Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 260 | Marzo 2003



Six Realistic Theories About the Mythical 6%

The 6% of the budget for university education has become a mythical figure that encompasses a thicket of thorny problems and a tangle of interests. With students again clamoring for it, however, the issue needs to be examined as if it were fundamentally an economic problem.

José Luis Rocha

Between February 19 and 21, university students again took to the streets to demand 6% of the national bud get for the ten universities that make up the National Council of Universities (CNU). The processions, overflowing streets and fireworks resembled the traditional celebrations for a patron saint’s day. Using rolled up T-shirts as improvised balaclavas and brandishing homemade mortar launchers, the students occupied several streets in central Managua and faced off against the National Police, as they have done every year for the last 12 years. They are still fighting for this right, granted to them in article 125 of the Constitution. What specifically triggered their mobilization this year was that the executive branch shaved the equivalent of US$4 million off the CNU’s original budget request for 2003, leaving it with a little over $46 million. Unlike previous demonstrations, however, Managua youth gangs and transport workers did not support them and the turnout was relatively paltry.

Every year, the government finds some reason for reducing the percentage of the national budget allocated to the universities. Urgent reasons are presented or some new interpretation of the 6% figure suddenly appears, creating confusion as to whether it is 6% of total government expenditure or of income, and if the latter, if it is only ordinary or also extraordinary income. In the text of its budget bill every year, the government presents the amount assigned to the CNU along with the percentage that it represents relative to total income. In contrast, the CNU’s statistical reports estimate this percentage based on total expenditure, which puts the total several million dollars higher given the government’s perennial deficit spending. Thus while the CNU demonstrates that it has never received 6% of the budget, the government sustains that it has always assigned more than 6%. According to a CNU communiqué issued in 1992, Law 151 of that same year established the “the universities’ right to financing calculated according to the country’s General Expenditures Budget.”

For years now, all have used
the fight for their own ends

Nicaragua’s 6% is the largest proportion of the budget granted to universities by any Central American government. The next largest is the 4.71% provided by Costa Rica, while Panama and El Salvador allocate only 2%. However, these countries’ percentages translate into larger absolute amounts given their greater Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Their economic situation is also very different, meaning that private higher education helps fill the gaps left by the public sector and is more accessible given the higher income levels.

This year Nicaragua’s student upheaval was fueled by President Bolaños’ seemingly calculated statement during the inauguration of the National Rectors’ Forum on February 12. Taking the rectors by surprise, Bolaños questioned how effectively the 6% allocation was used, claiming a total of US$21,000 was spent on each student who graduated from the CNU universities, while the dropout rate was over 80%. Shortly afterwards, renowned Nicaraguan educator Carlos Tünnermann Bernheim, who was present at the forum, questioned not only the figures but the President’s comparison of the costs of private and public higher education and the budgets assigned to the different education levels. Tünnermann stressed the need to determine all elements that influence the calculation of costs in each system—laboratories, research, community services, rural development programs, etc.—before drawing conclusions about efficiency levels. He also described budgetary competition among the different educational levels as an “outmoded approach.”
The student revolt this year—one day a clash between students with mortar launchers and police with tear gas left seven people injured—culminated with a promise by pro-Sandinista and pro-Bolaños parliamentarians to support a nearly $3 million increase in the CNU’s budget. This coincided with the dismissal of National Student Union (UNEN) president Bismarck Santana following criticism from other student leaders over his management of the whole conflict. It is not the first time that student leaders or even rectors who aspire to a seat in the National Assembly have been accused of using this issue as a political platform, and fanning the flames for their own projection.

Although 6% has become a mythical figure encompassing a thicket of thorny problems and a tangle of different interests, the idea here is to carefully examine it as if it were a fundamentally economic problem. In so doing, we are fully conscious that very few actors in this drama pay any attention to such rationality, notwithstanding the allusions to it slipped in between mortar rounds and rousing speeches.

Thesis 1: We never got 6%,
so there’s no tradition to appeal to

It is argued that the 6% answers to a historical figure established during the eighties, consecrated in the Constitution, “authentically interpreted” by the Supreme Court and ratified year after year. The truth is, however, that inflation, administrative disorder and book cooking meant that the 6% was little more than an ideological illusion during both that decade and the past one.

Inflation saw to it that the assignations to the universities during the eighties lost their value within a few months. Administrative opacity and disorder kept those interested from easily noticing this and accounting stratagems applied the finishing touches. During the nineties and still today the jealous custody of the 6% has been mocked by assigning extra-budgetary funds to any institution seen as a priority.

