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Public Universities: After signing the financial agreement, in-depth changes are now in order

The novelty of the student movement was well expressed in the Colombian magazine Semana by Universidad Nacional de Colombia (UNal) Professor Julián de Zubiría, “On the 10th of October, the country was startled by strikes in the most important cities, which to the surprise of many, were headed by rectors of the universities. During this time, education turned into the most important national-level discussion.”

During the signing of the agreement at the Casa de Nariño (official residence and workplace of the President of Colombia) this December the 14th, President Duque said, “I have always acknowledged the historic debt of the country with education and the will of my administration is to listen and look for solutions.”  

In this manner he recognizes the legitimacy of the movement which is comprised of the following associations: Colombian Association of Student Higher Studies Representatives (ACREES, for its Spanish acronym), Colombian Federation of Higher Studies Representatives (FENARES, for its Spanish acronym) and Colombian Union of Higher Studies Students (UNEES, for its Spanish acronym.)

Among the reasons of the strikes were aspects such as the universities quadruplicated the amount of students, funds allotted were always the same, and each year fewer funds were transferred per student to the universities and more to the Colombian Institute for Educational Credit and Studies Abroad (ICETEX, for its Spanish acronym) and private universities; and while the infrastructure of public universities was falling apart, past administrations transferred COL$ 4 billion to private universities for the   “Ser Pilo Paga” (It pays to be a good student) program.

A follow-up to what was agreed

Adding the amounts agreed the sum would be in the range of an additional COL$4.5 billion which would be destined to higher education and science. The technological institutions are fortified as they will receive the funds discounted for electoral participation. Professors also recover the benefits they had lost in the reform of 2016.

Therefore, they can diminish the technological and infrastructure lag; but reforms to ICETEX and work contracts with temporary professors are left unsolved. For this, it is important to maintain the high-level technical negotiation table.

Future disbursements during the four-year term will, directly and indirectly, impact operations and the COL$ 2.112 billion for the universities is a 5.21% increase above the consumer price index (CPI), which is significant if the State University System assesses the increase in operating costs in 4.65% above the IPC for the latest years.

Faculty of Economic Sciences Professor Álvaro Zerda, who was part of the negotiations said, “Now comes the battle for distributing the funds among universities and technical and technological institutions and it is key for the movement to continue, making the agreed to be fulfilled, for the reform of the whole educational system.”

Professor and Representative of the UNal Superior Council, Beatriz Martínez said, “It was about recovering the funds that had been assigned to public higher education in articles 102, 142 and 184 of Law 1819 of 2016, but had been illegally deviated to the “Ser Pilo Paga” program and ICETEX. Although there are achievements to pay-off liabilities, for sience and technology and investment and operating, there is still a lack of resources for hiring professors and above all for repealing Law 1911 of 2018.”

Professor and former representative of the UNal Superior Council Orlando Acosta says that although the agreed is far from the current funding requirements. According to the agreement, it provides additional increases to the CPI for the budgetary base and seen as an average they are 0.4 additional percentage points to the 3.75 points achieved by the rectors and representing a total of COL$1,296,599 million. There are additional disbursements for operating for COL$319,066 million for the same period and for previous year liabilities for COL$500,000 million. With respect to investment they obtained important additional funds from several sources and several destinations which added to the operating achievements total an additional COL$ 5,854,397.”

However, Professor Acosta says, “The agreement is a temporary government negotiation and not the result of state policy.”

Reforms on higher education, the debate continues…

With respect to the future, Professor Mario Hernández, who was part of some of the negotiations says the table was made official through a resolution of the Ministry of Education, which is important for the mid-term, but also implies great organizational and collective work in order to sustain debates and provide strong proposals in order to impact public policies toward funding the demand (credit and payment for quota for impoverished students). “There is the unwillingness of the government. There is a great conviction that it is easier and cheaper to pay for quotas with public funds with public and private competing IES than to increase the budget for the offer.”

In this regard, Jennifer Pedraza, Economy Student and Representative of the UNal Superior Council said after the negotiation ended, “The great conclusion of this agreement is that battling gets results. We have landed COL$5.85 billion for higher education public institutions which is a historic and fundamental advancement. Furthermore, we created a mid-term consensus to structurally reform the Colombian higher education system. However, for this, mobilizations are necessary.”

Also, FENARES member Alex Flórez said that although more funds are needed to solve the financial burden of 25 years past, what was achieved in a first agreement is important and although insufficient, it is a historic pact, which had never been achieved.”

According to UNal Rector Professor Dolly Montoya Castaño, “It’s been a long time since public education was not the most important concern and interest of the public opinion; therefore it is demonstrated this is a fair movement and that the agreements strengthen and that everybody who participated in the table deserves our congratulations, as they demonstrated valor and discipline. Now, what comes is to turn them into law and public policy.”


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