Higher education in Argentina

Centenary Monument of the University Reform (Córdoba/Argentina) / Source UNC
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By CAMILA BOLINI, MARIA LUÍSA NÓBREGA & AFRANIO CATANI*

We can talk about a project for Latin American universities that had its origins in Argentina and that today guides the legal meaning of university autonomy

1.

Higher education in Argentina dates back more than four centuries, with the creation of its first institution, the University of Córdoba, in 1613. The emergence and development of national university education has a rich and pioneering history, which differentiates it from other countries in Latin America.

More than a century ago, organized students occupied the University of Córdoba, demanding that the institution resume operations, as it was closed and without a rector. This social and political movement gave rise to the Córdoba Manifesto, which in the course of its manifestations demanded university autonomy before the State and the Church, internal academic management, with democratic processes for occupying the functions of the rectory and teaching (chairs) , as well as defending the modernization of curricula in accordance with the state of the art of literary, philosophical, scientific and artistic knowledge in the world.

The State's initial responses to student demands were not the most promising, and many of these students ended up being accused of prevarication and sacrilege, given that higher education at the time had strongly clerical characteristics. Thus, his proposals were rejected by conservative forces.

Among the agendas that circulated in the Manifesto there was an ideal of reform that would act in the formulation of a participatory university management and that would seek an education linked to science, as until that moment clerical and Jesuit-based education dictated the norms of knowledge linked to professional training. of students, which is often dogmatic. An example of this model is that students were prohibited from studying Darwin's evolutionary theory, as it represented sacrilege in relation to the teachings of creationism present in religious education.

The reform agenda mobilized young people to think about the model of management, science and also student rights through demands for policies committed to social reality, with university extension to the community, for social assistance to low-income students, immigrants and indigenous peoples and for the defense of freedom of expression for students and the chair as an institution.

Only in 1918, after new demonstrations and the change of rector, were some agendas implemented through a reform that became known internationally as the University Reform of Córdoba. The main changes consisted of the reorganization of university management, which began to be shared between professors and students in an attempt at participatory and democratic government.

The Manifesto and the University Reform of Córdoba were pioneering movements both in Latin America and in the international context, thinking that only in the sixties of the last century would the university student movements explode in France, in the well-known May of 68. In the Brazilian context, Only in 1920 would we have the creation of the first national university, the University of Rio de Janeiro.

However, the ideals guided by the manifesto and by the university student movement in Córdoba crossed the limits of Argentina itself and gave rise to a Latin American social and political movement with a university model connected to the demands of the regional reality and the people.

Among the extraborder contributions are the political conceptions of participatory management, a situation in which public higher education institutions respond to a tripartite form of decisions taken by teachers, students and employees, in addition to the formation of international confederations of students, who become interested , debate and politically demand educational reforms in their countries. Also noteworthy is the contribution of teachers and staff, as well as student movements guided by working, studying and social assistance conditions.

We can talk about a project of Latin American universities that had its origins in Argentina and that today guides the legal meaning of university autonomy through the relationship between teaching, research and extension in the transmission of knowledge (ABOITES, 2006).

From the Reform to the present day, higher education in the country has experienced a path of struggles, resistance and achievements according to the historical and political context. Argentina experienced six coups d'état throughout the 1930th century: in 1943, 1955, 1962, 1966, 1976 and XNUMX. The first four established provisional dictatorships while the last two created permanent dictatorships, according to the bureaucratic-authoritarian state model. , and such events evidently affected the development of higher education policies.

2.

At the beginning of the 2009th century, with accelerated urbanization and the already mentioned movements involving the University Reform, Argentina experienced a period marked by strong political tensions but, at the same time, a first democratic experiment and the rise of new social sectors. At this historical moment, the university began its journey as an institution of political expression independent of the State, in which intellectuals could express themselves politically, without necessarily being linked to political parties and associations (Suasnábar, XNUMX).

In the 1940s, during the Peronist government, the university consolidated dialogue with the community, being an institution that thinks about the reality of its population in an attempt to respond to demands related to modernization, internal social and economic development and educational planning. of the entire population.

