Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (UC): Red G9 affirms that the government gives “preferential treatment” to state universities

In an article in the newspaper La Tercera, rectors of different non-state institutions point out that both the Executive Branch and the Constituent Convention have shown a preference for the universities of the Cuech (Consortium of Chilean State Universities). “One of the most important issues in this discussion is whether the public is going to be understood from the property or from the contribution made to the community,” says the rector of the UC Ignacio Sánchez.

From time to time, the discussion about the “public” condition between state universities and those that are not revives. Generally, the new rounds are associated with moments of change at the country level. It happened in 2014 with the educational reform of President Michelle Bachelet when debating which institutions would become free and it is happening now with regard to the work of the Convention and the installation of the government of Gabriel Boric.

The problem lies in the concern and annoyance of the G9 Network , which brings together the universities that call themselves non-state public universities and that brings together all the Catholics, Concepción, Federico Santa María and Austral, due to the signs of “preferential treatment” that -according to them- has shown part of the government towards the higher education institutions that belong to the State, as well as the debate that takes place in the Convention and that, they say, does not involve them.

The feeling has been increased by the various meetings that the government authorities have held with the Consortium of Universities of the State of Chile (Cuech) .

Last Tuesday, in the Montt Varas Hall of the Palacio de La Moneda, the plenary session of Cuech met with the Minister of Education, Marco Antonio Ávila, his Science and Technology counterpart, Flavio Salazar, and the Undersecretary of Higher Education, Verónica Figueroa. It was a powerful signal, as they understand from the Cuech. “It was very significant that this coordinating council, which is mandated by law, was held there. It is symbolic, precisely to respond to that commitment to strengthen the state”, says Rector Corrales.

But it has not been the only appointment of the government with higher education institutions. With different representatives, including President Boric himself, they previously went to another meeting with the Cuech in Pucón, in addition to participating in a plenary session, as well as a visit to the Mineduc by Ennio Vivaldi, its president. Also two meetings with the Cruch, two with the regional universities of the Cruch, two with Vertebral, the council that brings together the institutes and technical training centers, the Corporation of Private Universities, the State Technical Training Centers and visits already made or scheduled to the universities of Chile, Católica, Aysén, Umce and Adolfo Ibáñez. Also the G9.

Verónica Figueroa, undersecretary of Higher Education, says in this regard that “from day one” they have opened spaces for dialogue “with all the actors” and that they recognize “the contribution” of the G9 to the country’s development. Of course, she also points out that “since we are a State, it is important to strengthen and rebuild public education” and that “it is the duty of the State to position its institutions as a substantive axis.”

The concerns of the G9 -in any case- continue. “It is evident that the State has to take charge of its universities, what we are indicating is that it not be to our detriment,” says Carlos Saavedra, rector of the UdeC, one of the G9. And he adds: “It does not seem to us that by definition there is a tendency to limit the perspective of the public. We are convinced of the contribution to society and that equal treatment is absolutely necessary”.

“It is evident that the State has to take charge of its universities, what we indicate is that it not be to our detriment” – Carlos Saavedra, rector of the U. de Concepción

But from the sidewalk of the state there is another look. A completely opposite one: “The discussion about whether private universities should be considered public is incredible. And it is incredible because if the private companies have fought for something, it is for their independence from the public sphere”, asserts Ennio Vivaldi, the highest authority of the University of Chile. “It is ridiculous to think that a university is going to be public if it belongs to the church,” he concludes.

For a few weeks it has been possible to observe a communication campaign in both trenches. And while the state companies defend what is theirs with statements that point out that what is public “is the only thing that belongs to all of us equally”, the others, those of the G9, cry out with figures in hand to reverse this situation, as if they have 44% of the students of the institutions of the Council of Rectors.

Ignacio Sánchez, rector of the PUC, which depends on the Holy See, establishes his points: “One of the most important issues in this discussion is whether the public is going to be understood from the property or from the contribution made to the community ”, he says before arguing that “if it is going to be understood that what is public is what belongs to the State, it is an extremely restrictive definition”.

“It is evident that the State has to take charge of its universities, what we indicate is that it not be to our detriment” – UC Rector Ignacio Sánchez

For Osvaldo Corrales, rector of the state University of Valparaíso, this is “a non-debatable question.” Why? “It’s like health. A private clinic provides a service to society, but it is by no means public given its legal and property regime”. And although he says that this does not imply ignoring the contribution that other institutions make, he does believe that there is an analytical error in the debate: “It is like saying that the State is giving preferential treatment to itself, because ultimately we are state entities and the State has to worry about fulfilling its duty, like when it finances a public hospital”.

