Higher Education

Chile Table of Contents

Chilean universities are widely recognized as being among the best in Latin America. Before the education reforms of 1980, Chile had eight universities, two run by the state universities and six private ones, although all received most of their funding from the state. The state universities consisted of the University of Chile (Universidad de Chile), founded in Santiago in 1842 as the successor to the University of San Felipe (Universidad de San Felipe), founded in 1758; and the State Technical University (Universidad Técnica del Estado), founded in Santiago in 1947. The private universities consisted of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile (Pontífica Universidad Católica de Chile), founded in 1888; the University of Concepción (Universidad de Concepción), founded in 1919; the Catholic University of Valparaíso (Universidad Católica de Valparaíso), founded in 1928; the Federico Santa María Technical University (Universidad Técnica Federico Santa María), founded in Valparaíso in 1931; the Southern University of Chile (Universidad Austral de Chile), founded in Valdivia in 1955; and the University of the North (Universidad del Norte) in Antofagasta, founded in 1956. The nation's largest and most important university, the University of Chile has the authority to oversee the quality of professional training programs in important fields, such as medicine, in the other universities. The University of Chile, the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, the Federico Santa María Technical University, and, to a lesser extent, the University of Concepción all developed campuses in other cities during the expansion of university enrollments in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

As noted previously, Chilean universities did not charge tuition, aside from minimal matriculation fees that were, following changes introduced in the mid- to late 1960s, higher for students of more affluent parents. In effect, the state used general tax revenues to subsidize a higher-education system whose students were drawn disproportionately from the middle and upper classes. The regressive impact of this policy on the nation's distribution of wealth had been noted repeatedly by economists and sociologists since at least the 1950s.

The military government took a highly critical view of the nation's university system. Persuaded by the notion that state funding for lower education is more efficient in terms of generating the necessary human capital for economic development, the military decided to give priority in resource allocation to preprimary, primary, and secondary schools. In addition to politically motivated purges of faculty members and students, among the first changes the military authorities made at the highereducation level was to charge students substantially higher enrollment fees. Low-income students were supposed to continue to have access to higher education through an expanded system of student loans with generous repayment terms. Yet, as noted earlier, the expansion of higher-education enrollments that had begun in the 1960s ceased after these new policies were put into place.

With the 1980 education reforms, the military government split the two state universities apart, creating separate universities out of what had been their regional provincial campuses. In addition, taking a dim view of increases in the numbers of training programs and degree programs at these universities since the 1960s, the regime limited the degrees that could be obtained in the staterun universities to twelve of the most traditional fields, such as law, medicine, and engineering. Degrees in other areas henceforth had to be obtained from professional institutes; those sections of the state universities consequently were detached, with some attrition, and transformed into freestanding entities. The large School of Pedagogy of the University of Chile, for example, became the Pedagogical Institute.

The Pinochet government also fostered the formation of new private universities and professional institutes, allowing them to set tuition at whatever level they wished and promising to give them direct per-student subsidies, as well as funds for loans to low-income students, on an equal footing with older institutions. The education authorities hoped to stimulate competition among the universities and institutes for the best students by granting the per-student subsidies on the basis of schools' ability to attract the students with the highest scores in a national aptitude test required of all first-year applicants. This competition was thought to be an expeditious way to encourage efforts to increase the quality of higher education. Subsequently, the state subsidies did not become nearly as important as was expected because funding for universities and for student loans declined beginning with the economic crisis of 1982-83. The lower funding levels led to decreases in salaries for faculty and other personnel across the country.

As a result of the policies of breaking up the state universities and stimulating the formation of private institutions, the number of universities increased to forty-one by 1989. Only half of these received state funding that year. In addition, by 1989 there were fifty-six professional training institutes, only two of which received state funding that year. There was also a large increase in the numbers of centers for technical training. In 1989 there were 150 such centers, none of which received state support. Relying entirely on tuition payments, these centers had responded to a demand for postsecondary education that the universities and professional institutes, despite their increased number, had been unable to meet. However, the quality of the training these centers provided was questionable. Most of them had two-year training programs with few facilities other than classrooms.

The changes introduced by the military government increased the number and variety of higher education institutions, but the reforms also led to much greater disparities among them, as well as to a likely decline in the overall quality of the nation's higher education system. There was an increase in part-time faculty teaching, a decline in full-time faculty salaries, and a much greater dispersion of resources needed by important facilities, such as laboratories and libraries. These changes also led to the creation of a considerable number of research institutes with no student training programs that were dependent on grants or research contracts from international or national sources for their funding. These institutes developed most prominently in the social sciences and became an important alternative source of employment for specialists who had been or would have been engaged by universities. Consequently, in contrast to the period before 1973, most of the innovative thinking and writing in these areas was no longer being done at universities, and new generations of students were having less contact with the best specialists in these fields.

The Aylwin government did not introduce fundamental changes in the higher education system handed down to it by the military regime. It continued to fund higher education in part by allocating per-student subsidies to institutions able to attract students who scored highest on the multiple-choice examination modeled on the Scholastic Aptitude Test used in the United States. However, the Alywin government was critical of what it considered an excessive disaggregation and dispersion of higher education institutions. Consequently, it concentrated more of its direct subsidies on the traditional universities and their offshoots and attempted to enhance their quality by making more funds available for basic and applied research. The government also increased funding for lowincome student loans and scholarships, for studies at any institution.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress