CHILE– Disappointed by new higher education measures announced by President Sebastián Piñera, which included a $4 billion education fund, Chilean students have called for a national strike on 14 July. But the vice-chancellors of Chile’s 25 state-run universities seem to have buried their hatchets and are talking to the government again.
The new fund, announced on 5 July, will increase the number of student loans, offering merit scholarships for students from the poorest 40% of the population and for those enrolled in technical programmes, along with extra revenue for public universities. Two institutions, one a policy group and the other to monitor and sanction non-compliance, have also been proposed. A key issue in the conflict has been for-profit universities. While they have been legally banned since 1981, many have been established. Two government ministers, Education Minister Joaquín Lavín and Cristián Larroulet, a minister in the presidency, are currently being investigated over their investments in Universidad del Desarrollo, one of Chile’s more than 60 private universities.
Students are not only calling for an end to for-profit institutions but are also questioning the very existence of private universities. They want higher education to be provided by the government. The Confederation of Chilean Students says that the recovery of public education is the cornerstone of its demands. They say knowledge generation is not a commercial product and that the student-teacher relationship should not be equated with that of client and supplier. Piñera promised in his speech to open a national debate to define clearly what constitutes a for-profit university. Those classified as such would pay taxes, with the tax revenue going entirely “to finance scholarships and loans for the most vulnerable students”