This brief volume provides a succinct account of the major issues concerning education and society in Latin America and the Caribbean, dealing primarily, despite the title, with higher education. Topics range from educational reform to the political nature of the university, the growing differentiation between private and public institutions, the role of intellectuals, and technology transfer.

Orlando Albornoz’ major conclusion is that higher educational institutions in the region are so diverse that it is impossible to speak of the in Latin America. To make sense of this variety, he suggests at least three university models, exemplified by Cuba at one extreme, with state-controlled higher education; Chile at the other extreme, a market-driven university system; and Venezuela somewhere in between and therefore also representative of countries like Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina. From examining these models, Albornoz concludes that the old-style, highly politicized, national autonomous university is in decline, while market-oriented institutions (in many of which, as he puts it, it is harder to find parking than to obtain a degree) are on the rise. Because the latter thus far have been unable to supplant the former’s most important functions, the sad result, in Albornoz’ characterization, is a diverse, incoherent, and inward-looking university system (or lack thereof) that has failed to address the region’s development needs.

Albornoz’ work can be read in at least two ways: as a concise account of the major features of higher education in the region, and as a provocative essay by an experienced student of, and actor in, higher education issues. In the first sense, Albornoz provides some useful information about the numbers and political import of higher educational institutions, the relative weight of the private and public sectors, and the major transformations of higher education in the age of economic liberalization. Yet his descriptions tend to be schematic, and they add little to recent works by Jorge Balán, José Joaquín Brunner, Daniel C. Levy, and Simon Schwartzman, who have scrutinized various national cases with the most sophisticated instruments available today. Albornoz’ book draws from their studies, but his aim is both more ambitious and more polemical.

It is in the second sense that Albornoz’ book is more valuable. He has written it in the tradition of Risieri Frondizi, Ernesto Mayz Vallenilla, and Jorge Millas, who devoted some of their best philosophical reflections to the nature—and ideal—of the university writ large. Albornoz’ considerable wit and incisive criticism relentlessly expose the flaws of higher education in the region, especially in Venezuela. Yet this is not a frivolous exercise: Albornoz joins a tradition of scholars and thinkers in the region who care deeply about the university and who strive to make it more responsive to social needs. Thus it is when read as an essay in its own right, rather than as a scholarly treatise, that this book is most stimulating, thought-provoking, and useful.