The closure of public universities during a nationwide strike against government reforms to Colombia’s higher education system is costing the country $5.6 million a day, Education Minister Maria Fernanda Campo said on Thursday. More than 550,000 public university students, led by Colombia’s National Student Round Table (MANE), have joined the protests against the reforms proposed in Ley 30. While President Juan Manuel Santos said the law will provide needed funding and improve quality and access by introducing a for-profit scheme to the system, students fear that the reforms will undermine the autonomy of universities and raise the cost of education.
The protests are paralyzing university activities, shutting down major roads and requiring increasing police involvement, all of which are draining public resources that are “provided [to] all Colombians to finance the education of young people,” according to Campo. Given the minister’s estimate, the protests may have already cost the country $80 million in losses. On Thursday she urged protestors to dialogue with the government.
But the prospects of a short-term compromise between both parties seemed dim after Minister Campo said on Wednesday that there is no chance of revoking Ley 30. In response, Mane spokesperson Sergio Fernandez said, “We will not meet with the government until they meet three conditions: Revoke the project, provide guarantees that they will construct an alternative and provide guarantees for the exercising of democratic freedoms.” Mane and other Colombian university student organizations are receiving support from their Chilean counterparts, where protests demanding educational reforms have continued since last May.