The Role of the State in "Menemista" Argentina: Educational Politics in the Nineties*
Arias, María Fernanda, Ibero-americana
During the last century Argentina, like many other Latin American countries, initiated important reforms in their educational system1. In general, these reforms were imposed by international organizations to solve financial problems and they were oriented to opening educational services to private competition.2 Even if in most cases the governments that introduced the educational reforms had a clear neo-liberal approach to economic policy, the fact is that the role of the state in education was not diminished. This was especially true in Argentina during the presidency of Carlos Saul Menetn (1989-1999). Menem, who belonged to the Jmticialista Party, assumed power in 1989 at the height of a social and economic crisis that was precipitated by hyperinflation and financial chaos. Once in power, President Menem used effective macroeconomic policies to recover stability while emphasizing the role of the private sector in economic activity. In the case of education, it is believed that privatization was encouraged by the decentralization of secondary education and the reform of higher education system.
Most of academic works dealing with the new educational regulations argue that "educational transformation", as it was called by government officials, meant the victory of Neo-liberal State over Welfare State. Certainly, from the ideological perspective of Social State, education is a public good and hence, the state has to intervene thoroughly.3 For these authors, the modernization of the educational system in the nineties diminished the power of Federal State.4 Education became a commodity and the public system collapsed . In this article, we argue that it would be rather incorrect to affirm that decision making related to the education system was radically transferred to private sector and that the state suffered a loss of power in educational matters. On the one hand, Provincial governments took charge of secondary schools while privatization in the interior did not grow significantly6. On the other hand, the Federal State intervened at higher education levels not only by setting up evaluation measures but also by regulating the administration of national universities and the developing of private ones. In the case of countries like Chile and Brazil, education policies were designed by neo-liberal governments, but government's decision-making power in this area was not reduced. These policies entailed the decentralization of secondary schools and stimulated private and state universities to determine education alternatives different from the existing ones. However, the state continued to intervene by using instruments such as subsidies, evaluation, financial support and the general management of education or governance.7
This article analyzes the so called "modernization" of secondary and higher education in Argentina during the Presidency of Carlos Saul Menem by examining the norms and the congressional discussion of educational laws. Previously, we review both the theoretical framework which justifies the correlation between political ideas an education and the congressional discussion on federal and higher education laws. We conclude that politics in education in the nineties changed the role of government to that of encouraging private alternatives in secondary and higher education while the state still retained important decision- making power. Although opposition in Congress thought otherwise, our hypothesis is that the role of the state neither diminished nor increased. We should say, rather, it became less centralized and more opened to educational alternatives, mostly private, but also got involved in controlling and evaluating. It set up strategies to adapt education to the rules of globalization, dictated mainly by international financial organizations. However, the state failed to envisage a firm and decisive vision of what kind of student Argentina needed to overcome its recession. …