Even ignoring the fact that ever since the Enlightenment it has been a sign of weakness or intellectual cowardice to appeal to tradition during a debate, it is actually impossible to do so in this case because the tradition established de jure has never been fulfilled de facto. It would be more plausible to appeal to the possible benefits of investing this percentage of the budget in universities, but this is neither easy nor convincing in a poor country overwhelmed by difficulties, including providing jobs to university graduates to ensure that the resources invested in them will contribute to the common good.

Thesis 2: Education isn’t a priority

The IMF pressures countries—those of the South in particular—to live within their income. On the eve of the presidential veto of the 2003 budget, top IMF officials visited Nicaragua to “advise” the government to correct some of the parliamentary budgetary increases in order to reestablish the agreed-upon macroeconomic balances, even if everything else gets imbalanced in the bargain. The cut in the CNU allocation has been attributed to this visit. The IMF seems unable to grasp that Nicaragua’s pathetic GDP and unequal wealth distribution translates into the population’s greater dependence on subsidized public education, a gap the private institutions cannot fill.

In last year’s budget, over US$165 million was earmarked for interest payments on the domestic and foreign debts, 27% of the country’s income, 18% of its expenditure and nearly four times the amount budgeted for the universities. The IMF is pressuring the government to honor its domestic debt, ignoring the fact that this debt grew in the last two years because the government rescued public deposits that had been sacrificed by unscrupulous bankers who caused the collapse of several different banks. The IMF permitted this operation to save the financial system at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars, depleting the country’s national reserves, but does not allow any debts to be run up to pay for education. The bankruptcy of Interbank alone cost much more than is earmarked to the universities.

While nobody questions the merits of saving the national financial system, the IMF clearly does not see our education as a priority. Mexican author Carlos Fuentes wrote that we are entering the 21st century with the evidence that economic growth depends on the quality of information, which in turn depends on the quality of education. The other great evidence is that in the context of an increasingly less material economy, where information and knowledge are the fundamental sources of wealth and raw materials are losing value, transnational capital is only interested in us as suppliers of cheap labor and raw materials.

In the current situation, the government is opting to make the different educational levels compete for their share of the budget rather than increase it and reduce other expenses. Meanwhile, Nicaragua’s bankers, in addition to breaking records for bank failures and paying low wages, have the greatest profit margins of any banking intermediaries in Central America. And now our government is rewarding them for their bad performance by not insisting they pay the income tax they have owed since 1997, which amounts to undeniable proof of banker Carlos Pellas’ influence over President Enrique Bolaños. Other assignations that can only be described as a luxury in a country as poor as Nicaragua cannot be touched or even questioned. For example, we would save over 30 million córdobas (US$2 million)—the budget increase the CNU was looking for—by cutting the allocation for financing the inoperative Central American Parliament and the lifetime pensions paid to former Presidents and Vice-presidents. This money cannot be seen as a reward for merit or efficiency; it is simply extra profit for political elites always on the lookout to increase their income. Why are these funds never touched or even discussed?
The 6% will continue to generate social protest as long as the executive and legislative branches continue displaying hesitant, malleable and inconsistent attitudes and fail to produce a development plan beyond short-term lurches in response to passing attractions. The long shadow the IMF casts over the government’s position is the worst possible omen, yet another sign of the lack of government will to execute a national development plan that is more than just a document and that can withstand the pressures of international bureaucracy. Unfortunately, politics in Nicaragua continues to construct a possible world playing with probable financing—but with very real conditioned requirements—and absorbable social explosions.

Thesis 3: “Study now,
pay later” doesn’t work

As a respite, or even as a way to eliminate government expenditure for the universities, some have proposed reproducing the “study now, pay later” system that has provided good results in the United States. There, students with high academic grades can aspire to state loans with several years grace and low interest rates; in other words they study now and theoretically pay off their loans once securely ensconced in a job earning a salary commensurate with their education. The problem in Nicaragua is that if things remain as they are, many students will never be able to pay, because the country’s unemployment and low salaries will not allow them to. If the cost per graduate varies between the CNU’s figure of $7,000 and Bolaños’ $21,000, burdening future professionals with a debt of this magnitude in a context of epidemic and endemic economic crisis would effectively overwhelm their future family economy. What has worked in the United States—at least up to now—does not work in countries with two-digit unemployment.

