CHILE: Universities to strike over reforms

Chilean universities are going on strike on 12 May to press their demands regarding a major reform of higher education announced by the government. The strike follows an 8,000-strong march in downtown Santiago last week.

The prime movers are students, teachers and staff of 25 public universities who fear Chile's right-wing government will provide greater resources to private institutions while failing to increase funding for public education.

Public universities are highly indebted because government funds cover only 10% to 15% of their expenses.

Students are also reacting against a law under preparation by the Ministry of Education that would extend the system of government-guaranteed loans to all higher education students.

At present, private university students - who make up 80% of the total - only have access to government-guaranteed loans that bear a rate of interest that is more than double the interest applied to loans available to students from public universities.

Another complaint regards tuition fees, which in Chile are extremely high. For example, studying medicine or dentistry costs around US$13,000 a year. As a result, many families run into debt, with a resulting 40% dropout rate.

Both university teachers and students are also asking the government to involve them in discussions on the reform.