The education system in Argentina

EdInvest News
December 2004
Copyright © World Bank Group, 2004. All Rights Reserved.
Facilitating Investment in the Global Education Market

This Month’s Topic: – In this month’s newsletter the EdInvest Country Snapshot focuses on the education system in Argentina.

Argentina is one of the best educated nations in the Latin American region, with the population above age twenty-five having 8.5 years of educational attainment, compared to the Latin American average of 5.9 years. However, it is currently facing a deep economic crisis. After rapid growth in the early and late 1990s economic growth turned negative by 2000 and in 2002 real GDP growth fell by 16.3 percent. All educational groups have been hit by high unemployment. Even though sixty percent of the unemployed do not have secondary education, unemployment among highly educated increased from twenty-nine percent of the unemployed in 1990 to thirty-eight percent by 1999. This could be due to the quality and relevance of the education received by this group (World Bank, 2003).


Argentina’s educational system is regulated by the 1994 Federal Law of Education which extended compulsory and free primary school from seven to nine years. Secondary education focus on subjects grouped into five different areas: (i) humanities and social sciences; (ii) natural sciences; (iii) economics and organizational administration; (iv) production of goods and services, and (v) communications, arts and design. Upon earning a secondary level diploma, students have access to public tertiary education.


Argentina has maintained a high rate of primary enrolment and increased secondary enrolments since the mid-1990s. Primary enrolments remained constant at around ninety-six or ninety-seven percent between 1995 and 2001. Net secondary enrolment rates improved from about seventy percent in 1995 to more than seventy-five percent by 2001. The youth literacy rate stands at ninety-six percent nationally for boys and girls and an equal number of girls and boys are enrolled in primary and secondary education. Despite these encouraging figures, the problem of high dropout rates remains. Children from poor families tend to dropout before completing primary school. For example, in Misiones, one of Argentina’s poorest provinces, only about two-thirds of students finishing primary school (seventh grade) within ten years of entering the system (World Bank, 2003). In 1998, only two out of every ten students completed their secondary education. Among young adults aged twenty-five to thirty-four, sixty-four percent had not completed the secondary level. At the university level, of the 31.5 percent of the eighteen to twenty-four year-old age cohort enrolled in higher education, the completion rate is a dismal fifteen percent.

There is an increasing demand for higher education and enrollment is open to all high school degree holders. At the tertiary level, enrollment increased from twenty-two percent in 1980 to fifty percent in 1998. The largest portion of university students (85 percent) still choose to attend public universities, which continue to confer a level of prestige. While the number of private institutions has increased 68 percent since 1994, private university enrollments have remained relatively stable. (International Higher Education, 2002)

Non-university includes teacher training, art and technical programs and short courses.. This branch comprises more than 1,750 institutions and about twenty-five percent of total tertiary enrolment (World Bank, 2003).


Despite being one of the most educated populations in Latin America, concerns about quality persist. The Federal Law of Education, passed in 1994, established for the first time a system for monitoring the quality of education call the National Learning Assessment System (Operativo Nacional). This system evaluated students in grades three, six and nine. At the same time, initiatives were launched to improve infrastructure, teaching materials and free teacher training was offered. While the tests varied from year to year, results from tests taken in 1996 through to 2000 indicate that the only group of students to improve their test results were in upper secondary, in the areas of language and mathematics.

Increases in funding at the primary level have not resulted in an improvement of quality. According to a 2002 survey by UNESCO, low investment in school-related factors could contribute to low quality. Argentina spends only three percent of its total educational expenditure on goods and services, compared to eight to ten percent in OECD countries. There is no evidence that decentralization policy of 1993 has improved or worsened the quality of education at the primary level. Secondary schools saw some improvement in the late 1990s.

Student/teacher ratios at all levels compare favorably with higher income countries. At the primary level, the ratio is twenty to one and at the secondary level it is fourteen to one. This does not however ensure good quality instruction however. Teachers rely heavily on rote-learning methods rather than techniques thatwhich promote critical thinking. Students at the sixth grade level are weak in the areas of problem solving, analysis of situations and interpretation of results. Outdated material is also a concern. While the Federal Law of Education was supposed to address this issue, it is not clear whether reforms will have an impact (World Bank, 2003).

Approximately fifty-nine percent of teachers have taken teacher training courses and thirty-nine percent possess a tertiary level degree (Institute of Economic Affairs, 1998). Teacher salaries are lower than other leading Latin American countries and much lower than the OECD average. While teachers in Brazil for example can count on significant salary increases over time, teachers in Argentina earn little by way of salary increase over the span of their careers, which obviousl;y makes the profession less attractive.

At the tertiary level, the Higher Education lLaw of 1995 established the National Council for University Accreditation and Evaluation (CONEAU) which has the power to accredit new private and public institutions, set mandatory standards, and accredit some postgraduate and graduate programs. The CONEAU conducts institutional assessments that are to be made public upon completion. (International Higher Education, 2003). A World Bank report in 2001 notes indicators suggesting that quality is poor at the tertiary level, including high dropout rates, decreasing costs per students, high unemployment rates and low graduation rates. However, little concrete data is available to support poor quality claims. There is also little evidence to confirm that private universities offer better quality than public ones.

