Chile's Private 'Success' Is Not a Model for You to Follow

Article excerpt

Elizabeth Gibney meets the left-wing Chilean youth leader with a message for European students.

Camila Vallejo has come to the UK to deliver its students a message: learn from what privatisation did to higher education in Chile or your universities will suffer the same fate.

Ms Vallejo, vice-president of the Confederation of Chilean Students (Confech) and a member of the Chilean Communist Youth, is a star in her home country and, increasingly, across the world.

In spring 2011, the 24-year-old geography student, memorably described by The New York Times as "the world's most glamorous revolutionary", led a student movement that engulfed the nation, drawing support from parents, schoolchildren and trade unions, and bringing much of Chile's capital, Santiago, to a standstill.

The protest targeted the South American country's heavily privatised and costly academy - a set-up that European countries are hurtling towards, she said.

"We understand that in Europe they are privatising the system bit by bit. Education budgets are being cut, and they are putting in place all the policies that were implemented in Chile in the 1980s," Ms Vallejo told Times Higher Education.

In Chile, more than 85 per cent of higher education funding comes from private sources, but institutional spending per student is half the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development average.

According to Ms Vallejo, higher education is being run like a business, with fees for often poor-quality degrees being set according to profit rather than cost in a system reliant on family debt.

"We are showing everyone what the main consequences of developing this policy are," she said, passionately rattling off a list of negative effects including socio-economic segregation, inequality and slavery to debt.

Her trip to the UK, where she attended last month's Global Student Leadership Summit organised by the National Union of Students, was part of an effort by members of Confech and the Continental Organization of Latin American and Caribbean Students to tell Chile's story - and to discourage other countries from emulating a nation that in many ways is seen as a Latin American success story.

Part of the message is that European students must lose their fear of engaging in ideological debates about education, said Paul Floor, international officer at Confech, who also travelled to the UK with Ms Vallejo. …