Chilean students closer to free education

Chile’s president Michelle Bachelet has proposed plans to provide free tertiary education to 1.2 million students

Chile’s president Michelle Bachelet has reaffirmed her election promise of 2013 to introduce free tertiary education in Chile – one of the demands of the country’s powerful student movement.

Under a new proposed law, the most vulnerable 70% of Chilean students, or 840,000 students, will receive free education within four years. Under the plan, all 1.2 million students will be granted free tertiary education within six years.

Chilean students pay some of the highest education fees in the world and pay more than 75% of the costs of their higher education, which is the highest student contribution of any OECD country.

Although government scholarships and loans are available, many students have been forced to take out bank loans to cover their fees and have accumulated large debts.

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Bachelet’s education election commitments also include removing private profit from all government-supported education institutions, providing free pre-school for all children, and the ‘demunicipalisation’ of public schools, returning them to central government responsibility.

However, it is not yet clear whether the proposed law will grant free education through scholarships or through direct government funding of institutions, as proposed by students.

There are also questions regarding which students will benefit first, what will happen with existing debts and how students at private institutions that have been shut down will be supported.

Bachelet intends to fund these education reforms, as well as other promised social programmes and a structural deficit, by raising tax revenue by 3% of GDP (almost $10 billion).

Bachelet has recently begun her second term as president, having served as president from 2006-2010.

First published by Green Left Weekly

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