Date: Sat, 27 Mar 1999 14:34:14 -0600 (CST)
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Rich Winkel)
Subject: EDUCATION-LATAM: Public Universities Serve the Rich
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Public Universities Serve the Rich
By Nefer Munoz, IPS, 23 March 1999
SAN JOSE, Mar 23 (IPS) - Far from helping the poor, the public universities of Latin America have in fact been subsidising the rich for years, claims US economist Darrel Lewis.
Lewis, who has spent recent years studying the economic system of public sector higher education and possible new funding options for developing countries, told IPS "lower class access to the universities has not been improved by reducing or eliminating student fees."
Professor at Minnesota, Lewis also works as advisor to the universities of Mexico, Chile, the former Soviet Union, Hungary, Malaysia, Israel and Turkey.
In order to survive, the public universities of Latin America must reconsider their role in society, increase productivity and seek alternate sources of funding, he said.
"In the last 20 and 30 years the improvement in secondary education has caused a greater demand for higher education, but the governments have not provided sufficient funding for this growth," he argued.
According to this economist, the consequence is that the cost per student has increased in the developing countries by an average of 50 percent.
"That is why they need to establish cost recovery mechanisms," he said, stressing that one effective way of reaching this end is to increase student fees and charge for the use of student services - like laboratories.
According to him, the greatest costs for students arise not from payment of fees nor the use of facilities, but transport, the purchase of materials, accommodation and food.
"The least benefitted then are students living in rural areas as their costs are far higher when they move to the city. Hence equality has not been achieved by charging no fees," he said.
His recommendations include the establishment of a stronger system of student grants and loans.
"Results from countries where measures have been adopted in this direction show the universities become more effective and equitative," he stressed.
Lewis considers most of the Latin American public universities are lagging behind in the globalisation process, in many cases because inefficiency is rewarded and efficiency punished.
"Universities need to become more productive and must do more research," he said, listing several proposals on this score.
Firstly the research carried out within the universities could be commercialised.
Then, departments which receive donations from former students, companies and institutions could be created, and, thirdly, universities could sell off some of the lands they own and which they will never use.
Many academics from within the region also consider higher public education must generate its own resources and sell services in order to diversify programmes and round out their income.
"But these activities must be seen as a complement and never a substitute to state funding," Gabriel Macaya, rector of the University of Costa Rica told IPS.
For Lewis, if the universities of the region do not want to be left behind by the globalised world they must "internationalise through technologies like the Internet."
"Latin America's main problem has been isolation, that is why in Central America we have decided to work on regional cooperation, in networks," explained Macaya.
Lewis added that within the universities differentiated salaries must be paid to professors, depending on their performance and research.
He also considered it imperative for the universities to have flexible management of their economic resources, being able to reassign them internally between the various schools and departments.
One of the points he most insisted on was that the universities must present accounts of their operations.
Hence, he proposed the creation of accreditation systems in the Latin American countries, giving greater credits to universities which fulfil the standards of quality. (END/IPS/tra-
[c] 1999, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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