The traditional history of Bolivian higher education starts with the foundation of the Royal and Pontifical University of San Francisco Xavier UMSFX, in La Plata (Sucre), in March 1624. In Colonial times and under Spanish rule, Saint Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologica influenced education. As a result, higher education awarded degrees in theology and law only. Forensics was later added in 1776 in the Caroline Academy. In 1830 the Bolivian University of San Andrés UMSA, was started in La Paz as a college. Shortly after, in 1832, the Bolivian University of San Simón UMSS (Universidad Mayor de San Simón) was also started in Cochabamba. Medicine was added in 1863.
Several universities were established in the late 1800s. In 1880, the University of St Thomas Aquinas was created. The name of the latter, like most of the universities, underwent many changes. In 1911, it was known as the University Gabriel René Moreno; in 1938, the Autonomous University of Santa Cruz; and then back again to Gabriel René Moreno (UAGRM). In 1892 the University of St. Augustine was created. (In 1893 it became the University of Oruro, in 1937 the Bolivian Technical University, and it is now the Technical University of Oruro or UTO). In 1892 the University of Potosi was founded; it is now the Bolivian University of Tomás Frías (UATF).
In 1946 the Bolivian University of Juan Misael Saracho (UAJMS) opened. In 1966 the Catholic University of Bolivia (UCB) was started in La Paz. In 1967 another public university, the Bolivian University of General José Ballivián, also called the Beni Technical University (UTB), was established. The twentieth century National University (UNSXX) was founded in La Paz in 1984. The Amazonian University of Pando (UAP) opened in 1994; also in 1994, the Military School of Engineering (EMI) was founded.
After 1985, Paz Estenssoro's policies fostered the growth of private universities as a means of increasing new programs and reversing declining standards in public universities that had been brought on by open admissions. Universities grew so rapidly that the overall system of higher education consists of 48 universities in 2001. Thirty-five private universities were built after 1989, the date when the Ministry of Education demanded that universities be made accountable and apply a test of academic efficiency. The universities and faculty saw this demand as an intrusion on their prior autonomy. They believed the government was strangling them, and the students viewed this measure as elitist leading to a slow privatization of universities. No one was happy.
Public universities are increasingly inefficient; they only cater to a small percentage of Bolivian students at the rate of 30,000 new students a year and produce mediocre professionals without modern working skills. Private universities are able to compete by generally providing computer labs and better technology than traditional universities. They also try to address the needs of the country in more practical ways. One way is through the proliferation of some 639 higher technical institutes and 22 teacher training institutes.
Only universities can award degrees. Apart from the Licenciatura, giving the title of Licenciado, which corresponds roughly to the Bachelor's degree in sciences or arts and takes four or five years to complete, the advanced degrees of the Maestria and the Doctorado are awarded. They correspond roughly to the Masters and Ph.D. degrees, the latter carrying the title of Doctor. Other titles awarded include University Intermediate technicians (a two-year program), University Superior technicians (a three-year program) and Bachelor (a four-year program).
Ten universities are public and autonomous, running a total of 244 academic programs, distributed under 6 different knowledge areas: economics and judicial, social and humanities, natural sciences and biology, health sciences, engineering techniques, and agricultural. The 33 private universities run 221 academic programs, a good many in the same areas of knowledge as public universities.
The growth of private universities between 1990 and 1998 (the last year when the data were available) was remarkable. The enrollment in private universities alone, in the course of their short lives, went up from around 2,000 female students and slightly more than 2,000 male students to approximately 14,341 and 17,812, respectively. Despite the fact that females lag in pre-university education and in university admissions, women have recently outperformed men in completing their studies. In 1998, some 5,606 new male students registered, as did 4,046 females. Whereas the number of women in education went unnoticed in most statistics before 1996, in 1998, approximately 669 men and 759 women exited the university as Egresados and 347 males received the title against 411 females.
Students enroll in universities by an academic test of basic skills acquired in secondary education, together with a psychotechnical diagnostic, or a course for people who have not taken or passed the above test. Some students receive special admission, which is entrance granted to experienced professionals who finished high school, officers of the armed forces or the police, or students with foreign titles recognized through international agreements. In 1930 all universities became autonomous in academic and economic matters. In 1971 the universities were closed for restructuring to respond to economic and social necessities. The National Council of Higher Education of the Bolivian University was created, and all universities came under the umbrella of the University of Bolivia. In 1975 a law requiring departmentalization brought greater efficiency, reducing duplication and redistributing professors and units of research and service within the departments. For the first time, each university matched its courses with the national needs; its aim was to develop graduates who would participate in the nation's growth. To this end universities felt that training must be humanistic, scientific, and technological and that there must be collaboration among institutions to find common solutions to national problems.
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