the first - and especially the last of these conditions - there is scope for improvement in Mexico.

Continue and expand efforts to improve the matching of student demand with enrolment opportunities

  • Mexico appears to have a problem in some regions, rather than a national problem, in balancing enrolment demand and supply, particularly in the Mexico City metropolitan area. While the Un lugar para tí programme in the greater Mexico City region attempts to match students with schools with available spaces, it currently serves as 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 through a common examination (COMIPEMS) and matching process in Mexico City - with students indicating more than one preferred institution, campus, and programme - could provide a model that can better improve the matching of students to enrolment opportunities.

Improve the quality of provision and quality assurance

  • 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. Elsewhere we take up an analysis of quality assurance in higher education (Chapter 4). Here we note that quality is important for the establishment of a more equitable higher education system.

Collect better equity-relevant data and make these data easily accessible to the public

  • Federal authorities need better data about students to more fully understand and address issues of equity. For example, 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 of equity-oriented funding methodologies that allocate resources based on student characteristics, and limits transparency with respect to the equity performance of public institutions.

  • There is no single web page or portal for all higher education data, including key input indicators such as admission rates, coverage and enrolment; key outcome indicators such as graduation rate, completion rate, “terminal efficiency” and drop-out rates; and quality indicators such as accreditation status, standardised exam scores and teacher quality. This web page or portal should aggregate data from various sources – such as censuses and Formats 911 – and should allow the user to disaggregate the data along any indicator by subsystem, subgroup, modality, institution, area of study and other categories relevant to equity.

  • The use of a unique student identifier – which could take the form of use of the Unique Population Registry Code (CURP) – would allow for the collection of longitudinal data across the education pipeline, producing true cohort-based measures with respect to completion of studies and transitions into the labour market.

5.3.3. Strengthen student support

Give priority to the improvement of high-quality student support programmes in higher education institutions

  • There is a need to provide additional supports beyond financial assistance to students. These additional supports could include mandatory institutional services and accommodations for students with special needs, as well as counselling and socio-emotional support for all students.

  • Funding to institutions through the PIEE target student populations with specific needs, and this model can be improved. While PIEE provides financial support for institutional projects that promote equity and inclusion, funds are awarded competitively, which implies that some institutions may not be able to adequately serve students with specific needs. Moreover, funding is short-term and ad-hoc, and not part of a clear strategy to ensure all students have access to needed supports.

  • One or more extraordinary (competitive) funding programmes should be refocused on the development of student support programmes, giving preference to higher education institutions serving larger numbers of disadvantaged students, and inviting them to adopt student support practices that research has shown to be effective.

Specify in law or regulation student supports that HEIs must provide -- and will be held accountable for -- particularly for vulnerable populations such as students with disabilities

  • This should be done through the creation of a new law or regulation or the creation of additional conditions to the use of federal funds, backed by monitoring of compliance that leads to effective penalties (e.g. loss of funding).

Require, at a minimum, that all student support and extraordinary funding programmes offer a clear model of their logic – and that selected programmes demonstrate their impact

  • Evaluating programmes is slow and costly, and cannot routinely be undertaken. However, all programmes meant to benefit specific student populations should be required to provide, at a minimum, a clear logic model. Logic models connect actions to expected outcomes - often expressed in changes in student performance and achievement, by linking resources, activities, outputs, and outcomes.

Improve the targeting of maintenance scholarships (and related transportation benefit) by making it a fully federalised benefit

  • Maintenance scholarships and transportation benefits should be, preferably, a federal programme. Specifically, as a federal programme student need would be assessed according to a federal methodology, the student benefit would be calculated based upon a federally established payment schedule, and the benefit would be a student entitlement applicable to any institution in which they enrol.

  • This would increase transparency, improve the targeting of support to those most in need, and support student mobility.

Consider restoring lost purchasing power of Maintenance Scholarships – in combination with a fully federalised benefit - linking them to a consumer price index to maintain stable purchasing power

  • Maintenance scholarships are not a mandated benefit indexed to a cost of living, and they have lost purchasing power, since raising the benefit requires legislative authorisation and therefore occurs infrequently.

Extend public scholarships to private institutions and link eligibility for such student financial assistance to participation in quality assurance

  • If maintenance scholarships were established as a fully federal benefit, with a common methodology of the determination of financial need and the calculation of benefits, then students enrolled in private institutions that have undergone institutional accreditation or participate widely in quality assurance processes recognised by SEP should be able to obtain support as their peers do in public institutions. This has the potential to reduce inequities in student support, and to provide strong incentives for private institutions to assure the quality of their programmes.


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← 1. The Project on Ethnicity and Race in Latin America (PERLA) is a collaborative project led by researchers at Princeton University (USA). The Center of Research and Higher Education in Social Anthropology (CIESAS) and the National Council to Prevent Discrimination (CONAPRED) in Mexico participate in this project. For further information, see

← 2. For a more detailed discussion on the strengths and challenges in Mexican schools, see the forthcoming review of school policies in Mexico (OECD, 2019[78]).

← 3. Programa Nacional de Becas para Estudios Superiores

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