Faced to dramatic circumstances of young Colombians and their families due to the pandemic aftermath that has severely hampered the informal economy and jobs of the low-income population segments, students have no way to pay their tuition fees in Higher Education Institutions (HEI), and are at a cross-road by spending the few resources they get in the day-by-day sub-employment for their survival or meeting the money obligation of their studies. In 2020 in this background zero-enrollment emerged as a result of claim of the Colombian student body for higher education.
Since April last year, student demonstrations emerged in several areas of the country requesting a bailout to the national government related to the infusion of additional resources to meet the payment of tuitions; these voices were joined to communications by SUE and ASCUN leaders who also asked for support from the national government. As a result of all this nationwide outcry, the government made available COP$97,500 million during 2020 from Solidarity Fund for Education for all HEIs, and COP$98,800 million available for 2021 of these funds themselves until this date.
Another problem to take into account with implementation of zero-tuition is resource management that would not be transferred directly to universities as first announcements of the national Government said, since the institutions really will receive these resources through ICETEX and that demands some new administrative procedures, that is, they involve staff resources that universities provide without any other additional resource for this purpose. Despite all these implications, we are committed in such a way that students and their families may have these important resources in pandemic times, which has revealed more clearly the huge social inequalities we live in.
In this regard, it is important to specify that free-education issue for higher education is a concept, which differs from zero-enrollment because it represents a historical claim of several social sectors that particularly in Latin America have suggested to guarantee education as a fundamental right of all citizens, so the state enables universal access to higher education at no cost. This concept of free education involves that operational costs of students, which require hiring professors, university welfare, and everything related to academic quality, should be clearly financed by the state.
How long will we have to wait for our country to assume a sharp-and-forceful policy placing the right to education in first order beyond the instrumentalization of this public good as a service?
* Rector of the Universidad Pedagógica Nacional