Even if a graduate were certain of finding work, saving $1,000 a year to pay off a scholarship debt, plus a little more to pay the interest, for even 7 years let alone 21 is unthinkable. In some cases the payment methods would have to be so deferred they would amount to life sentences. The equally valid other side of this argument is that if it is so hard for professionals, the direct beneficiaries, to pay for their education, is it not even harder for all Nicaraguans—including the poor, whose children will never set foot in a university—to pay through their taxes?

Can the demand be financed?

The other proposed solution is to ensure better use of state resources. Setting aside discussion of whether the 6% should be reduced or maintained, this proposal assumes that the CNU’s administration of the university budget is inefficient and therefore advocates financing the demand (the students) rather than the supply (the universities). That model would allow the students to select the university of their choice, stimulating competition among universities to attract this market segment and forcing them to improve their services. The 6% allocation would be managed in that case not by the CNU but by a body responsible for selecting scholarship applicants with high academic performance and limited financial resources and overseeing the grants.

This proposal has been pushed insistently in recent years by former Central Bank president and current parliamentary representative Noel Ramírez and by former education minister and current private university rector Humberto Belli. Some people, guided by the principle in Nicaragua that more attention should be paid to who says something than to what is said, have been quick to reject this possibility without analyzing its pros and cons.

The first advantage emphasized by its advocates is that this idea would take the money out of the hands of the CNU top leadership, which they and others accuse of being an inefficient, monopolistic and not very transparent party-based bureaucracy. They argue it would also force the universities into free market competition, which would automatically activate more efficient resource allocation.

Although this model would perhaps work better than the US one, certain objections should be raised to the two proposed advantages. In terms of shifting the money from the CNU to the scholarship distribution body, the problem is how to stop it suffering the same discretional behavior riddled with patronage, string-pulling, bribing and the like that permeate the country’s entire institutional culture. If Rural Development Institute funds were distributed more in accord with political criteria than financial ones, what can we expect of the 6% funds handed over to this new “institute”? An oversight system would clearly have to be set up to ensure that people who can pay do so and those in need who have a good academic record and are willing to study actually get to do so. But who will monitor the monitors in such an impossible political culture?

Why not “study now, pay now”?

Meanwhile, the advantages of increased competition are not totally exempt from opportunism. Humberto Belli assumes that “centers of higher education would make a conscientious effort to attract and hold on to a new mass of students with an acceptable academic record possessing millions of dollars.” But that is precisely the problem and the perversion of such a system: the universities could do anything not only to attract but also to hold on to the students. Once the students are in their net, what prevents the universities from dropping their own academic standards in order to hang on to these cash cows, as in fact already happens in certain prestigious private universities that have set up campuses in our country? Lowering their demands could create the fiction of a massive generation of good students. So the dilemmas include whether to keep the client who pays well or the student with real academic merit, and whether to compete on the basis of academic quality or of low requirements, weekly parties, outings and other fluff.

This proposal, with its undeniable advantages, is in any event based on the principle that better education requires monumental financial resources and that they have to come from the state. In the sea of contradictions around this issue, nobody is proposing alternative forms of financing. The universities could apply the “study now, pay later” system without even resorting to state money, providing scholarships to students in exchange for a commitment to provide services—not entirely unpaid—in the future. It could even be implemented today, under a “study now, pay now” principle involving a kind of bartering of services: classes in return for maintaining equipment, working in the library, promoting publications, research tasks, etc. This could be the university equivalent of the mechanism peasants employ when there is a liquidity crisis: I help you harvest your beans today; you help me weed my corn tomorrow. Money doesn’t have to be the only means of exchange.

Thesis 4: The 6% is limited
and/or poorly administered

A total of 99,938 university students were enrolled in all Nicaraguan universities in 2002, of which 58,158 studied in the 10 belonging to the CNU. With a budget allocation last year amounting to somewhere around $47 million, simple arithmetic—not adjusted for devaluation of the córdoba—shows that the total annual cost of each university student was approximately $800. Considering that many students pay for either part or all of their studies, the state’s cost per student could average out at a minimum of 25% more, as Tünnermann declared, bringing it up to $1,000.

That is far from a high per-student expenditure. In 1996, Nicaragua’s annual cost per student was $700, considerably lower than many other Latin American countries that year: $5,800 in Brazil, $2,260 in Argentina, $1,770 in Venezuela, $1,480 in Chile and $1,150 in Mexico, according to World Bank figures quoted by Tünnermann. But many people rightly wonder if we should have so many university students, given the mediocre formation they get and their limited possibilities of finding work, particularly in the saturated fields that most attract students. Many wonder whether it wouldn’t be realistic to have more students taking technical courses.

