Nearshore Americas

Breakdown: Mexican IT Students are Flocking to E-Universities

A shortage of traditional higher-education institutions and the opportunities presented by the IT industry seem to be pushing Mexican students towards online universities —which are smaller and less known— to get computer science degrees.

What’s happening?: In Mexico, the two higher-education institutions with the largest enrollment volumes for careers related to computer sciences are online universities, according data from the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness (IMCO), a non-profit think tank which provides data and analysis on the state of Mexico’s economy, business, governance and education. 

  • The top spot belongs to the Open and Remote University of Mexico, with 20,466 students registered. It is followed by the Online Latin American Technological University (10,952 registries).
  • Third place goes to a traditional university: the Autonomous University of Nuevo Leon, with 9,598 students.
  • There are 1,262 colleges in Mexico which offer computer science degrees, according to IMCO’s data. The number of active students today surpasses 319,700.
  • By 2023, the country is expected to graduate 160,000 tech oriented students every year.

A caveat: The data provided by IMCO refers specifically to enrollment numbers, not graduates. It makes no mention of the quality of education provided by each institution either.

Short of hands: It is estimated that Mexico has a deficit of 50,000 programmers and engineers. And that’s only for the local industry. 

New paths to knowledge: Online universities offer wider access to higher education and more sophisticated skills, particularly in IT. 

  • Some of Mexico’s top universities —ITESM, UNAM, ITAM, among others— now offer online post-grad programs and courses for IT professionals. 
  • Companies like Wizeline and The KSquare Group provide virtual upskilling programs designed to increase the wealth of talent and knowledge in the industry.
  • As of 2022, higher education coverage in Mexico reached 42% of the college-age population, according to the country’s Secretariat for Public Education (SEP), which aims to increase that number to 50% by 2024. 
  • Coverage in the CALA region was at 52% in 2018. In North America and Europe, it was at 77% that same year.

What the execs say: Opinions among tech execs vary regarding the educational credentials of potential IT hirees. 

  • “There is a place for e-universities [but] I do not think that these universities prepare students as well as going to a four year school and doing all the coursework to become a computer engineer,” commented Ruben Santana, President at Plugg Technologies. “There are some [companies] that want people from the best universities here in the US, but most only care that you completed your degree”.
  • I see these e-learning platforms expanding considerably, and I think it’s wonderful. The thing is: they promise full stack developers in six to eighteen months,” commented Abelardo Cruz, AI researcher and CEO at cybersec firm DEFTEKK. “The tech market needs ‘strong stack’ developers to cover businesses’ needs for emerging technologies, and those are becoming too expensive […] There’s a market out there saturated with ‘programmers’ from Platzi who can only work on layouts or MVPs.”
  • “Most vendors are struggling with recruiting and validating; they are failing to meet demand,” said Lonnie McRorey, Co-Founder and CEO at TeamStation AI. “The issue is not about college. It’s about capacity alignment versus skills. We are focusing on capacity, which is a more accurate way to align talent to business objectives”
  • “If we need to patch a project for a month, then I don’t pay much attention [to education credentials],” commented Alberto Muñoz, CIO and Founder of Andromie Robotics. “But if I have two [programmers], one graduated from a well-established school and another from one that’s barely known, I would give serious thought to their salaries”.

NSAM’s Take:  It’s hard to assess the impact of e-universities on the Mexican tech market going on enrollment numbers alone. Nevertheless, there are signs that remote arrangements (for work and education) are opening new doors. 

For its 2023 Tech Salaries Report for Mexico, for example, CodersLink gathered data from 35,000 cases. In the year prior, the information came from 20,000 cases. The firm attributed the wider availability of data to “changes in labor models” brought on by WFH and other shifts in hiring practices.

If bigger numbers among e-universities produce an increase in “basic level” software developers, salaries for those might go down, even a bit. Deel’s State of Global Hiring Report pointed to a 7% decline in global salaries for software development in 2022. 

Yet, tech execs seem to give more care and attention to jobs which require newer, more sophisticated knowledge, which remains in very short supply. We don’t expect salaries among AI, cloud or other sorts of high-specialization engineers to cool down any time soon.

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Graduates from top Mexican universities need not to worry. Several of our sources mentioned that grads from such institutions, particularly private ones, like ITESM, Ibero and ITAM, have better soft skills than most engineers.

Exects might not care much about credentials when it comes to more available technical skills, but they might be willing to pay extra if those skills come paired with strong sales and communications capabilities.

Cesar Cantu

Cesar is the Managing Editor of Nearshore Americas. He's a journalist based in Mexico City, with experience covering foreign trade policy, agribusiness and the food industry in Mexico and Latin America.

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