In this sense, the university becomes recognized as a trainer of human resources for society and a producer of scientific knowledge, with an interest in education linked to research and the professional training of university teachers appearing more strongly. (SUASNÁBAR, 2009).

The 1960s and 1970s were marked by tensions and political radicalization that accompanied the international movement, with strong repercussions on domestic politics. The military coup of 1966 constituted a rupture in the project designed until the second third of the century, and during this period the university space, which was previously designed for the country's development, became a domain of resistance to anti-democratic stances, engaging in the fight for the country’s democratic freedom (SUASNÁBAR, 2009).

During this period, the conception of knowledge production linked to political engagement and the image of intellectuals as professional enemies of the current autocratic order emerged. The university, then, becomes an important social actor in social disputes, a trend that occurs not only in Argentina, but also in other countries that have experienced civil-military dictatorships. Also at that time, several intellectuals were exiled from their countries by Latin American dictatorships, this movement being responsible for opening theoretical debates on politically engaged science, with democratic demands and counting on international collaboration (MOLLIS, 2012).

The return to democracy in Argentina marks the beginning of a period of reconstruction of university spaces, marking a political attempt to return to the ideals of the 1918 University Reform.

At the beginning of the 1990s, with the neoliberal reforms that devastated Argentina and the world, the relationship between State and society changed once again, also changing the organization of universities. (SUASNÁBAR, 2009). There was a loss of the centrality of the State in decision-making in public policies and in the articulation of relations with the market, with the emptying of debate and the construction of scientific-political knowledge, which is more linked to the training of professionals for the market of work that can correspond to the current neoliberal logic itself. Thus, the university is introduced to the paradigms of competitiveness, evaluation and financing focused on the market and neoliberal values, a reality that resonates to this day.

In current Argentine universities there is coexistence of new and old ideals: if on the one hand the attempt to commodify knowledge and the training of professionals generates the emptying of the figure of intellectuals, on the other hand there is a fight for an autonomous, free and academic university space, aimed at to investigation, knowledge and transmission of the state of scientific art of its historical time. While the defense of a pragmatic science oriented towards maintaining the status quo, a science is also practiced ethically oriented towards the fair, democratic and egalitarian development of society – see, in this regard, AZEVEDO: CATANI, 2011; CATANI: HEY, 2007.

This is based on the educational legislation for higher education in the country, represented by three main laws: National Education Law (Law nº 26.206), the Higher Education Law (Law nº 24.521) and the Professional Technical Education Law (Law nº 26.058).

In the first, education is established and conceptualized as a right guaranteed by the State, based on equality, free and equitable access. In line with this, the Higher Education Law provides for universal access to Argentine higher education, as long as the student meets minimum requirements, such as completing secondary education and being under 25 years old - After this age, the student must demonstrate knowledge or work experience consistent with the chosen course.

Na Higher Education Law the responsibility of the State to finance, supervise and inspect public national universities is also established. This means that it is up to the Argentine State to provide resources for the functioning of universities, but, equally, to provide conditions for students to remain in their studies, with necessary scholarships and aid.

Meanwhile, Professional Technical Education Law sets the parameters for technical education, focused on technical-scientific knowledge and the application of knowledge to the job market. The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology is responsible for providing financial assistance for additional training costs, such as food and transportation, to those in situations of greater social vulnerability. In addition to financial support, pedagogical assistance is also provided with the aim of leveling students' knowledge, such as tutoring and extra-class support, as well as the integration of women into technical-professional areas.

Despite having educational legislation based on the principles of equality, free and fair access, Argentine higher education still faces many obstacles in terms of admission and, above all, the retention of students. With the aim of analyzing these two aspects, emphasis will be placed here on state universities, whose free and universal access is guaranteed by educational legislation, as well as the levels of “degree"and "undergraduate",[I] as they represent the population’s first contact with higher education (MAZZOLA, 2015).