The annoyance of the G9 has been transparent publicly. In fact, after meeting with the Minister of Education, Marco Antonio Ávila, they expressed their “concern about the roadmap” of the government, in which, they say, the state universities appear with “great prominence” and “the explanation of a preferential treatment”.

Aliro Bórquez, helmsman of the UC of Temuco and president of the G9, was at that appointment, who assures that his concern is legitimate because even when the system recognizes his contribution, “perhaps the colleagues of the state companies do not understand it that way.” And he adds: “It is a discussion of what is public and what is state and we say that public exceeds state by a wide margin.”

Elisa Araya, rector of the Umce, one of the 18 state institutions, believes that the G9 represents “a great contribution to society”, but what is being discussed wrongly is the substance of the matter: “State universities are organizations that are part of the State, the rectors are heads of public service, we are disqualified from other functions and I don’t know if the same thing happens to the G9 rectors”. In addition, she says that being a state is being part of state policies and that in this sense there are some that the G9 may not adhere to. “We have public policy as a mandate, it is not the Vatican that mandates, it is not another group of corporate interests that may have an interest in social development, but a private origin,” she adds.

In that sense, he says that he considers everything “a euphemism”, because if it is pointed out that all universities are public “you get confused, because, would you say that everyone is going to abide by public policy such as abortion for three reasons? Which universities can claim conscientious objection? It is a false debate and the use of the word ‘public’ for everything is not right… public transport is getting on the subway or the bus, it is not the same as riding an Uber and both are a service to the community”.

But, exactly where does the concern of the G9 lie?

“We have looked at the government’s proposal to strengthen state universities and we find it legitimate, but that does not mean disempowering the contribution of non-state universities that have contributed to the country,” says Rector Bórquez, to which he adds “the discussion in the Convention, where once again a university system appears where there is supremacy of state universities, not valuing the contribution made by other institutions”.

And he closes this point: “We know that the State does not have large sums of money and if you contribute more to some, you will take away from others, if there is a strategy to strengthen the state companies, it will undoubtedly be to the detriment of something . The question is who is going to stop supporting.

Saavedra, from the UdeC, adds: “When resources are limited, any decision to emphasize will be detrimental to our institutions. We have no conflict with the state companies, but due care must be taken with ours”. This detriment, he says, “is in the air, that has alerted us.”

“We have received those phrases of predilection or preference, with specific concern for the state, that leave us worried,” reveals Rector Sánchez, who in any case assures that they have found a willingness to listen to their concerns from the Ministry of Education. Thus, he adds that his main concern is that the role of the Cruch is blurred, which includes state and non-state universities and that, by law, has the mission of promoting that the universities that comprise it contribute in an articulated and collaborative manner to the development of society. “Through the decrease in the valuation, it could be that they are segregating and separating waters.” And he adds: “Rector Vivaldi himself has said that the resources are for projects that benefit the country. Those same words can be applied to all the institutions of the G9″.

The response of the state
“That they make an enormous contribution who could doubt it”, says Vivaldi at the outset on this point. But he lands: “One says that there has to be a reason for this claim and consciously or not, because I do not judge bad intentions, that reason is economic: they are afraid that the State will say ‘I have to worry more about my own universities than about the others’, but it is ridiculous to think that they are going to stop giving them public financing”.

In addition, he points out that what is happening with the vision of the new Executive is not something special, but something that was normal. “What this government is doing is simply making things the way they are around the world,” he says.

But the boss of the House of Bello is not the only rector to put a counterpoint to the G9 claim. From Valparaíso, Corrales says he can “understand that there is some concern”, but that one thing is to think of the public as state and another that the State can facilitate through financing private educational services that can develop their projects. “We have never said that financing should be denied to projects that have made a very significant contribution to the country, but since the social outbreak the country has been rethinking the value of what is public and that the State has stronger health and education services,” he says.

“That is the mother of the lamb”, exposes the rector Araya when the future of financing is addressed as one of the concerns of the G9. “They are not superfluous, no one is going to say that they are not a contribution to society, no one is going to say that resources must be taken away from them, but I want to say that when there are few resources and a program to develop, one works with those universities that are in pro of the programs, that they have competences and capacities and that we are part of the state body”.

Thus, he says he believes that there is “an overreaction to a government that has just been installed and that has said that the state universities were abandoned and that is true. It is obvious that the State must say ‘we have these institutions that have know-how, let’s work with them’ and that does not mean, because I have not listened to the minister, saying ‘we are going to work with some and not with others’”.

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