We're always looking for ways to make better. Have an idea? See something that needs fixing? Let us know!

Uruguay: The Education System
Country Study > Chapter 2 > The Society and Its Environment > Education > The Education System


Primary education in Uruguay was free and compulsory; it encompassed six years of instruction. The number of primary schools in 1987 was 2,382, including 240 private schools. There were 16,568 primary school teachers and 354,177 primary school students. This resulted in a pupil-teacher ratio of approximately twenty-one to one in 1987, compared with about thirty to one in 1970. Boys and girls were enrolled in almost equal numbers.

General education in secondary schools encompassed six years of instruction divided into two three-year cycles. The first, or basic, cycle was compulsory; the second cycle was geared to university preparation. In addition to the academic track, public technical education schools provided secondary school education that was technical and vocational in nature. The two systems were parallel in structure, and there was little provision for transfer between the two. All sectors of society traditionally tended to prefer the academic course of study, which was regarded as more prestigious. As a result, academic secondary education had expanded more rapidly than technical education in the secondhalf of the twentieth century. In 1987 there were 276 general secondary schools in Uruguay, including 118 private schools. However, the public high schools were much larger, so that in 1987 they actually contained 145,083 of the country's 175,710 secondary school students enrolled in both day classes and night classes. In addition, ninety-four technical education schools had a total enrollment of 52,766 students in 1987. Male and female enrollment at the secondary level was roughly equal, but females slightly outnumbered males overall (constituting, for example, 53 percent of the secondary school student body in 1982). It appeared that females were in the majority in the basic cycle but were very slightly outnumbered by males in the university preparatory cycle.

Uruguay had only one public university, the University of the Republic (also known as the University of Montevideo), founded in 1849, and only one private university, the Catholic University of Uruguay, established in 1984 and also in Montevideo. Education at the University of the Republic was free and, in general, open to all those possessing a bachillerato, or certificateawarded for completion of both cycles of general secondary education. Despite the free tuition, however, access to a university education tended to be limited to children of middleand upper-income families because the need to supplement the family income by working, coupled with the expense of books and other fees, placed a university education out of the reach of many. Moreover, the fact that the only public university was in Montevideo severely limited the ability of those in the interior to attend university unless their families were relatively well off financially. In 1988 about 69 percent of university students were from Montevideo.

The number of university students continued to grow rapidly, from nearly 22,000 in 1970 to over 61,000 in 1988. Of that total, women accounted for about 58 percent. Most courses of study were intended to last from four to six years, but the average time spent at university by a successful student was usually considerably longer. As in the rest of Latin America, maintaining the status of student had various advantages, such as reduced fares on buses and subsidized canteens. This was one reason thatthe student population was so large yet the number of graduates relatively low. In 1986 only 3,654 students (2,188 women and 1,455 men) graduated from university, whereas 16,878 entered that year. Uruguayans exhibited a strong preference for the disciplines and professions they deemed prestigious, such as law, social science, engineering, medicine, economics, and administration.

Observers continued to note the discrepancy between university training and job opportunities, particularly in the prestigious fields. This gap contributed to the substantial level of emigration of the best-educated young Uruguayan professionals

Data as of December 1990

Last Updated: December 1990

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Uruguay was first published in 1990. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

Uruguay Main Page Country Studies Main Page

Section 72 of 167


Click any image to enlarge.

National Flag

($U) Uruguayan New Peso (UYU)
Convert to Any Currency


Locator Map