In Graph 1 it is possible to see the change in the profile of Argentine universities. Until 2010, private institutions were numerically superior to state-owned ones. However, the following decade was marked by the growth of state universities, surpassing private universities.

Graph 1 - State and private Argentine universities (2004-2020)

Source: University Statistics Secretariat

With the growth of public universities, more Argentines were able to attend higher education, with universal, free access and retention policies guaranteed by the State. However, annual statistical data for the period from 2000 to 2020 (Graph 2) demonstrate that, although the absolute number of enrolled students is increasing, the total number of entrants progresses timidly, while the total number of graduates shows little variation and lower than the last two statistics.

Graph 2 - Number of graduate and undergraduate students at Argentine state universities (2000-2020)

Source: University Statistics Secretariat

Based on the disparity between the total number of students and the number of graduates, it is highlighted that there are obstacles throughout the training that make it impossible for the student to complete the chosen course. Only 51,7% of students who entered in 2015 continued their studies after the first year of the course, distributed proportionally between state-owned (51,7%) and private (51,8%), according to the Argentine University Statistics Secretariat . Five years later, with the incoming class of 2020, the retention rate increased to 62,4%, with the distribution of 61,6% to state universities and 64,6% to private institutions. However, even after this rate has increased over time, almost ⅓ of students do not remain on the course. This demonstrates that, despite having permanence and student aid policies, such mechanisms are still insufficient to deal with student demands.

Furthermore, it is important to highlight that from 2018 onwards, when a significant increase was noted in the total student population, as well as in the number of entrants, the retention rate in private universities began to be higher than that of state universities, with universal and free access. . Private universities appear as a cheap option for students, in addition to, in general, being more focused on performance and insertion in the job market, with almost immediate impacts on these students' income.

Graph 3 - First Year Retention Rate (2015-2020)

Source: University Statistics Secretariat

In line with this table is the rate of graduates in theoretical time (Graph 4), that is, people who completed their higher education courses in the time foreseen by the program. In the period from 2015 to 2020, this statistic does not reach 50% at any time, that is, less than half of students are able to complete their studies in the theoretical time. This is data that corroborates the hypothesis that permanence policies are not sufficient, as students take longer to graduate due to complications during training – be it due to difficulties in reconciling working hours with study days, difficulties with transportation, food, purchase of materials, etc. Another important aspect to be highlighted is that the highest rates of graduates in theoretical time are linked to private universities, whose curricula are leaner, more practical in application and linked to knowledge required by the market.

Graph 4 - Graduate rate in theoretical time (2015-2020)

3.

From the data presented, we can conclude that simply universalizing access to higher education, with the extinction of entrance exams and selection processes, is not a permanent solution for the formation of a population with higher qualifications. In addition to a policy that facilitates entry to university, other student retention policies are necessary, with financial aid, assistance for students with academic difficulties, as well as basic education that satisfactorily meets the prerequisites of higher education.

From this historical panorama about Argentine higher education, we sought to demonstrate that the actors that make up the university in the country (teachers, students and employees) demand more representative participation of their population in the elaboration of public policies aimed at higher education, since the Cordoba Movement.

Although universal access to university is guaranteed by law, there is a framework of structural exclusion of historically unrepresented groups. Sensitively affected by the fragility of student retention policies, these students, even if they enroll, are unable to complete their courses. In this way, the challenges and perspectives for Argentine higher education present the demand for instruments that enable the democratization of the university.

*Camila Bolini is a master's student in the postgraduate program in Education at the Faculty of Education at USP.

*Maria Luísa Nóbrega is a master's student in the Postgraduate Program in Psychology at the Institute of Psychology at USP.

*Afranio Catani is a retired senior professor at the Faculty of Education at USP. He is currently a visiting professor at the Faculty of Education at UERJ, Duque de Caxias campus..

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Note


[I] In the Argentine educational system, the “pregrado” level consists of courses lasting 2 and a half years, or 1600 hours, while the “graduation” level represents those with a minimum duration of 4 years, or 2600 hours.


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