At the National Autonomous University of Mexico (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México [UNAM]), Master’s and Doctoral degrees were awarded before the implementation of postgraduate studies. During colonial and modern times, the degrees and diplomas issued by the university to practice professionally did not correspond to the completion of studies. The transition from a Bachelor’s Degree to a Doctoral one would usually take no more than a few days.

A Doctoral degree meant entering the university corporation. Like any other guild, the university controlled the academic profile of its members. The Doctorate was expensive and involved an opulent ceremony: promenades, horses, musicians, religious masses, and attire. In addition, the applicant was obliged to give a substantial gratuity to the other Doctors in attendance. Few people achieved the degree of Doctor; it was necessary to belong to a wealthy family or to have a good sponsor to pay for the ceremony. A position of power also facilitated exemptions in the pomp and gratuities. The degree of Doctor was the highest attainable and brought with it all the privileges of the corporation; Doctors could participate in the governance of the institution and had the right to have their funeral service fees payed by the university. [1] 

In Mexico, throughout the 20th century, great efforts were made in regard to the development of education. Indeed, the history of education in our country includes enormous teacher mobilizations and an increase in resources and infrastructure development in the primary, secondary, and technical educational levels, as well as in literacy development. However, higher education, particularly postgraduate studies, did not receive similar stimuli until the late thirties and early forties. Higher education was incorporated into the State’s educational policies during the presidency of Manuel Ávila Camacho and the increase in educational opportunities, as well as in enrollment, took place in the late sixties and mid-seventies.


The establishment of postgraduate studies

At the UNAM, the first legal provisions for the formal development of postgraduate studies were set down in 1929. Doctoral and Master’s degrees were awarded continuously from 1932 onwards, making the University a pioneering institution in Latin America. The Faculty of Philosophy and Literature (Facultad de Filosofía y Letras) established a set of guidelines for the awarding of the degrees of Master and Doctor

At the time, a degree (grado) was not equivalent to a professional title (título). Having a "Bachelor's Degree (Licenciatura), more than five years of teaching experience, published work, and presenting a dissertation," [2] were sufficient requirements to obtain the degree of Doctor. A few years later, towards 1945, the Faculty of Sciences established two cycles of studies at the UNAM for the first time: the professional one and that of graduates. Thereafter, students majoring in Biology, Physics or Mathematics required both the academic degree (grado) and the professional title (título) provided by the Bachelor’s Degree (Licenciatura) to be awarded a Master’s degree, and a Doctoral degree required the degree (grado) and title (título) of Master, thereby establishing a similarity between a professional title and the academic degree. [3] Ever since then, from the late thirties and mid-forties, the Faculty of Philosophy and Literature and the Faculty of Sciences became two of the pillars of the university’s postgraduate studies.

From the Graduate School to the Faculties as headquarters of Postgraduate Studies

The Graduate School (Escuela de Graduados) was established in 1947 and consisted of several institutes of the UNAM: Biology, Medical-Biological Studies, Physics, Geology, Geophysics, Mathematics, and Chemistry; plus affiliated institutions, such as El Colegio de México, the National Institute of Anthropology and History, the National School of Anthropology and History, the General Hospital, the Nutrition Hospital, the Institute of Health and Tropical Diseases, the National Institute of Cardiology, the National Observatory, and the Tonanzintla Astrophysical Observatory. [4] The Graduate School was founded with the purpose of training specialists, researchers, and technicians, as well as of promoting "high culture" and awarding Master’s and Doctoral degrees to students with a Bachelor’s Degree. Courses were taught, seminars were held, and research was conducted in partnership with university departments or affiliated institutions. Shortly after its establishment, it became a prerequisite for students to have obtained the Bachelor’s Degree with honors, which meant that the UNAM only admitted distinguished students into its postgraduate studies. However, at the time, the Faculty of Philosophy and Literature did not award Bachelor’s Degrees (Licenciatura); consequently, its graduates did not have a professional title or license to practice a profession and thus were unable to be part of the Graduate School. 

The National School of Jurisprudence—today’s Faculty of Law—was also unable to be part of the Graduate School, since it was not necessary to attend a program of study or present a dissertation to obtain the degree of Juris Doctor. The only requirements were to have been issued a Bachelor’s Degree from the UNAM and to hold or have held a high-ranking government post or to be a professor in certain categories.

