The major changes that have been proposed in the negotiations; what comes next?

The major changes that have been proposed in the negotiations; what comes next?
The major changes that have been proposed in the negotiations; what comes next?

Financing, governance and quality are the main axes and topics discussed in the dialogue tables with which the Government, headed by the Ministry of Education, developed since the month of May with various sectors in view of the reform of higher education, more specifically Law 30 of 1992, perhaps the biggest attempt at reforming the education sector by President Gustavo Petro’s government.

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This is an initiative for which a draft had already been revealed exactly one year ago, but which was ultimately not submitted to Congress due to its poor reception. Now, everything seems to indicate that, as Minister Aurora Vergara expressed to EL TIEMPO in an interview, this semester the project will finally be submitted to the legislature.

And this is not a minor reform. In fact, it is expected to be a delicate discussion with intense debates, unlike what happened with the shelved reform proposed in the statutory bill that sought to make education a fundamental right, which was rejected in the Senate pending a final debate.

And no wonder. The topics that will be discussed by what the Vice Minister of Higher Education, Alejandro Álvarez, has called a “new higher education law” are thick, and range from distribution and appropriation of new resources for a public sector that drags with a billion-dollar deficit, the future of private institutions, the way in which university governments are formed, among others.

In this way, in recent months the Ministry has held the National Agreement Roundtable for Higher Education (MAN+ES), a series of six sessions with different actors in the sector, who provided proposals for the structuring of the new article.

Alejandro Álvarez, Deputy Minister of Higher Education, led the discussion.

Photo:Ministry of Education

As with the tables for the statutory bill and the previous draft of the reform to Law 30, the majority of the participants in these meetings were from social sectors such as students, unions and Afro and indigenous communities, etc. However, this newspaper was able to learn of complaints from the academy that indicate little participation by academics and experts in higher education.as well as the productive sector (considered key since higher education forms the talent that enters the workforce).

Thus, EL TIEMPO was able to confirm that five major axes were identified around the project, the same as those in the draft mentioned above: Quality and relevance, University well-being, Governance, Dignification of teaching work and Financing.

Of all of them, perhaps the most delicate, and the one that actually motivated the discussion, is that of financing.Public higher education institutions have been dragging a significant financial gap for decades, which has motivated, for example, the student strikes of 2018 and 2019.

This gap is due to the way in which the current Law 30 calculates the budget increase for public universities, which according to the law is calculated according to the value of the CPI of the previous year, that is, inflation.

But the problem is that the costs of the institutions increase every year much more than the value of the CPI, as explained by Jairo Torres, rector of the University of Córdoba, and president of the State University System, which groups all the public universities in the country: “This has been a problem, because college costs have risen on average 5.2 percentage points more than the CPI.”

And there are several reasons for this, such as the fact that 30 years ago, when Law 30 was created, it could not be foreseen that the number of students in public institutions would grow exponentially, going from 160,000 to 640,000 between 1993 and 2021.

This has required large investments in infrastructure, hiring more and more teachers (who in turn are better prepared each year and have more degrees, which increases their salaries), resources to comply with high-quality accreditations, among other things.

The reform of Law 30 has been the cause of several student strikes and protests.

Photo:Milton Diaz / The Time

Thus, the Nation, mayors and governors They went from providing more than 90 percent of the universities’ resources to just 55.25 percent.according to SUE data. The remaining 44.75 percent is paid for by the universities themselves, often with large shortfalls that have been accumulating.

This is because between 2011 and 2021 the CPI grew by an average of 3.7 percent annually, while, according to the Higher Education Cost Index (ICES) of DANE, the operating and personnel expenses of universities rose annually by an average of 8.8 percent and 9.4 percent respectively.

The SUE estimates that Today, the accumulated budget deficit amounts to 15 billion pesos, of which 3.5 billion is for operations alone and about 8.2 billion for infrastructure.

Without changing funding, experts consulted by EL TIEMPO maintain that it is impossible to improve quality, increase coverage, infrastructure and, ultimately, improve all the indicators of the sector.

In view of this, the ideas related to financing on the table include: review the distribution of resources of public HEIs, pay what has been called the “historical debt”, oblige all territorial entities (certified departments and municipalities) to provide resources for higher education, increase the budget base, change the calculation of the annual increase and tax it on the ICES and not on the CPI, review salary points for academic productivity (the current system of payment to professors), guarantee money for subsidies and scholarships, and comprehensively reform Icetex.

In this regard, educational analyst Raúl Esteban Perdomo said: “All these points are very necessary, but at the same time they focus a lot on public education, which of course should be the State’s priority, but the system is mixed and may generate friction with private institutions, which may be made invisible, which has already been shown to be a serious obstacle, as occurred with the collapse of the statutory institution. In addition, any reform to Icetex may generate fear regarding the future of this entity that today finances a significant number of students from private HEIs.”

Governability, another hot potato

The way in which Leopoldo Múnera was elected rector of the National University raises doubts regarding the changes that the Government will propose in terms of university governance.

Photo:Nestor Gomez. THE TIME

If the crisis in the National University for the election of rector, is that university governance and autonomy continue to be issues of great division and, according to expert Ricardo Rodríguez, “a hot potato for a government whose actions in that episode caused much fear in some sectors.”

Hence, the issue of governance in the reform is of special attention. And even more so if one takes into account that among the proposals that the Ministry of Education has put together is, for example, modifying the composition of the higher councils, with greater representation of students and teachers.

Also included “establish more efficient and democratic monitoring and control mechanisms.” It is worth remembering that the changes to democratic mechanisms in universities were partly responsible for the opposition and the government breaking their agreement to pass the statutory education law.

“There is a constant demand from the student movement for the election of rectors to be democratic and direct, that is, practically by popular vote. This is seen by them as a way of exercising university autonomy, but for others it can directly open the door to political participation in universities,” Rodríguez recalls.

Other points of the reform of higher education

As regards quality, it has been proposed at the table to stop prioritising professional, technological and university techniques; consider higher normal schools as higher education institutions (schools that teach a few extra years of classes to train their students in pedagogy), and focus research efforts on responding to the needs and visions of the territories and different communities.

However, academics consulted maintain, Topics such as technological transformation, changes in the accreditation system or adaptations to the needs of the national and international labour market in order to improve the country’s productivity are missing.

In terms of university well-being, the proposals seek, among other things, to address the mental health of students, to “depatriarchalize” academic content, and to address the consumption of psychoactive substances from a public health policy perspective.

Finally, with regard to the dignification of teaching work, it is proposed to review Decree 1279 of 2022, which establishes the salary regime for professors at public universities. In this way, the aim is to expand and create incentives and stimuli that go beyond just academic production.

MATEO CHACON ORDUZ

Education Journalist

 
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