Magazine article Washington Report on the Hemisphere

Higher Education Policies in Latin America: Challenged to the Core in 2011

Magazine article Washington Report on the Hemisphere

Higher Education Policies in Latin America: Challenged to the Core in 2011

Article excerpt

Since the 1980's, secondary education has flourished and, in its wake, created an even greater demand for higher education in Latin America - one that local governments have been unable to fulfill with adequate funding to guarantee its reform. The privatization of education has been the conventional, as well as practical, approach to satisfying educational demand without unrealistic public expenditures. However, the resulting demand-absorbing private institutions have been criticized for delivering a predictably sub -standard, overpriced and a poor quality of education. At the present time, not only do state expenditures on education remain inadequate, but a clear state-provided system of student grants remain incomplete and implemented. Overcoming the allocation of excessive state funds for educational institutions is a guaranteed recipe for failure, with no Latin American country being able to so far sensibly balance the cost between the student and the taxpayer. The hostile global economic environment also has played a big part in imposing a formidable amount of pressure on privatizing public services such as education, as public budgets have become constrained and required state governments to operate with greater prudence. Thus, both external and domestic pressures have influenced governmental units to adopt, if they have not already done so, a neoliberal strategy to meet education goals.

Resistance Against Current Education Systems Operating in Latin America on the Rise

In order to function without adequate state funding, public universities have had to invoke high tuition fees and raise interest on student loans to oppressive levels for the average student. In addition to acquiring funds from private sources, universities have simultaneously cut costs by hiring more part -time and adjunct faculty as well as expanding class sizes, which not surprisingly, has led to the deterioration of the quality of the education being offered. The high cost of tuition combined with the deterioration in quality - two adverse products of the reforms to privatize, have thus incited opposition in various Latin American states. For example, on November 24 201 1, tens of thousands of students in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela participated in the Latin American March for Education for the universal right to free quality public education.

The epicenter of the educational conflict in 2011, however, was in Chile and Colombia. The movement in Colombia led a campaign to prevent the ratification of an education reform that would privatize the education system, while Chilean student activists rallied to demand better education, greater state expenditures on public education and subsidies for lowincome students. Colombian activists were successful in preventing the reform from being ratified, while the students in Chile will be assembling once again for future demonstrations after being unable to sway the country's pedagogical strategies.

Chile: A Fractured Higher Education System

Chile's youth, with widespread grass-root backing, spent eight months protesting against the state's education policy, tarnishing the Pinera administration's competency for public relations with every successive act of defiance. The highly regressive nature of Chile's spectrum of higher education and its production of inequitable returns, two such consequences of the neoliberal Organic Constitutional Law on Education (LOCE) set into motion under the Pinochet regime in 1990, underlined the long-standing grievances of the student movement.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reports that Chile's universities receive the overwhelming majority of their funding from private sources, while only fifteen percent of investment comes from the government. According to the OECD report, Chile, which went through "significant increases in student enrollment between 2000 and 2008, did not increase spending at the same pace; as a result, expenditures per student actually decreased. …

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