The Graduate School operated until 1956, the year in which wide-ranging reforms to the General Statute of the UNAM were carried out and the faculties were designated as the locations in which postgraduate studies were to take place. The schools in which postgraduate studies were taught became faculties. The objective of this reform was to give the Postgraduate Programs institutional standing, but the statutory framework was imprecise and unable to grant the postgraduate studies an institutional identity. As a result, each faculty determined its own requirements and the different programs were dispersed even more. The reforms to the UNAM General Statute, which were approved in 1957 and which made it possible for schools to become faculties when offering Doctoral degrees, generated independence regarding the schools and the development of new degrees, and also fostered new rules and regulations for higher education in some faculties.

From the proliferation of educational options to the unification of the Postgraduate Studies

It was not until 1967 that the first Regulation of Higher Education (Reglamento de Estudios Superiores) was issued, in which criteria were set down for all Postgraduate Programs, and the foundations for the increase of educational options and enrollment were established. This regulation focused on the development of academic programs and curricula, on the increase in the number of faculty members, and on the establishment of a Council for Higher Education as the uppermost level of management in which all the sectors involved in Postgraduate Studies were represented. Furthermore, it established the time frames for the completion of studies and allowed students to take courses in faculties other than that in which they were enrolled. Although in the seventies, there was a trend towards administrative centralization, there was also a tendency towards the dispersion of programs and academic institutions. Due to an increase in the demand, institutionalization processes became saturated, which led to the establishment of programs of study in the same subject area in two different academic entities, with two different sets of criteria and different academic levels.

The number of programs grew from 102 to 234 and enrollment increased from 4,444 students to 8,266, which led to an excessive number of curricula, teaching staff, and participating institutions. In the mid-eighties, new and rigorous criteria were defined for the creation of new programs, the unification of scattered curricula and programs was actively promoted, and the tutorial system was institutionalized. However, the process of unifying the programs of study was not tied to a policy of coordination between the participating academic institutions. The reform did not succeed, because although the growth rate of the Specialization, Master’s and Doctoral programs declined, no progress was made in articulating them, and the growth process continued. By 1992, Specialization, Master's and Doctoral programs had reached a total of 320. The 1986 reform sought to put an end to such dispersion of efforts and resources, but was also unsuccessful, largely due to the fact that programs depended on the specific dynamics and policies of the different academic institutions.

From the unification to the creation of the University’s Postgraduate System

From 1996 to date, progress has been made on the path carved out by the reform to the General Rules and Regulations of Postgraduate Studies. A change of structure was needed to equip the Postgraduate Studies with an institutional unity and administrative autonomy that would include all academic entities—be they institutes, centers, schools or faculties—but be focused around the programs of study rather than these entities. Today, the Postgraduate Unit is the space where the UNAM’s different academic entities, the country’s institutions of higher education, and foreign universities in which postgraduate students carry out exchange stays meet, collaborate and engage in dialogue. The spirit of this new proposal maintains many of the victories and achievements of some of the Postgraduate Programs: the coordination between different academic entities in the development of the Postgraduate Programs; flexibility for students to take courses in more than one academic entity within and outside the UNAM and Mexico; the shape of the tutoring bodies; the placing of academic and academic-administrative decision-making in the hands of collegiate bodies, such as academic committees; as well as supporting and encouraging the development of inter- and multidisciplinary approaches, in line with the institution’s potential and the country’s needs. As can be observed from the historical evolution of Postgraduate Studies at the UNAM, although its progression has not been linear, the identity of the University’s Postgraduate System has gradually taken shape as an instance of training and of generation of original knowledge, with a mission, vision, objectives, dynamics and development plans of its own.

References Castrejón Diez, Jaime, et. Al., Prospectiva del Posgrado, 1982 - 2000 [Prospects for Postgraduate Study]. 3 volumes. Mexico, SEP/SPP/SHCP, 1982, 229 pages. Estrada Ocampo, Humberto, Historia de los cursos de Posgrado en la UNAM [A History of Postgraduate Courses at the UNAM]. Mexico, UNAM, Dirección General de Publicaciones (General Directorate of Publications), 1983, 649 pages. Rojas Argüelles, Graciela, et. al., El Posgrado en la década de los ochenta: Graduados, planes de estudio, población. [Postgraduate Studies in the Eighties: Graduates, Curricula, Population]. Mexico, UNAM, Coordinación General de Estudios de Posgrado (General Coordination of Postgraduate Studies), 1992, 99 pages. [1] Tan lejos, tan cerca [So Far, So Close]. A 450 años de la Real Universidad de México [450 years since the Royal University of Mexico]. UNAM, University Sciences and Arts Museum (Museo Universitario de Ciencias y Artes) Mexico, 2001. [2] Humberto Estrada Ocampo. [3] Graciela Rojas Argüelles, et. al. [4] Humberto Estrada Ocampo