From the beginning of the pandemic generated by the COVID-19 disease, from the State University System (SUE), public universities of the country have put all our scientific, technical, technological and human competences to meet the crisis and thus support the fight against the spread of the virus. From the beginning, we have also expressed our commitment to the health and education authorities to contain the spread of the respiratory virus by promoting individual and collective care measures, keeping the universities in operation and implementing various strategies so that our students could continue with their educational processes at their homes, guaranteeing their integrity and families.
In that regard, we adopted measures to remote work and concluded the first semester of 2020 from academic activities through information and communication technologies –ICTs– enabling the accomplishment of our missionary tasks.
From the beginning of the emergency, we also warned the National Government and the Ministries of Education and Information and Communication Technologies, about the need of the timely efforts in order to raise the required resources in order to meet the data, Internet and computer equipment needs by the students of public universities who have been mostly affected by the pandemic. However, these requirements to a great extent have had to be addressed and met supportively from each of the institutions and university communities despite the financial difficulties faced by students and their families.
In that same line, students, professors, workers and graduates we have been proposing in various scenarios the need for a zero enrollment for all students in our university communities for the second semester of the year since the contexts and the real dynamics resulting from the pandemic have left many people homeless, without means of subsistence and, in many cases, without resources to cover, although subsidized, the values of tuition.
As a result of the different declarations and mobilizations, the National Government created during the emergency the Solidarity Fund for Education, in order to leverage resources to reduce the extent of the effects of the crisis in the education sector, including economic aid for payment of tuition fees for young people in vulnerable status in public higher education institutions. While these resources have been important in helping to 2020-2 zero-enrollment goal at the country's public universities, they are not enough to guarantee it as a measure covering 100% of the student population; institutions have had to ask for help to district, municipal and departmental entities in order to expand the benefit or, as in the case of the Universidad Pedagógica Nacional, raise its own resources for this purpose.
As for the UPN, we called for participation and the possibility to join forces from local government entities, but it was not possible. That is why, as we have reported in different media, our University last August 13 took an unprecedented historical step to move towards zero-enrollment in 2020-2, considering the imminent risk of desertion of our students. The University created an undergraduate tuition relief plan to cover 100% of the enrollment of students belonging to strata 1 and 2, and 50% of those belonging to strata 3, 4, and 5, in addition to the balance of 342 students who could not pay their tuition in 2020-1. This plan has a total cost of $3,834 million, which brings together the nation's contributions of $1,710 million and $2,122 million from university resources possible from the incorporation of advisory rights and the liquidation of 2019 inter-administrative agreements, financial returns, reductions in our purchase plan, payment plan of liabilities of the Ministry of National Education (MEN), and recovery of administrative expenses. This means a new and unrepeatable effort for financial conditions of the University in 2021, but we want to guarantee that our students can continue with their academic and professional formation despite the difficulties.
We understand that facing unprecedented times unprecedented measures must be taken. So we once again call on the National Government to make the required efforts and raise enough resources to allow our students and those of all public institutions of higher education to continue their studies in the coming semesters, since as we see the economic recovery will be slow, besides unemployment levels in the country have triggered about 21.4% according to DANE figures for May, and more and more students require support while minimizing the financial power of universities.
In short, we also highlight the need to continue working on generating structural changes in the financing model of public higher education in the country, which continues to be the root and cause of the structural crisis that institutions are currently experiencing and which has been compounded by the pandemic.
*Rector, National Pedagogical University