Former student leader inaugurated as Chile’s president

Former student leader Gabriel Boric (36) was inaugurated as the next president of Chile on Friday 11 March. He is the youngest Chilean president ever and his government programme is ambitious; its main features include pension and tax reform as well as improving health provision.

In 2011, Boric rose to fame as one of the most vocal leaders of the student movement. At the time, he became the spokesperson for the Confederation of Chilean Students (CONFECH) and a year later he became president of the Student Federation of Universidad de Chile, the country’s largest university. From there he was elected a member of the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of Chile’s bicameral Congress.

Politically left of centre, he has promised radical reforms of the country’s free-market economic model in a bid to tackle inequality, declaring: “If Chile was the cradle of neoliberalism, it will also be its grave.”

A supporter of state education, Boric took active part in the rallies against the country’s privatised education system, but as Chile’s president, he will now have to provide answers to one of the greatest social demands, the demand for higher education.

Among his priorities in this field is addressing student loan debts. He proposes that the state, via financial institutions, meets these payments long term, thus lifting the burden of indebted families.

He also proposes the end of the existing state-endorsed student loan system (CAE being its Spanish acronym), which would be replaced by a loan system that will last until free tuition for everybody is achieved – which Boric has said will be public, will not bear any interest and “will not reproduce CAE’s abuses”.

According to Andrea Encalada and Fernando Carvallo, who lead Boric’s higher education plan, CAE’s defaults are 46% of the total and writing them off would cost over US$4.7 billion.

Expanding free public education

Another of Boric’s higher education priorities is what his programme labels “Reconstruction and expansion of public education, free for all and of good quality”. This measure would be financed by increasing financing for state institutions and fostering a process to increase tuition fees over the next few years.

Regional higher education institutions will have priority as will women’s access in areas where they are poorly represented.

He has also said that Chile’s free tuition policy will be revised, especially regarding its regulation, reach and institutional requirements.

Boric also plans to increase access to and retention in state education through a quota system, through affirmative policies that favour the access and retention of students coming from state schools and new criteria and admission systems that support the various educational and work trajectories.

The new president’s programme also speaks of starting a national dialogue on a new definition of higher education quality, leading to a better evaluation of higher education institutions as well as a review of the financing of research in Chile to promote its development.

He has said he will also foster professional technical centres for sustainable human resource development. This will include setting research centres in technological parks and creating regional clusters that cater for local needs.