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Presidential programs, scarce in proposals for higher education

Suffice to check the proposals which in some cases may be read in two pages and in other in 30: High quality online university programs; continue with the “Ser Pilo Paga” program with or without changes; strengthen public university in association with the private sector; reform Icetex; apply personal merit to have access to university scholarships; increase coverage from 55% to 63%; strengthen technical and technological education; and assign a relevant role to SENA, among others.

UN Periódico Digital spoke to three experts, who analyzed some of these proposals. Taking into account the subsidies to demand implies that the government fund, through credit those who want to access higher education programs in the private sector. Universidad Católica de Lovaina, Political, and Social Sciences Ph.D. Felipe Mora said, ”These credits are often condonable, therefore they should be changed to a subsidy to the offer which strengthens public universities so all youngsters may have access to quality education.”   

Most presidential candidates included the credit topic and an association with the private sector for higher education, with some reforms. 

After the elections of the first round, the two most voted candidates still remain, that is Iván Duque and Gustavo Petro. Duque proposes to strengthen public university in association with the private sector, mentioning as a campaign promise but does not refer to the funds needed.

Gustavo Petro proposes universal free education totally financed by the government. However, in his program he does not say how he will obtain the funds to subsidize public education, “as is the same in all programs, (including those candidates that were eliminated from the second round of elections)”, said Mora.

More of the same 

For Universidad Nacional de Colombia (UNal) Political and Social Sciences Professor Leopoldo Múnera, the reforms implemented for higher education in Colombia since the administration of Álvaro Uribe and continued with his successor Juan Manuel Santos, have pointed to funding technical and technological education and at the same time give priority to a subsidy to demand and not a sustainable financing of public universities. The current candidates do not fall far from this trend.

Reviewing the proposals of Iván Duque, he says he will partially condone debts owed to the Colombian Institute for Educational Credit and Studies Abroad (Icetex, for its Spanish acronym) to students graduated with honors and will look for new terms and better interest rates for the less privileged. This is a continuation and deepening of the strategies of the former administrations based on the idea that students with outstanding results in knowledge tests are the only ones to have access to university programs.

The former candidates Sergio Fajardo, Germán Vargas Lleras, and Humberto de la Calle all supported the “Ser Pilo Paga” (Being a good student pays-off) with adjustments, reproducing the debt logic and demand subsidies to be able to access higher education.

Múnera says that Gustavo Petro is the only one which speaks of a subsidy to the offer, i.e. strengthen funding of public higher education institutions, especially universities, although he does not clarify the amount of the increase. He does not consider that education should be linked to student merit, as opposed to Iván Duque, but that it should be a fundamental right for every student in the country.

Deep reforms are urgent to finance public universities  

Despite the urgent need manifested by the educational sector of the country none of the candidates has proposed to reform law 30 of 1992. UNal National Planning Director Professor Carlos Garzón Gaitán says that if the Higher Education Law is not modified, it will continue the inertia to adjust budgets by inflation only. Therefore, any measure adopted for public universities should include real costs so it will allow growth and sustainability.

The annual budget for public universities (COL $3.05 billion for 2018) should grow at least 4 points above inflation. “For this to happen they need to change articles 86 and 87 of Law 30, but these necessary changes are not visible in none of the presidential proposals,” claimed Garzón.

Few details in the proposals   

Vargas Lleras proposal is to strengthen the presence of public universities in the regions through land donations and increase the percentage of the GDP for education in general from 4.5 % to 6.0%.

Fajardo said he would strengthen public universities and improve their infrastructure. And although he proposes to increase the GDP annually in 10% for education in general, he does not detail which would be the concrete funding for higher education or how he would invest these resources. His proposals included models of scholarships to outstanding students as the contingent indebtedness to income approved last April.

De la Calle spoke about higher education as a right, but the instruments to advance in this proposal lack consistency in saying that he would continue with the “Ser Pilo Paga” program, which funds end up in private universities.

Iván Duque proposes, “Establishing a financial vehicle” to strengthen public universities in conjunction with the private sector. In this regard, Garzón says that Colombia cannot allow for profit to be involved in higher education and does not see private universities giving donations for not profit on their own. Therefore, he is the only candidate that does not commit to increasing the budget for higher education.

Finally Garzón adds that increases to coverage “Depend much on the use of the resources of the tax reform, because in these moments there is no other established source” and that the country needs to correct the distribution model by levels and modalities, which underestimates the quality technical and technological distribution model and undervalues research and innovation in universities.

The three experts agree on the need to strengthen the public offer and improve coverage with quality for higher education students, which depends greatly on the funds allotted to this sector and the priority of higher education in government plans.

A previous condition is to modify the quality of basic and middle education, improving graduate levels and reducing desertion at the professional level.


Consejo Editorial