The Business Confederation of the Mexican Republic (Coparmex) has proposed introducing means-based fees at the country's most prestigious public universities to tackle what they say is a "blind" free-of-charge system that threatens the insitutions' financial viability.
The president of Coparmex, Gustavo de Hoyos Walther, said: "It's necessary to analyze, with seriousness and without taboos, the possibility to establish partial recovery fees in the public universities, appliable to people who can contribute with the education services' costs."
De Hoyos said "a staunchly free-of-charge blind system" could affect the financial stability of public universities and prevent opportunities for social mobility, even though many of the registered students come from wealthy families and could afford to pay fees.
Coparmex is on good terms with President-Elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and his team, and both have agreed to work together on corruption and education issues. They also want to "improve" existing universities and open 100 more, as the future president proposed.
According to the confederation, at least 10 public universities face financial insolvency, and others are in critical condition.
The confederation and the future government will promove a new education system and corresponding law to establish "clear monetary contributions" that would benefit the various levels of government. It also proposed scholarship agreements with private universities to provide an affordable alternative to public education.
De Hoyos said the results of the proposed reform could be visible in substantially less time than it would take to open 100 new universities, plus the parallel scholarship system could be sufficiently effective to prevent low-income students from being affected.
In Mexico, only 17 percent of people between the ages of 25 and 64 had been able to access higher education prior to 2016.
1999: UNAM Student Strike
This is not be the first time such proposals have been floated, although all previous attempts have failed.
Between 1999 and 2000, a student movement organized to reject the new payments law in the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), the country's most prestigious academic institution. The aim of the new law was to modify the articles on inscription, services and semestral payments, making them mandatory.
The students gathered in assembly and called for a general strike to prevent the law from being implemented, with the support of several social organizations and staff in advocating for free education.
By April 20, 1999, the students had blocked classrooms and the university fell into inactivity. The movement called itself the guarantor of "one of the most import conquests of the revolutionary struggles of 1910 and the student movements of 1929, 1966, 1968, 1987 and 1992," all of which defended free education.
At that time, Coparmex opposed the "dogmatic" position of the students' movement, which it said only wanted "free entrance, no exams and maybe no titles at some point."
Alberto Fernandez Garza, Coparmex's president in 1999, said at the time: "It's necessary to prevent it from being free of charge, because that could lead to the loss of value of what's being taught."
The strike lasted nine months until university authorities allowed federal police onto the premises in order to restart classes.
Most of the reforms passed, but access to the university continued to be free of charge.