Why are we on strike?

Image: Nano Erdozain
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By SERGIO STOCO*

We have reached a situation of shortage of federal educational institutions

Another strike… why do these public servants insist on stopping services? Is the problem that they can't be sent away? Is there no one to demand productivity? They are privileged!

Federal public service careers are not the same, a teacher/researcher to compete in federal network competitions (universities or institutes) must have gone through at least 25 years of school/academic life (elementary and secondary education, undergraduate, master's and doctorate), which generally represents spending a third of your life preparing to become a professor in federal public teaching.

However, unlike other public service careers or positions (security, federal revenue, governors and the judiciary), which this year received not only adjustments, but salary increases and improvements in career conditions, teachers and technicians in the federal network has received the humiliating response of zero adjustment for 2024.

A federal university professor at the beginning of his career (which to reach the top, full professor, will require a set of teaching, research and extension achievements and at least 20 years), has a basic salary just above 5 thousand reais. Another part of the salary, just over 6 thousand reais, is paid in the form of remuneration for qualifications. In other words, 60% of the salary is not incorporated as salary and, therefore, will not count towards your retirement which, projecting career longevity, generates great insecurity and worsens living conditions over time (we all know that, As we get older, we will need more resources to maintain our health).

Also, the long-awaited stability of public office is not absolute, as many think. Stability is security for employees to fulfill their duty within the principles of legality, morality, impersonality, publicity and efficiency; including having to disqualify managers when they fail to comply with these principles (can you imagine in the private sector an employee confronting a boss, even when the case is irregular or illegal?).

Stability is achieved after a probationary period (evaluation) of three years (like any public position) and depends on performance (periodic evaluations for progression and promotion) and the employee's functional behavior (which may undergo investigations and administrative processes), in an environment highly competitive (in the academic and political sense), with great pressure for academic results (Capes evaluation) and very precarious infrastructure.

In fact, speaking of precarious infrastructure, university budgets have only been decreasing for ten years. In the second half of the year, it is always that exercise of obtaining resources (with supplementation of the budget or own resources) to close the accounts (pay what we call costs: water and energy supply, security, cleaning, etc.), not to mention the lack of investments ( what we call capital: construction, maintenance, purchase and updating or repair of equipment, etc.).

All this, considering that it is the professors/researchers at the public university who, in general, produce science for the country and for the complex problems that humanity faces (imagine the Covid-19 Pandemic without vaccines, or the environmental catastrophe in Rio Grande do Sul South without climate and environmental researchers, to alert us to the risks and dangers we face and create solutions).

But why have we reached this situation of shortage of federal educational institutions?

The reduction of the State from the perspective of New Public Management

The reconfiguration of the role of the State and its responsibility in relation to public educational policies – This new perspective of state attribution, disseminated from the conception of New Public Management (NGP), is guided by the so-called failure of the Social Welfare State. Academic/political decision makers who formulate public policies have come to the conclusion that there is no room for educational investment in this new State.

This conclusion derives so much from a process of de-responsibility of the State in relation to its social role (called greater autonomy) that has the expectation of transferring this responsibility to the private sector (families and investors), summarized in the phrase “The State has the prerogative of action only care about Justice and Security”, or even, the analysis that the huge investments made in universal education systems bring little social return (greater investment does not mean greater performance in proficiency tests), since, even the defenders of this vision of State and Education know that the school, in isolation, is not capable of overcoming the inequalities present in the social structure.

In this logic, the rule that governments have an obligation to follow (at the price of the financial market inventing a crisis) is the infamous fiscal adjustment (spending less than it earns), always considering that adjusting means cutting expenses on health, education, social assistance, social security etc., but continue to reserve large chunks of the budget to issue public debt securities (those papers that promise to pay interest, for example, the Treasury Direct).

So, every day we worry if the currency parity (dollar – real) changes or if the stock exchange index falls, as if this directly affects the living conditions of the Brazilian population when, in fact, there are no jobs (in companies real, not in the speculative financial system) and poverty and inequality only increase, while billionaires expand their fortunes and do not pay taxes.

The education crisis and public schools

To continue in the game of income concentration and the reduction of expenses with public education, it is necessary to establish the image that public schools are always precarious, despite being the only service that serves the entire population of the country, since education It is mandatory from 4 to 17 years old.

In order to successfully fulfill the task of ending public education, municipal, state and federal managers do not finance school infrastructure, pay education professionals poorly and try to reduce or elitize training opportunities for the most vulnerable populations, thus, the image What we have from public schools is always from a place that is poorly maintained, that there is a lack of teachers and that they are poorly prepared/trained and that the good schools are private institutions.

Even though there are good private schools, just as there are good public schools, according to evaluations of educational systems (Ideb), it is not possible to say technically or scientifically that private schools or that private management of schools is better compared to public schools. In fact, do you know of any sector of Brazilian economic life that was privatized and where the promise of improved service and reduced prices was fulfilled?

