Students across Colombia have been protesting against the government’s decision to defund public universities and technical colleges, with several institutes also joining hands with the students to voice concern over the plans.

The students have initiated Paro Nacional de Estudiantes (national student strike), as a response to the cumulative effect of the local and national policies that aim at cutting down the education funds, earlier this month. Forty-five public institutes have joined hands with 33 universities and 12 higher education institutes to become part of the strike to highlight the threats faced by the public education sector in Colombia.

Students marched across the street of Bogotá and succeeded to garner the attention of several other unions in the city, including the public school teachers’ union and La Federación Colombia de Trabajadores de la Educación (Fecode) who later announced their support and participation in the strike.

Attendees of the rally have set ten demands for the government, declaring an indefinite strike until further negotiations proceeded with authorities. Demands of the strike include a budgetary increase of 4.5 billion Colombian pesos for the higher education institutes, abrupt termination of the increase within the values of enrolments at the institutes, to draft a plan and settle the historic debt between public universities and the state, maintenance of the National Apprenticeship Service, resettlement of student debts with the Icetax, to terminate the mandate of institutions for performing accreditations, mobilise public and private educational institutes, to revoke Income Contingent Financing law 1911, and to revoke the laws of 1740 and 1280 to provide more autonomy to institutes.

Attendees of the rally blamed neoliberal agendas for the defunding movement and highlighted how these budget-cuts would freeze a number of public universities and colleges in the country.

“Public universities are the lone way-out for students belonging to the working-class, allowing them to pursue quality education. Private universities are out of reach for these students which highlights how privatization has affected the acquisition of basic human rights,” a student at the strike commented.

Back in 1992, Colombian public universities received 100 percent funding, which has now been reduced to 50 percent. This has led to a colossal budgetary strain on certain public institutions, with some universities on the brink of bankruptcy.

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