Chilean education on the brink

Nieuws | de redactie
3 mei 2013 | Carolina Schmidt, Chile’s fourth education minister in three year faces a gargantuan task. She has to structurally reform the scandal-stricken education system, while hundreds of thousands of students, teachers and parents protest for better quality.

The accreditation and financial system of Chile’s higher education have to be reformed after some huge scandals. Latest victim of the scandals is Harald Beyer. The former education minister was impeached by the Senate and is banned from public office for the next five years.

Harald Beyer was impeached for “having failed to investigate complaints against universities allegedly engaged in profit-making”. The minister was still supported by President Piñera who said that Beyer “had done more than any other minister before him”.

Final trump

Carolina Schmidt, one of Chile’s most popular politicians, is President Piñera’s final trump in order to solve the crisis in higher education before the elections in November. The Chilean constitution forbids two consecutive terms and the opposition is ready to govern, so a lot is at stake.

Chile’s higher education is besieged by scandals, ranging from accreditation fraud to bribery. These scandals came to light during continuous student demonstrations that evolved into nation-wide protests.

Chilean citizens demand high quality education for a reasonable price. Many also want to end the “for-profit-university”. The current system allows universities to make profit while the tuition fees are among the highest in the world while the quality is rather miserable.

The students wrote a statement which stated: “We are fighting for state control, free education for all students and the democratization of our educational spaces so the community can administer education to meet its needs and aid human development.”

Education no business

Schmidt’s first task is to get the heavily contested drafts of the education bills through parliament. Carolina Schmidt might have little time to fulfill her task. The elections are scheduled for 17 November, and former president Michelle Bachelet from the center-left coalition (Concertación) has a steady lead over the current government in the polls.

Bachelet promised to structurally reform Chile’s higher education. “Education and public resources for education cannot become a business.” She wants to “improve quality, end segregation and profit-making and give institutions adequate supervisory powers”.

This is more easily said than done. When Bachelet’s Concertación was in power between 1990 and 2010 too little was done to reform Chile’s education system. History has proven that it is hard to reform Chile’s education system and Beyer’s impeachment has not made it any easier.

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