Therefore, in order to continue reducing investments in public education and increasing privatization (which transfers tax money to the private sector), it is necessary to create permanent crises in education and, it seems, the new stage is to create crises (withdraw investments) from federal education network, which in all quality assessments (both at the university and in federal institutes) has the best results.

A society that does not believe in and does not need science

Also contributing to the current situation of public universities (which mostly produce science in Brazil) are two movements that, when combined, reduce people's interest in university education (year after year the demand for undergraduate and postgraduate places decreases) .

The first is the movement to generate distrust in the work and production of the university and its members (academics), always associating scientific analyzes with ideological or vested interests. Taking advantage of the uncertainties that the future of humanity has presented, salvationist perspectives, sometimes associated with religiosity, depend on the creation of mythifying narratives to replace the explanations that science has consolidated over the centuries.

This is a political game (dispute for power) and which, clearly, results in greater economic participation, both in the sense of a niche market (remembering that we are in a consumer society and that, therefore, selling depends on creating desires and winning hearts and minds), as well as in the budgetary sense (dispute for public funds): if the State has to invest more in areas based on science (education, health, transport, etc.) there are fewer resources to transfer to institutions linked to these groups (NGOs, churches, associations, parties, etc.).

The second movement stems from our economic model. An agro-exporting country like Brazil does not need a solid scientific research and development structure. In other words, the sectors linked to agro-export interests, associated with international geopolitical interests, will permanently focus on maintaining the country in this position of economic and technological dependence, which, in addition to the market reserve (eliminating competition from other sectors), conditions the market of work, since it makes it impossible to create new economic areas that would require new technologies and, therefore, scientific development.

Not without reason, interest in university education and research is decreasing and the discourse on entrepreneurship increases, which places people under the responsibility of inventing forms of survival, which in Brazil has always been characteristic of precarious work (underemployment, work similar to slavery and self-employed worker).

Note that the different political/economic groups interested in discrediting and discarding science as a path to improving living conditions articulate themselves around different social agendas, for example, they say that environmental protection is a communist thing!

The secret amendments

Another point that has increased the budget crisis in universities is the intensification of so-called impositional (secret) amendments in the national and state legislature.

In recent decades and, in particular, in recent years, the balance between powers (executive, legislative and judiciary) has tilted towards the legislative power being predominant in driving the public agenda (defining what is a priority).

Institutional powers have their powers and responsibilities defined by law, but the tendency to transfer the power to make decisions about investments (part of the budget that can have a choice/discretionary) changed hands (it left the executive and went to the legislature) and has increased its share of the budget.

What this means in practice is that the legislature decides (having a budget means having power) where and how to spend a large part of the budget, which is, legally, a responsibility of the executive branch. As a result, instead of having more resources for universal assistance programs for the population (SUS, Fundeb, Social Security, etc.), the resource becomes a currency of exchange and appreciation for the electorate of each deputy or senator, the which tends to turn into waste (isolated and sometimes repetitive actions that are disintegrated with other policies) and lack of control (these amendments are called secret as they do not have the same transparency and rigor in terms of how they are used).

As a result, federal educational institutions become dependent on seeking parliamentarians to finance their actions (even the costing ones, such as paying for electricity) and, thus, their services are threatened, discontinued and dependent on the particular interests of each parliamentarian. Which, for actions involving teaching, extension and research, of a nature that require medium and long-term planning and regularity, a high degree of uncertainty and increased precariousness.

The insufficiency of student assistance

Finally, to close the picture of the reasons that lead us to our current situation, it is important to highlight something that affects our main objective as an institution: creating a better future for each person and for the whole of society, based on teaching, extension and research; what it means to take care of those who enter university aiming (ends), as determined by the Federal Constitution of 1988 (Art. 205), for all Brazilian education: the full development of the person, their preparation for the exercise of citizenship and their qualification for the work.

In line with budget losses and disputes and disincentives to science, funding for student assistance and permanence has been falling significantly for at least ten years.

Student assistance resources guarantee scholarships and aid (food, transportation, health support, housing, etc.) that are essential for students to remain at the university.

The high costs of living in large urban centers, but also the great difficulties in commuting or student housing (in urban centers and in rural cities), the pressures arising from the academic difficulties of a good education (which compete with the ease/fragility of the broad offering low-quality distance learning courses) and the lack of incentives (devaluation of science, academic training and difficulties in professional performance), just as social, economic, emotional and physiological conditions (health) have generated as a result: anxiety, depression , abandonment and evasion.

The unfeasibility of students remaining is the death sentence of universities.

*Sergio Stoco é Professor of Public Policy at the Federal University of São Paulo (Unifesp).


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