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University strike and federal march in Argentina

In a country where the society historically considers public education as an absolutely legitimate, appreciated and irreplaceable asset, any attack against it immediately mobilizes diverse social groups.

On April 23, a federal university strike and march occurred in Argentina. It had been announced a month ago and, given the government’s lack of response to the demands, it took place on that date.

It is necessary to understand that behind this collective action there are antecedents such as what public university education means in the country — and conjunctures — what the current libertarian government of Javier Milei thinks about public education.

Since the University Reform of 1918, a landmark in Latin America, university education in Argentina is unrestricted, free, and tripartite authority, i.e., the governing bodies of universities are composed of elected authorities, the faculty, and the student body. At present, the public university system comprises 56 national universities throughout the country and nearly two million university students. It should be noted that a smaller, but significant percentage of these students are foreigners, mostly Latin Americans, who have the same prerogatives as national students.

On the other hand, in a country where society historically considers public education — by the Constitution, free, secular, and state education —  in all its instances as absolutely legitimized, appreciated, and irreplaceable public good, the engine of social mobility, any attack or attempt to restrict it immediately mobilizes large and diverse social groups, starting with families.

The current conflict starts from the fact that the current Milei government considers, coherently with the libertarian ideology, that any public issue is, by definition, pernicious, inefficient, and restrictive of free personal decision. In this direction, the first months of the government saw many layoffs of public employees, as well as the closure of numerous institutions of the state organization chart. This was more for ideological reasons than for public spending, although the official argument has been based on this issue.

As a result of the parliamentary political debate and official pressures to promote its program, Milei’s government still needs to achieve the approval of the 2024 budget. So, given the constitutional requirement in this regard, state activities are being financed with the 2023 budget. Between the beginning of 2023 and the four months of 2024, inflation exceeded 200%, meaning that any budget, i.e., financing of public activities, has a twice-valued budget.

In this scenario, the government intends that the public university system — remember the dimensions mentioned above — be sustained with a devalued budget. The public universities are responding that with this budget they will only be able to be open until the end of May.

Of course, this incongruity, almost to the limit of absurdity, is supported by the government on the need to control public expenditure, although, as it appears from statements made by several of its officials, the official offensive has a purely ideological character. Milei himself said last week to the media that “national universities are centers of indoctrination and corruption”.

This said to a society that in a very high percentage understands, and defends, public education not only as an irreplaceable factor of progress but also as an inalienable right, and sees in the university studies of its young people the culmination of that right.

A young student who enters a massive, free, and democratic public university is not just an isolated individual seeking to improve his or her situation. They represent, basically, a family that sees in that young person a project for the future, both individual and collective. Perhaps that is why the federal university march, which has been joined by students from private universities, is a resounding rejection of the government’s offensive on the public system.

A few hours before the march, statements by government officials revealed the government’s fear that the mobilization would be, as it was, massive.


Otros artículos del autor

Director de la Licenciatura en Ciencia Política y Gobierno de la Universidad Nacional de Lanús. Profesor titular de la Facultad de Ciencias Sociales de la Univ. de Buenos Aires (UBA). Licenciado en Sociología por la UBA y en Ciencia Política por Flacso-Argentina.


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