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Burning down the debts: protesting the high cost of education in Chile
May 21, 2014 9:04 PM   Subscribe

Francisco Tapia, aka "Papas Fritas" (French Fries), is an artist and activist whose recent work has drawn international attention. It might not look like much, but it is US$500 million of ashes, the burnt remains of "debt papers" for student of the now defunct Universidad Del Mar, a private institution in Chile that was stripped of its legal standing in 2012. While this might sound like a singular bold move to make people pay attention to the cost of education in Chile, it's just one of many acts in support of efforts to reclaim a very expensive private education options in Chile, with student protests going back to 2006. Chile's president Michelle Bachelet proposed a reform bill on Monday, May 19th, but it doesn't go as far as some protesters would like.
posted by filthy light thief (8 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Here's more on the activism/art of Papas Fritas (Spanish; Google auto-translate).
posted by filthy light thief at 9:17 PM on May 21


Considering the debate going on over deregulating higher education in Australia, this is both fascinating and chilling. Very interesting post, thank you!
posted by arha at 1:36 AM on May 22


The PISA results for Chile show it's not much better or worse than other South/Central American countries in terms of education outcomes at secondary school. Googling suggests it spends roughly comparable amounts on primary education. So this is about university education, which is generally the well-off middle classes.

The middle classes are very keen on subsidised or free university education for their children, and dress up their desires in the form of concern for education generally, but if you want a happy, successful country then primary and secondary education is more important - and cheaper. Which appears to be approach Chile has taken.

As the middle-class grows, I would expect this to be increasingly unsustainable politically, and the government to spend more on subsidising middle-class kids on their jolly multi-year dating and drinking break before they become real adults. I would hope they don't fund this by taking the money out of the primary and secondary budgets where it's most useful.
posted by alasdair at 1:38 AM on May 22 [1 favorite]


alasdair, I don't even know how to start a conversation if you think the only purpose of subsidised higher education is to give upper middle class kids a place to screw around and drink. My parents, for example, were both lower middle/working class kids who only got a chance to go to medical school through the (then) fairly generous provisions of the Australian university system. I would like to think that the value they have given back over the combined 80+ years of their careers, largely in public health, more than makes up for the cost to society of educating them.

The Boston Review's article, should you choose to fr it, suggests that the primary and secondary education markets in Chile are also heavily privatised, and that mostly the students making it into higher education are already coming from the private system. So in this case it suggests that privatising the universities did nothing to direct funds back into earlier education.

to quote:

Not surprisingly, the students attending public school fared worse than their peers. Their scores on standardized tests went down, but so did the quality of instruction across the board. Chile has the most expensive education in the world, yet the World Economic Forum (WEF) ranked primary education there 119th out of 144 countries. The higher education system ranks 91st and math and science education rank 117th

Or is that the system working as intended?
posted by arha at 3:02 AM on May 22 [1 favorite]


Chile has the most expensive education in the world, yet the World Economic Forum (WEF) ranked primary education there 119th out of 144 countries.

Hey, combine their education system with the US's healthcare system and you could have The Shittiest Place on Earth.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 4:27 AM on May 22


Look, there was an interesting post about Chile's "free market style" of schools, so I looked up various statistics: Chile doesn't do significantly worse or better than its peers at primary and secondary level, and doesn't spend significantly more or less than most of them - Cuba being a remarkable exception (spends a lot, good for them).

So whatever the financing mechanism of Chile's primary and secondary system, it doesn't matter in terms of outcome. Both the "yay school voucher!" brigade and the "boo capitalism!" lobby get nothing. It's an irrelevance.

In common with most school systems, however, the best-performing students are also generally the richer ones. This means, as the Boston Review article points out, that most university students are the product of the private school system.

So if you put state money into the university system you are basically transferring scarce resources to rich people.

Sure, there was a 20th century point when vast chunks of the working class become middle-class, and generally university was part of that story - although changes in the economy to do with mechanisation and the growth of the state were the real drivers.

But university is no longer a driver of social mobility in developed economies - especially if you make it so easy to afford for the people who can pay for the private schools to get the exam results to get in in the first place. Then they can meet other people of the opposite sex and same social class - and the meritocracy is further entrenched.

This is middle-class lobbying for middle-class subsidies. Good for them: I'm middle class, and I'd love to have free university education for my kids. More foreign holidays for me!
posted by alasdair at 4:59 AM on May 22


That's interesting, alasdair. Do you care to post where you found your statistics?
posted by arha at 5:04 AM on May 22


In common with most school systems, however, the best-performing students are also generally the richer ones. This means, as the Boston Review article points out, that most university students are the product of the private school system.

Because most of the schools are private, and Chile has an extensive, much-discussed voucher system for elementary and secondary schools.

A couple things here: it all depends on 1) the size and capabilities of the lower grade public school system, compared to those of private schools, and 2) the capacity of public universities. In the case of Chile, the only ones who can afford private universities are wealthy, or their families and the students are taking on significant loans and debt, hindering their progress up the social ladder towards upper class status, and lower class student's can't even hope of getting ahead via college.

The Wikipedia page covering the 2011–13 Chilean student protests paints a pretty clear picture that this is a student-lead issue, not middle-class families trying to get more freebies.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:25 AM on May 22 [1 favorite]


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