Education System

Overview of the colombian education system

The picture to the left shows the structure of the Colombian education system. After passing Primary school, High school and the Medium education, students who want to go to university have to apply to a university. At that time they are usually about 16 or 17 years old. In Colombia there are public and private universities. In order to attend a private university, students have to pay high tuition fees every semester (>1000$ at the Universidad de los Andes). The other option is to apply for a study program at one of three public universities. The best public university in Colombia is the UNAL. There the tuition fees depend on the income of the students' parents. So in order to study a subject students have to take a test specifically for the subject they want to study, together with all other applicants. The previous grades from school do not count. The students that do best on the test are allowed to study.

After being accepted, students have to study for about 5 years to get their Bachelor's degree. Considering that there are only 11 years of school and the quality of public Colombian school education seems to be rather low this is necessary. After achieving a Bachelor's degree students can do a Master's degree and then a PHD.

If you can read spanisch this article gives a lot of information on the Colombian school system.


The UNAL has 8 campuses in different cities throughout Colombia. The campuses are in Bogota, Medellin, Manizales, Palmira, Leticia, Arauca, Tumaco and on the Island of San Andres. The main campus is in Bogota. In total there are about 50 000 students studying at the UNAL. about 40 000 of them are in pregraduate programs and 10 000 in Master and PHD programs. In total there are about 3000 lecturers employed at the UNAL.

The university has 94 Bachelor's programs and 148 master programs and 54 PHD programs distributed over their 8 campuses.

Quality of education

According to the UNAL is the 14th best university in Latin America and number 316 in the global ranking (TUM is number 54), which makes it the second best University in Colombia after the private Universidad de los Andes (262 worldwide).

Students at the UNAL

Most students at the UNAL come from families with low income and live with their families throughout their university career. The main reasons for this are that it is cheaper and that most students are only 16 or seventeen when they start studying. Moreover in the Colombian culture the family plays a very central role. This is different to most German students, who usually move out and live in groups close to the university. I was visiting two courses that were elegible for the computer science masters program at the UNAL. My personal impression was, that my fellow students were very knowledged and capable. Especially when it came to programming.


The Universidad Nacional seems to have a lot less money than the TUM. Most buildings are old, the WiFi is bad and in most classrooms there are only old desks and a blackboard. They have a soccer stadium, many soccer fields, a climbing gym, squash courts, tennis courts, huge parks, a gymnasium filled with weights and machines and many other things. Pretty much everything is old but does its purpose.

The Professor usually brings a laptop and a beamer to class. All my classmates had a laptop they baught themselves. However, I think it was possible for them to borrow laptops from the university and there also were some computer rooms and a huge library. But if you compare it to the TUM with its LRZ , the many labs full of expensive hardware and many different libraries I had the impression that they have less money for hardware. On the other hand they have very small class sizes and a much more personal relationship between professor and student.

Shortly before the end of my stay in Colombia a bill was passed that gives the UNAL direct funding from tax incomes on all infrastructure projects in the country. It is planned that the money will be used for investments on the campuses. So hopefully the situation will improve over the next years.

My experiences at the UNAL

The columbian credits have a different scala for their credits than the ECTS at the TUM. In their master of computer science (It's called "Maestria de Ingenieria de Sistemas" in spanisch), they have only a total of 52 credits wheras our master has 120. However both have an overal diuration of 4 semesters and the workload per weak is about the same. They have marks from 5 to 0, with 5 being the best mark and 0 the worst. The last passing grade is 3.0. The formula to calculate the corresponding German mark given the Colombian mark is:

1+3*(5 - colombian mark)/2

Furthermore, they have a very different teaching style. The professor is more like a teacher and most classes only have about 10-30 students attending it. The marks are gathered by submitting homework, doing projects, holding presentations and writing tests. I pretty much had to do at least one thing every week that would be graded.


I took two computer science courses at the UNAL with 4 credits each and one spanish course at the "oficina de lenguas" near to the entrance of Calle 26. I would recommend anyone with a spanish level of B1 or below to attend the spanish course. Unfortunately there are no courses for C1 and higher. Foreign students from the UNAL get a 50% discount for language courses. I think I payed about 80 Euros in total and got a 2 hour spanish lesson every day for two months. Moreover the teacher was really good.

The other two courses I took were "Optimizacion en Ingenieria con Tecnicas Bio- Inspiradas" (This course was mainly about optimization techniques genetic algorithms, particle swarm optimisation etc. It was very interesting and we got implement a lot ourselves) and "Temas avanzados en ingenieria de software I (Advanced topics in Software Engineering I)".

In both courses I had to attend the class for four hours and work for about eight more hours per week on homework assignments and projects. The two professors (Professora Maria Alejandra Guzman Pardo and Professor Jairo Hernan Aponte Melo) were very friendly and made quite an effort to make it easier for me to follow their courses. In the beginning I was even allowed to do my presentations completely in English.

Practical information

Here you can find all the courses currently available in the master of "Ingenieria de sistemas y computacion" which is computer science. The semesters start at a different time than ours. The wintersemester starts in August and lasts until December. The summersemester starts in February and ends in June. However, you should not rely on the scheduled times because quite often there will be strikes or protests that will prolong the semester. For example my semester started in August and there were several strikes from workers at the UNAL that added up to about 3 weeks. There also were several protests that added up to one or two weeks. So I ended up staying in Bogota until the mid of January, although the semester was scheduled to end in the beginning of December.