Chile's Congress has approved free higher education in the South American country after over a decade of social struggle demanding the concession.
Higher education was free in Chile until 1981, when Augusto Pinochet's military dictatorship paved the way for the emergence of new private universities with no constraints on tuition fees. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Chile has the fourth most-expensive university system in the world.
The Higher Education Law establishes free education for a majority of the country's population, especially those who are economically marginalized. After being debated for four years, it received 102 "yes" votes and only two abstentions. The bill must now go through the Constitutional Court before it can be signed into law by Chilean President Michelle Bachelet.
Bachelet celebrated the decision via Twitter: “By making progress on free higher education, we want to build a more equitable country with equal opportunities for all. With Congress’ approval, we enshrine in law a social right that should’ve never been in the market’s hands!”
The Ministry of Education praised the "end of profit and higher quality through mandatory accreditation." The law typifies profit from higher education as a crime, effectively prohibiting it.
“We are talking of decades fighting for a coherent regulatory framework and to stop this free market and profit in the private world,” Communist Party legislator and long-term advocate for access to free public higher education, Camila Vallejo, said about the law.
She joined celebrations via Twitter: "Higher Education Law approved!! We secure gratuity by law, greater oversight, an effective end to profit and mandatory accreditation!! #ValeLaPenaLuchar (it's worth fighting)"
Vallejo was one of the activists who led the 2011 massive demonstrations in Chile demanding education reform and free university access.
A second law to strengthen state universities was also approved yesterday, doubling the budget assigned for public universities. The law also mandates universities in Indigenous territories to incorporate and promote Indigenous cosmovision.