In this year’s debate, while President Bolaños was claiming that the cost per graduate is $21,400, CNU president and rector of the National Agrarian University (UNA) Telémaco Talavera countered that it is actually $7,173, although clarifying that this excludes the over 15,000 scholarship students provided food and lodging. And when Bolaños compared the costs of CNU universities with those of private universities, he failed to mention that Nicaragua now has private universities where the cost per graduate is over the forty-thousand-dollar mark.

The government acts scandalized that the CNU budget line has risen from $25 million to $49 million between 1997 and 2003. But it seems to forget, dodge or hide the fact that this is not a rich country where most universities are already well equipped because they are supported by a booming private enterprise. The poverty in this country means that the population depends largely on state subsidies and university investments are still being pumped into such elementary infrastructure as buildings, laboratories, desks and windows.

Signs of inefficient administration
as well as insufficient investment

The universities in Nicaragua still lack the most elementary services. None of the CNU universities have a library with up-to-date literature or access to journals relevant to the courses they offer. Nor is there an abundance of instructors who know how to identify and suggest such reading. You only have to walk through the National Autonomous University in Managua to realize that it has financial problems, given the dirty environment, the rickety desks, the crammed classrooms and the bad lighting... Naturally, financial problems can be caused by a lack of funds or by poor administration. In Nicaragua’s case, all of these indicators, along with the low quality of the graduates, are symptoms of both.

There are marked differences in this respect among the CNU universities that have been insufficiently explored and analyzed. According to the CNU’s last statistical report, published in 2000 and containing figures for 1997 and 1998, the CNU universities had student-teacher ratios in 1998 ranging from 27 (Central American University-UCA) and 25 (National Engineering University-UNI) to 10 (the Polytechnic University-UPOLI and the Atlantic Coast university complex-URACCAN). They also ranged from 25 students per non-teaching staff member (UNAN-Managua) down to 9 (UNA) and even less than 4 (International Agriculture and Livestock School-Rivas). All of these figures have an effect on the quality of the education offered, the total number of graduates, the possibilities of investing in non-salary areas, etc.

It is curious to note that the evolution of student numbers in most CNU universities is not proportional and does not change according to the number of lecturers or non-teaching staff members. In 1998, the UNI registered 43 fewer students than in 1997, but hired 15 fewer lecturers, when it only had to cut 2 to maintain its average lecturer-student ratio, which was the third highest in the CNU. At the same time, however, it increased the number of non-teaching personnel by 2. During the same period, UPOLI registered 401 more students and the Bluefields Indian and Caribbean University (BICU) 254 more, but increased their non-teaching staff by 39 and 30 respectively, for averages of 10 and 8 students per non-teaching staff member, well below the CNU average. But while the BICU increased its teaching staff with only 16 new lecturers, the UPOLI hired 94. The BICU maintained its average of students per lecturer, but the UPOLI reduced it from 13 to 10, which is the lowest average among the CNU universities. These figures raise many questions about the rationality and fluctuations of staff hiring. There is also a need to investigate the salary structure to examine whether the deplorable state of certain universities is because the salaries—or mega-salaries, to use a term in vogue in recent years—of some officials has been a major drain on the budget.

Something rotten...

There are many signs that the funds are not being well administrated, one of the most striking of which surfaced recently. Three days after this month’s violent demonstrations, the parliamentary representatives made their effort to support the CNU’s original budget request, and with the mood still heated, a scandal broke out in the UNI, whose rector, Aldo Urbina, is vice-president of the CNU. Urbina has already faced seven trials for the crimes of fraudulent conveyance, falsification of public documents, usurpation of powers, abuse of authority, slander and libel, association and incitement to commit a crime and larceny with abuse of trust, among others. One of his main detractors is the university’s vice-rector Sergio Enrique Álvarez, who Urbina, waving a Forensic Medicine Institute report, accused of having a paranoid personality. An appeal has been filed with the Supreme Court to stop the construction of a building on the UNI campus that was not put out to bid and since December 2001 the Comptroller Generals Office has been in possession of a charge of administrative anomalies at the university, including the absence of any general income and expenditure budget and discretional use of financing.

As the university authorities lay into each other in the media to eke out their power quotas, UNI’s students are receiving a mediocre education. The poor administration undoubtedly means that the 6% assignation covers less and seems even paltrier. But the bad administration of the UNI or the other universities covered by the 6% does not prove that private universities are any better or that public administration necessarily has to be a disaster. All it proves is that something is rotten in the state of Denmark and there is an urgent need to seek better administrators.

