Edition 124 - August 2011

Chile: Student protests drag on

Education reform has been at the heart of large-scale (sometimes violent) student-led protests in Chile for more than three months. Since May, the protesters have been calling for an end to what they say is a system undermined by insufficient state oversight and inappropriate profiteering in the private higher education sector. 

The students, led by Camilla Vallejo, are represented by the Confederation of Chilean Student Federations. A guiding document produced by the group in late July, titled Bases for a Social Agreement for Chilean Education, lays out a vision for constitutionally protected not-for-profit higher education in Chile. Among other things, the student movement calls for  

  • new financing models, including instruments both for institutions and for individuals; 
  • more equitable access to higher education, including a reduction in reliance on the standardised admission test – the Prueba de Selección Universitaria (PSU);
  • creation of a new “higher education superintendency” to ensure the financial and academic transparency of all institutions of higher education in the country.  

The government of Chilean President Sebastián Piñera responded first in early July with the announcement of the “GANE” proposal. This promised major investment in a national education fund to guarantee access to higher education scholarships for the country’s poorest students and to lower the interest rate on student loans. On 1 August, it presented a new round of ideas, Policies and Proposals for Action for the Development of Chilean Education, touching upon education reforms at all levels. However, both proposals were turned down by the students who are determined to bring an end to for-profit higher education. On 17 August, a much-streamlined position paper, Government Measures in Education, was released, this time focusing on four main themes more in alignment with the students’ key demands: the alleviation of student debt, the reinforcement of public education, the enforcement of the law prohibiting profit-making in higher education, and effective assurance of quality in higher education.

It remains unclear what September will bring, given that the student protests demanding education reform are part of a much more broadly-based movement calling for social and political change.     

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