Legislation and Administration

With the introduction of the Law of Transference of Educational Services in 1992, control of secondary education has been passed to the provinces, while primary schools have been under provincial control since 1978. As a result, the provinces control most educational spending as well as curriculum, staff management and infrastructure. The Ministerio de Educacion, Ciencia y Technologia (MECyT) is responsible for monitoring and evaluation and data collection and distribution. Both the MECyT and the provincial governments together define strategy (World Bank, 2003).

At the tertiary level, universities fall under the federal control, although they enjoy a significant amount of autonomy. The 1995 Higher Education law guarantees universities continued economic and financial autonomy and allows and the ability to create undergraduate programs independently, while at the graduate and post-graduate level regulations are imposed. The law also established CONEAU to monitor public university quality also authorizes the establishment of new public and private universities. There is no central body monitoring the quality of private universities.


While basic education is supposed to be offered free of charge, the 1994 Census showed that ninety percent of public schools received some payment from parents. In fact, parents may be paying fees to public schools thatwhich are comparable to what some private schools charge. Overall, public expenditure for education has been increasing since the mid-1980s as a share of total public expenditures. Education expenditure as a share of GDP has also increased from one percent in the mid-1980s to four percent in the mid-1990s. The severe effects of the current economic crisis still remain unknown, however.

At the tertiary level, expenditure has increased in real terms more than sixty percent from 1992 to 1998. However, when taking into account the huge rise in enrollment, expenditure per student fell almost one-third in the past twenty years. Student financing is difficult to secure, with only 2 percent of the student population receiving some kind of scholarship. There are no student loan companies and banking credit is not available to students at private universities (Institute of Economic Affairs, 1998).

Private Sector

Argentina has a long history of subsidising private education. From the total of 7,617 private schools reported in the 1994 census, a total of 2,816 receive what is called "total" subsidy from the government, meaning that they receive a subsidy equal to the total cost of teachers’ salaries plus payroll taxes. Over two thousand receive a "partial" subsidy covering only a percentage of such costs, while 2,424 receive no subsidy whatsoever. Private schools thatwhich receive a total subsidy are free. In 1998, forty-five percent of private students attended schools where teacher salaries were fully subsidiesd by the government (McEwan, 2002). Subsidized schools cover other expenses through voluntary contributions as well as by charging fees for offering subjects beyond the set curriculum. Subsidies do not cover capital expenses, so initial investments at all private schools come from the owners. JT

Registration and accreditation of private educational institutions at the primary and secondary level is regulated by decree 371/64. Provisional accreditation is granted initially, with final accreditation being granted only after a period of performance evaluation. Private schools are periodically inspected who may request directors to comply with regulations and may reprimand them if they are not being followed. The regulatory framework for private educationthat which in practice is rarely or randomly enforced (Institute of Economic Affairs, 1998).

Private institutions as well as public ones must adhere to the Teacher’s Statute of 1958 which regulates the labor contract for all teachers. This statute sets the criteria according to which teachers will be evaluated and promoted, and other labor conditions such as vacations and retirement. At the university level, contracts for professors are regulated by general labor laws. Despite the fact that most university professors teach part-time, they must be hired as employees, meaning that payroll taxes must be paid by both the employee and employer.

Legislation governing private tertiary education grants the government the power to license private universities, monitor quality and close universities that which are not seen as acceptable. Private universities are first granted a "provisory" license for six years, after which the institution can request the final license, which requires a presidential decree. Government approves all curricula and the degrees the university will be granting. All private universities must be non-profit institutions. As such, they are exempt from paying VAT (goods and services tax) and income tax. JT

Private tuition fees vary, perhaps due to the tradition of subsidies, tuition fees, and range from US$35 to $700 a month at the primary level; US$50 to $1,600 a month at the secondary level. Private universities do not receive government subsidies and are almost entirely financed by fees from students and contributions from private companies. Tuition fees cost an average of US$ 3,500 annually in 2001.

Private Sector Growth

By 1998, twenty-one percent of primary students attended a private school. Of these, roughly sixty-three percent attended a private school managed by the Catholic cChurch. Private schools can also be operated by individuals, for-profits, non-profit foundations and civil associations (Institute of Economic Affairs, 1998).

The growth in the number of private universities and tertiary institutions during the 1990s is striking, with twenty-seven private universities created in the 1990s. At present, there are fifty-one private universities with a total enrollment of two hundred and fifty thousand. Twenty-seven of the fifty-one are located in Buenos Aires. Since private universities were established in 1958, over one hundred and forty-six thousand students have graduated from these institutions. Private universities now accept fifty thousand new students each year and produceing over eighteen thousand graduates annually and demand continues to increase with registration rising between fifteen and fifty percent in 2001-2002 (La Nacion, 2004). Non-university enrollment in private institutions experienced a three hundred and sixty-nine percent increase in enrollments from 1980 to 2000.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *