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Paraguay - Higher Education

Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comGlobal Education ReferenceParaguay - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education


Larger numbers of graduates of both sexes since the 1980s have brought about relatively rapid growth in the universities. Paraguayan universities, like those in neighboring countries, have traditionally enjoyed prestige and a kind of power.

Because private endowment of higher education has been essentially nonexistent except from the Catholic Church, state support has been necessary—and inadequate. The public, tuition-free university has tended to be poor, with professors underpaid and students often having relative power. In North American terms, students have little campus life, with no fraternities or sororities. Higher education is serious in that students are grooming themselves to be members of professions. Examinations weed out all but a tiny handful of students, so that a small fraction of those who attend secondary school get into the two colleges. Thus holders of a university degree make up less than 1 percent of the total population and are guaranteed a place at the top of the political or economic hierarchies. Women now comprise about half of the university graduates.

Church universities increased numerically in South America in the 1960s: there were 13 such universities in the 1950s and 31 ten years later. Parochial schools generally enroll students from the better-off families. At such schools the teaching standards are higher, the discipline is more severe, the curriculum more rigorous, the professors better paid, the ambience more conservative. Though their orientation is sectarian, such schools have accepted Protestants and Jews since the 1960s and have had some non-Catholic teachers.

Predictably, of the two significant institutions of higher education in Paraguay, one is Catholic, the other, public. Both universities have main locations in Asunción, operate in Spanish, and require as qualifications for admission a bachillerato (secondary school certificate) or its equivalent plus an entrance examination. Both universities also have had branches since mid-century in several interior locales. The Catholic University charges tuition, while the state school is free.

The Universidad Católica "Nuestra Señora de la Asunción" (Catholic University of "Our Lady of Asunción"), which enjoys recognition by the federal government on the same basis as the public National University, was founded in 1960. The school's origins coincide with the widespread emergence in South America during the 1960s of specifically Catholic universities run by the church, a pattern fostered by the Church's general view that the public universities were leftist, unruly, and ineffectual. In the early 1990s, the school enrolled nearly 11,000 students and engaged an academic staff (including professors) of about 1,230. Degrees and diplomas offered included the Licenciado in philosophy, history, psychology, sociology, political science, diplomatic studies, accountancy, letters, mathematics, pastoral studies, business administration, education, and nursing and midwifery. The program in law requires six years. Postgraduate degrees include one in obstetrics, as well as the Máster en Administración de Empresas and the Doctorado.

Subdivisions in Catholic University's organization include the faculties of philosophy and human sciences (including political science and education), law and diplomatic studies, accountancy and business administration, science and technology (including architecture), and science and letters. An Institute of Theology, a School of Nursing, and four research centers complete the organizational system. Faculties of science and letters operate not only in Asunción but also in Villarrica, Encarnación, Concepción, Ciudad del Este (where the theology and nursing facilities also operate), and Pedro Juan Caballero. In addition, the University cooperates internationally with the Universities of Milan (Italy); Brussels (Belgium); Kansas (U.S.); La Plata (Argentina); Frankfurt-am-Main (Germany); and with Université catholique de l'Ouest (Angers). The Central Library of Catholic University housed 45,000 volumes in 1993. The University has its own press, the Publications Center of Catholic University (CEPUC, Centro de Publicaciones de la Universidad Católica) and in the early 1990s sponsored two publications, Revista del Centro de Estudios Antropológicos and Estudios Paraguayos (Revista de la Universidad).

The National University of Asunción, roughly double the size of Catholic University and more than twice as old, was founded in 1890 and granted autonomous status in 1919. By 1991 it had nearly 20,000 students and 1800 members on its academic staff, including professors. The organization of National University, which offers more advanced professional work than Catholic University, subdivides a dozen faculties under these rubrics: law and social sciences; philosophy (including communication sciences, education, and psychology); medicine; physics and mathematics (including civil, industrial, and electromechanical engineering); economics (including administration and accountancy); dentistry; chemistry (including pharmacy and food technology); agriculture; architecture; veterinary science; polytechnic; exact and natural sciences; and library science. Offering specialized study are the Institutes of Social Work (including nursing and midwifery), geographical sciences, electronic engineering, and languages (including English, French, Guaraní, and German). The University Library housed only 16,641 volumes in 1991 and was thus only about one-third the size of the Central Library of Catholic University, which itself had relatively limited holdings.

The National University offers degrees and diplomas that include the Licenciado in philosophy, mathematics, education, letters, history, exact sciences, physico-chemistry, natural sciences, public administration, and economics. Advanced programs and degrees requiring four, five, or six years of study beyond the Licenciado include those in education, dentistry, medicine, biochemistry and industrial chemistry, economics, law and social sciences, veterinary medicine, law, architecture, agronomy, civil engineering, and industrial engineering.

In the 1970s, both National University and Catholic University began offering various short-term degree programs to try to meet the increased student demand for admission and to reduce pressure on traditional professional courses of study.

The fastest growth of educational institutions in Paraguay during 1965-1985 occurred at the postsecondary level. In the early 1980s, the two universities together employed 2,694 teachers and enrolled 28,677 students, with about 20,000 of them at the National University. By 1984, some 33,000 were recorded as being enrolled on both campuses. National University had 19,400 and 3,200 teachers in 1987, whereas Catholic University had 10,400 students and 1,100 teachers.

Both universities operate on a March through November (or December) calendar, with a division into two terms: March through July and August through late fall.

In 2001, universities advertising on the Internet as accepting international students from abroad include not only the National University and Catholic University but also Universidad Autonoma de Asunción and Universidad del Norte, both also in the capital city. Photographs on various Internet web sites show up-to-date computer labs that are indicative of the entrance of Paraguay's institutions into the modern technological mainstream.

The "Seminario Conciliar," which was founded in Asunción in 1881 and graduated 60 priests before 1911, represents another type of institution that has long existed in Paraguay for the primary purpose of educating Catholics for service in church roles.

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