During the 2000s, the number of international students attending public and private universities in Argentina increased considerably. The majority come from other Latin American countries, especially Peru, Bolivia and Colombia. They currently make up 1.05 percent of the undergraduate enrollment rate, which is higher than most other Latin American countries.
The bulk of these international students are enrolled at the University of Buenos Aires (UBA), a key public university in Argentina, located in the largest city and capital of the country. The 2011 UBA census counted 10,646 international students in undergraduate programs and 2,165 in graduate programs. International students at UBA in 2011 now represent 4 percent of the total in contrast to only ten years ago when they made up scarcely 1.2 percent.
Students at the undergraduate level are concentrated in the Schools of Medicine, Business and Economics, Architecture and Design, and Law. Note that undergraduate education at all Argentine public universities is tuition free and lead to professional degrees. So, these international students can obtain professional degrees free of cost. In fact, the cost of the studies for these international students is actually lower than for the Argentine students considering that public education is funded by Argentine citizens through their taxes.
The UBA’s open admissions policy does include a subtle selection mechanism during a first year program called the Ciclo Básico Comúno or CBC, a general cycle that includes some courses common to all undergraduate programs and others that related to the specific undergraduate program in which a student is enrolled. Peruvians and Bolivians make up 44 percent of the total number of foreign students in the CBC.
So why are an increasing number of international students continuing to enroll at the UBA? According to arecently recent interview with an official of the International Relations Secretariat at the UBA, conducted by a local journalist, they are drawn by the UBA’s prestige in the region, confirmed by its presence in international rankings, as well as its tuition free policy.
The rate of international students enrolled in UBA’s graduate schools is also quite significant, numbering 15 percent of the entire graduate student body in 2011. Almost half of the total graduate students in this census were Colombian. The schools with the largest number of foreign graduate students are Engineering and Architecture and Design, accounting for approximately 40 percent of the international graduate population. Schools with the largest percentage of foreign graduate students are Dentistry and Psychology at approximately 25% of the enrollment. Although public graduate schools charge tuition, fees are rather low compared to international standards.
The private university sector also attracts numerous international students. According to the Dean of the School of Business at Palermo University, they represent almost 30 percent of the student population and the number is growing. Although undergraduate students at private universities pay tuition and fees, the costs of the undergraduate programs are generally lower than in the countries of origin.
The increasing number of international students in Argentine higher education is excellent news. What is really quite curious is that no one has questioned the issue of free education for undergraduate foreigners who attend public universities. As was mentioned, the non-tuition and fees policy for Argentine undergraduate students can be sustained thanks to the tax system argument, as happens in many European countries. In particular, during the 2000s, Argentina’s tax system became much more progressive than in the past. Net taxable income is taxed at rates ranging from 9 to 35 percent on income earning over 120,000 Argentine pesos. That is, those earning just over US$24,000 annually are taxed 35 percent of their net income. So, it would seem reasonable to expect international students to make some financial contribution to cover their undergraduate studies. Indeed, all things considered, it would appear that Argentina is a most generous country.