Edition 177 - January 2016

Chile: Revisiting free higher education

From March 2016, more than 170 000 of Chile’s low-income students will be able to attend university for free for the first time since the higher education system was privatised 35 years ago. The bill guaranteeing free higher education to students who come from 50% of Chile’s most vulnerable families was passed by the Parliament on 23 December by a vote of 92 to 2. Free higher education was one of the campaign promises of President Michelle Bachelet, who was re-elected for her second term in 2013 (see ACA Newsletter - Education Europe, Edition December 2013). Although her initial plan envisioned free access to higher education for students from 70% of Chile’s poorest households, the recent economic slow-down has forced the government to scale back on its goals. 

The existing Chilean higher education system is a legacy of Augusto Pinochet’s neoliberal reforms introduced in the 1980s, which included the creation of a system of private universities and the decrease of public funding for public universities. Today, the system is one of the most expensive in the world in terms of the share of higher education costs paid by students and their families. 

In the first phase of the programme, 178 104 students from families with a per capita income of EUR 203 (USD 221) or less are expected to benefit from the government directly covering their tuition fees at one of the 30 universities that are part of the scheme. These include all state universities and several private institutions, which must have non-profit status and at least four years of accreditation to participate in the scheme.  

Gobierno de Chile (in Spanish)

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