Will Students Win Their Fight for Free Education in Chile?

Students marched through Santiago’s Plaza Baquedano on April 11, demanding reforms to the country’s education system. // Photo: Confederation of Chilean Students.

Tens of thousands of Chilean students clashed with police on April 11 in Santiago, protesting legislation they said did not go far enough to overhaul the country’s education system. The clashes led lawmakers to pull the bill from consideration, forcing President Michelle Bachelet’s administration to start over. Will Chile’s student movement win its fight for free higher education? How well has Bachelet addressed students’ concerns? Are their demands realistic, given the country’s fiscal situation, and are their proposals the right prescription for Chile’s education system to begin with? To what extent will education reforms play into this year’s presidential campaign in Chile, and how do the leading candidates differ on the issue?

Peter M. Siavelis, professor of politics and international affairs and director of the Latin American and Latino Studies Program at Wake Forest University: “No matter how much the government attempts to reform the educational system, student protesters in Chile will not go away. Students have good reasons to protest. Pinochet-era reforms transformed Chile into one of the world’s most expensive educational systems, according to the OECD. Beyond high costs, student protesters also point to low academic quality, high levels of student debt and limited post-university employment opportunities. After coalitional negotiations with Communist Party deputies, it appears that the reform proposal has new life. It would introduce free university education for all, a comprehensive reform of educational finance and efforts to enhance academic quality. The bill’s fate is uncertain, as critics on the left and right point to problems with its content and implementation plan. Chile’s four year presidential term and…”

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