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How will zero-enrollment take place and what is the difference related to education free of charge?

Oct 8, 2021
Escrito por: Rectory
How will zero-enrollment take place and what is the difference related to education free of charge?

Faced to dramatic circumstances of young Colombians and their families due to the pandemic aftermath that has severely hampered the informal economy and jobs of the low-income population segments, students have no way to pay their tuition fees in Higher Education Institutions (HEI), and are at a cross-road by spending the few resources they get in the day-by-day sub-employment for their survival or meeting the money obligation of their studies. In 2020 in this background zero-enrollment emerged as a result of claim of the Colombian student body for higher education.


Since April last year, student demonstrations emerged in several areas of the country requesting a bailout to the national government related to the infusion of additional resources to meet the payment of tuitions; these voices were joined to communications by SUE and ASCUN leaders who also asked for support from the national government. As a result of all this nationwide outcry, the government made available COP$97,500 million during 2020 from Solidarity Fund for Education for all HEIs, and COP$98,800 million available for 2021 of these funds themselves until this date.


Last May 11, during the crisis of the national strike, President Iván Duque and the Minister of Education, María Victoria Angulo, announced that “[...] all students of strata 1, 2 and 3 of public higher education institutions should have free tuition in the second semester of 2021,” but although the announcement was issued this year, the Government proposed to become a state policy for 2022.


In different places with rectors, forums and media, I have asked about the whole amount that will be available for zero-tuition and funding sources, which it is important to specify because according to SUE data in 2019 the tuition amount by graduate and undergraduate students would equaled COP$1.236 billion, and just for undergraduate students to COP$889,826 million; that figure includes only universities but not all public HEIs. The Minister of Education said that at least COP$600,000 million would be invested to guarantee zero-enrollment, thus resources would be transferred through the Solidarity Fund for Education (FSE), a product of other portfolios savings.


According to the publicly available information, it is still not clear how it will be possible to finance all the strata 1, 2 and 3 students of the HEIs. Hesitation is valid because during 2020 universities themselves had to place their own resources to support the zero-enrollment and manage other resources with departments and municipalities. In the status of the UPN, we made an extraordinary effort for our students as an emergency measure, not because we agree to allocate our restricted resources related to other commitments, but rather funding responsibility should be of the state. In the aid plan approved in our institution, COP$1,881 million was allocated by UPN to finance 51.3% of students for stratum 2 and 50% for the rest of strata. Resources allocated by national government from FSE involved COP$1,711 million just enough to finance 100% the enrollment of students for stratum 1 and 48.7% for stratum 2. For 2021-1, the government resources were $1,911 million just enough to finance 100% of students for stratum 1, and 54.5% for stratum 2, while UPN despite our financial restrictions contributed COP$777,749 million covering 20.5% for stratum 2 and 20% for the rest of strata.


The zero-enrollment has been supported by many social and university segments as long as it does not involve the institutions' own resources, since it is clear they are used to fit the payment of payroll, utilities and overall operation of the institution. It is important to observe that 46.5% of the universities' budgets are their own funds and 48.6% are from national revenues.


Another problem to take into account with implementation of zero-tuition is resource management that would not be transferred directly to universities as first announcements of the national Government said, since the institutions really will receive these resources through ICETEX and that demands some new administrative procedures, that is, they involve staff resources that universities provide without any other additional resource for this purpose. Despite all these implications, we are committed in such a way that students and their families may have these important resources in pandemic times, which has revealed more clearly the huge social inequalities we live in.

In this regard, it is important to specify that free-education issue for higher education is a concept, which differs from zero-enrollment because it represents a historical claim of several social sectors that particularly in Latin America have suggested to guarantee education as a fundamental right of all citizens, so the state enables universal access to higher education at no cost. This concept of free education involves that operational costs of students, which require hiring professors, university welfare, and everything related to academic quality, should be clearly financed by the state.


Guaranteeing the essential right to higher education involves a state policy that does not exist in Colombia regarding a decent financing for all public higher education institutions; this means that transfers of the nation should correspond to operating costs of the HEIs and should be adjusted annually according to the advances in coverage and quality. An advance in this policy may be found within reform of Articles 86 and 87 of Law 30 of 1992, which only included transfers for universities but formula used was only based on adjusting the transfer according to CPI, which has been far below the increase of professors’ salaries and the overall operating costs of universities.


How long will we have to wait for our country to assume a sharp-and-forceful policy placing the right to education in first order beyond the instrumentalization of this public good as a service?



* Rector, Universidad Pedagógica Nacional

Universidad Pedagógica Nacional -UPN-

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