The New Life of State Universities

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The discussion around the state universities bill, which is now being discussed in the Chamber of Deputies, has raised a series of questions as to why these institutions should receive special treatment compared to the others; what is it that makes them different from any other higher education institution? The answer to this question is so obvious that having to ask it can only make sense in a country where there was a real attempt to destroy state-owned education and where the resulting debilitation renders its mission obscure.

Many argue from a procedural approach: state universities are different because they must respond to transparency requirements—the use of public resources is controlled by the General Controllership of the Republic because they have an administrative statute and because they cannot be created at the caprice of any board of directors. And although those necessary restrictions are real, they do not explain the importance of having a national network of state universities that are strong, and which have their own voice, and their own capacity for shaping their destiny.

In 2010, Rodrigo Baño, a member of the Faculty of Social Sciences, as well as of this publication’s editorial board, asked: “What is a public university?”  He answered: “a public university is an institution of higher learning that exists to fulfill the citizens’ right to education at all levels, in accordance with the knowledge and type of citizenship the society deems necessary. A public university develops research programs that the nation needs in order to become more knowledgeable and face its challenges; a public university is committed to sharing its work with the entire community, understanding that its studies and creations extend far beyond the limits of the campus. Its pluralism is born from the fact that it is a university that belongs to everyone”.

These institutions are defined by their pluralism and by their service to the country; they are never confessional, and they are never hijacked by particular interests; this is what defines these universities, which owe their existence to citizens, and which ensure that public education serves everybody throughout Chile. In this dossier we are especially thankful for the contributions from National Award in History recipient Jorge Pinto, Universidad de la Frontera; from the Professor of the Universidad de Santiago de Chile, Naín Nómez; from Cecilia Hidalgo, National Award in Natural Sciences recipient and professor of the Universidad de Chile; from National Award in Natural Sciences recipient and professor of the Universidad de Tarapacá, Francisco Rothhammer; and from the National Award in History recipient and professor of the Universidad de Tarapacá, Sergio Gonzalez. Without a doubt, all of them illuminate the discussion and help to confirm how essential the strengthening of these institutions is for the future of the country.

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