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Chile – Educational reform?

With 62.16 % of the votes, Michelle Bachelet has been elected as Chile’s president once again after her first presidential term lasting from 2006 to 2010. Her second term might bring an important reform of Chile’s higher education system. Michelle Bachelet’s reform plans try to tackle the two most important challenges of Chilean higher education – access and quality.

Chile’s higher education system was radically reformed in the 1980s during the dictatorship of Pinochet. Shaped according to purely neoliberal ideas, higher education would no longer be seen as a public good, but as a purely private consumer good. Nowadays, Chilean higher education is comparably expensive with relation to per capita income and is strongly dominated by private for-profit higher education institutions. Public spending on education amounts to 4.1 %, which is a comparably low for developed nations, and even most parts of this share are reserved to primary and secondary education rather than higher education. The relative proportion of private expenditure on tertiary educational institution accounts for 77.9 % according to OECD statistics.

Michelle Bachelet’s reform plans foresee a number of important changes:

  • Private for-profit higher education institutions are likely to be abolished, although it is not clear what exactly would happen to them;
  • Free tuition would be offered to large parts of the population below a certain socio-economic threshold;
  • Tuition fees would be determined and adjusted by a newly established authority;
  • Special provisions would be taken for indebted students;
  • A new Secretariat for Higher Education would be established, dealing with funding from public sources for the higher education reform;
  • The reform is likely to be financed through an increase in income tax and a special tax on enterprises;
  • Two new public universities in the regions of Aysén and O’Higgins would be created;
  • Technical Education Centres would be established in every region, linked to regional universities;
  • A new accreditation system would be set in place in order to ensure the quality of higher education system.
Bachelet’s reform plan is particularly ambitious. Although the planned reform clearly tackles the most important problems of Chilean higher education – which were also the main reason for the 2011-2013 Chilean student protests – it remains to be seen whether it can be implemented as easily as presented in Bachelet’s electoral programme. A clear estimation of costs has unfortunately not been provided.

Michelle Bachelet - Electoral programme

World Bank - Public spending on education

OECD - Education at a glance 2013