(A nosotros nos llega esta noticia, dado que desde el principio hemos estado apoyando el movimiento ¡muy bien estudiantes!)
Jonathan Franklin in Santiago, guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 19 December 2012 13.06 GMT
- Justice minister Teodoro Ribera quits over private universities row that has sparked dozens of student protests.
The resignation of Teodoro Ribera on Monday was the latest in an unfolding saga that has prompted massive street demonstrations, criminal investigations and the jailing of a dean suspected of money laundering and a former government official accused of selling university accreditations.
Students have marched dozens of times and protested since March 2011, taking to the streets in actions that often end in running battles with riot police. The students are demanding an end to what they describe as “diploma mills” which pump out thousands of students every year, many of whom receive substandard education.
They accuse private universities of operating for-profit scams that cheat students and taxpayers. Coming amid a highly charged ideological debate about the future of Chilean education, these claims were initially treated with scepticism, but the unfolding corruption revelations have proved many of the allegations to be true.
Ribera had to resign when it was revealed that he had close ties to a private university and a former official at the heart of the controversy, Luis Eugenio Díaz. Ribera is also under investigation for ties between a private university and a construction company.
Díaz – who was previously in charge of accrediting private universities – is now imprisoned and suspected of bribery and coercion. A series of emails from Díaz uncovered by Chilean police outlined how he proposed to charge hundreds of thousands of dollars for accreditation approval.
Once a Chilean university has been accredited, the institution becomes eligible for millions of dollars in government funding.
Several universities were also discovered to have structured deals with property developers who would build the educational institutions then rent them back to the university. The monthly rent – often paid to members of the same university management team – was used to strip money from the institution.
These and other cases have been exposed by the government investigation and reporting by CiperChile, a journalism collective, which has uncovered and published evidence of corruption and money laundering within the Chilean educational system.
To head off criticism that the authorities have been slow or unwilling to crack down, the Chilean education minister, Harald Beyer, in late October recommended that Universidad del Mar be stripped of its government accreditation based on rankings of educational quality that put the university dead last. Testing of Universidad del Mar students also found widespread deficiencies in knowledge of basic curricula material. The recommendation by Beyer is likely to lead to a shutdown and the transfer of the university’s estimated 18,000 students. Hector Zuniga, the former dean of Universidad del Mar, was arrested and imprisoned and is under investigation for bribery and money laundering.
Student leaders accuse the government of a piecemeal response and an unwillingness to discuss the broader issues of whether market-orientated companies should be in charge of educating the next generation of Chilean students.
“The government and the [education] ministry act like they are facing the shutdown of a company,” said Diego Vela, president of the powerful Catholic University student federation. “Education is not a business. This is about families, frustrated projects, economic struggles and waste of human talent. We are talking about 18,000 Chileans [students at Universidad del Mar] who had their rights violated and were handed over to the fluctuations of the market in total uncertainty about their future. All so that a few gentlemen can have their BMWs.”
Patricio Basso, the former executive secretary of the accreditation committee who was forced out when he publicly denounced the misuse of student tuition fees, concurred with the student leaders. “There is collusion between the [accreditation] commission, the government and the owners of the private universities who all want to silence those who denounce the irregularities,” he said.
Further revelations by Basso led the Chilean government to announce on Tuesday an investigation into possible violations of regulations by two more universities including UNIACC University, owned by Apollo Global, which according to the company website is “a $1bn joint venture formed in 2007, 80.1% owned by Apollo Group Inc and 19.9% owned by a private equity firm, the Carlyle Group”.