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News > Latin America

Youth March Against Student Debt in Chile

  • Demonstrators march against student debt and for public education in Santiago, Chile, Sept. 4, 2016.

    Demonstrators march against student debt and for public education in Santiago, Chile, Sept. 4, 2016. | Photo: Twitter / @DeudoresEduc

Published 4 September 2016

Students in Chile report being trapped by debt payments for upwards of 20 years after finishing university, according to stories compiled by Confech.

Hoisting aloft placards with slogans like “I'm a prisoner of the system,” students poured into the streets of Chile’s capital city, Santiago, Sunday to demand the government address rising student debt in the latest wave of protests against privatized rising tuition costs and rising student debt.

Students in Chile Protest New Education Reform

Under the banner “indebted for studying,” Chile’s National Confederation of University Students, Confech, called the march to raise awareness about rising educational costs and call on the government to overhaul the education funding system by canceling the private loan scheme underwritten by the state.

“Today nearly one million families are affected by different kinds of university credit and their hopes and dreams are mortgaged sometimes for 25 years,” said Confech in a statement calling for participation in the marches, which kicked off at 10:30 am local time Sunday in central Santiago.

Protesters at the march carried signs showing the amount of debt they had accumulated from taking out loans to pay educational costs.

The demonstration urged the government to end the Credit With State Guarantee system, known as CAE, which is loan program for socio-economically disadvantaged students offered through private banks with the government acting as guarantee. The march called more broadly for an end to educational debt and for-profit higher learning in Chile, a longstanding demand on the student movement’s agenda.

Student leaders have said that they are waiting for news related to government discussion of education reforms and are expecting to call more mobilizations soon.

“We hope we can fine- tune the counter-proposal that is being created together with workers,” said Confech President Patricio Medina, according to Chile’s Radio Cooperativa, explaining that the students’ federation is working on concrete proposals for reforms with the national university labor organization.

Chile Gov't Under Fire for Failing to Provide Free Education

Sunday’s march comes after students stormed the office of the rector Eduardo Silva at the University Alberto Hurtado in downtown Santiago to protest the expulsion of three students and suspension of 22 for an occupation of campus administration buildings earlier this year. Confech leader Gustavo Orellana argued that the sanctions against the 25 students is “part of the historic criminalization against the student movement of Alberto Hurtado,” Radio Cooperativa reported.

Authorities have accused the student movement of fomenting violence.

Past protests, which numbered in the tens of thousands at the peak of the movement in recent years, have sometimes ended in violence amid clashes between demonstrators and riot police. Local media have garnered criticism over sparse coverage of the marches.

Massive student protests erupted in 2011, eventually pushing President Michelle Bachelet to sign off on a plan for free university education in 2015. The decision marked a historic step in remedying the destruction of Chile’s public education in 1981 under former military dictator Augusto Pinochet.

But minimal progress toward big promises that social movements fought hard to win has prompted more protests as the student movement accuses the government of failing to address the underlying problems plaguing public education and instead upholding a system that deepens student debt.

The student debt crisis has been a key issue as youth take to the streets to demand increased government funding and broadened access to free university.

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