Thesis 5: 6% is too much

The CNU lacks any vision of the country and does not incorporate its proposals into a national development project. The top CNU leadership has a corporativist vision that never questions whether earmarking 6% of the national budget to the universities is too much for a country with Nicaragua’s conditions.

Between 1998 and 2002 the number of university students in the CNU rose by 6,706, while the budget rose $13.43 million, equivalent to $2,000 for each new student. In 1997, 6% of the nation’s overall budget was equivalent to $25.59 million, while the $49 million fought for with mortar blasts in the streets in 2003 represents a 91% increase over those six years, an average rate of over 15% a year. According to National Institute of Statistics and Censuses projections, however, the 15-to-29-year-old population—to take a wide range of possible university ages—is expected to have grown by 35.7% between 1995 and 2005, an annual rate of 3.57%. The increase in the CNU’s budgetary allocation is thus well out of proportion with the growth of even that generous interpretation of the university-age population.

While the CNU allocation increased by 91% between 1997 and 2003, the Ministry of Education allocation only increased 88.6%. And while the CNU will receive almost 6% more this year than last if it gets the allocation it was promised following the protest, the ministry’s budget has dropped 4% overall (1 .5% less for secondary education and 10.5% less for primary education), given the córdoba’s sliding devaluation. Looked at in yet another way, the CNU will receive 24.5% more than in 2000, while primary education gets 28% less.

Last year, the CNU received 3 times more than the total assigned to secondary education, the equivalent of 72% of the primary education budget, 32 times more than earmarked for the national disaster prevention system and almost 5 times more than the amount transferred to all 152 municipal governments combined. This year, even with the cutback, it would have received 43 times more than the Human Rights Attorney’s Office, 12 times more than the disaster system and over 4 times more than the municipal governments—which have to provide a large array of services to 5.5 million Nicaraguans.

According to an October 1999 joint Economic Commission for Latin America and UN Development Program study on public expenditures on basic services in Latin America and the Caribbean, the 6% the CNU received is equivalent to 33% of Nicaragua’s overall education spending and 77% of the average resources earmarked for primary education between 1995 and 1998.

The CNU budget has increased because the income generated by privatizing state utility companies was included as government income. In effect, the CNU universities benefited from a privatization process that inflated our household budgets, impoverished the country and enriched the top party echelons. It is perhaps some comfort to know that at least the universities will benefit from this one-off act of looting over the coming years, although it would obviously have been fairer had other sectors benefited as well.

Damn that university...!

A more correct vision of this country would not involve sending all young people to university, but ensuring that all children get through primary school, while those who prove to have the necessary abilities and will should have access to higher education, regardless of their income level. The goal should be a rational investment, well distributed among the different sectors, that ensures that the labor market will be able to absorb university graduates, placing them in jobs in line with their training and offering them decent salaries.

Where will university graduates work if there is such limited investment in small and medium businesses, if there are no roads to transport production, if the public sector is being reduced with no compensatory increase in the private sector, if essential investments are not being made? To steal a line from Cuban songwriter Silvio Rodríguez, What’s the point of a pile driver without a quarry? Only a handful would succeed while the rest of the country sinks without a trace. That was what was behind the diatribe of former UCA rector Xabier Gorostiaga in an October 1992 interview: “Damn the university that creates successful professionals in a failed society!” From then on he dedicated himself to insisting on the idea that “the university has no sense in itself, isolated from society.”
It’s not about bringing the different educational levels into competition, or pitting higher education against other investments, but about rationalizing the use of resources in line with the country’s possibilities. It is, in fact, about taking up the CNU’s offer, made in 1992 after obtaining an “authentic interpretation” of the constitutional principle of the 6%: “The National Council of Universities stresses the flexibility with which this issue should be dealt given the country’s difficult economic situation and our aim of not affecting the budget of any vital area of society.”

Thesis 6: the 6% is not untouchable

Of course, in the end we’re not examining a merely economic problem. The ideological debate is based on a “mythical number,” as Education Minister Silvio de Franco so rightly termed it. It is a taboo figure, untouchable. When this is the case, the demands of its supporters and detractors have nothing to do with rationality because no one is interested in building a dialogue and reaching a consensus in line with the best arguments or even those that were hegemonic a few years ago.

The 6% is the yearned-for pressure valve, a thermometer of discontent, a chance to show off. The 6% myth is about freezing the correlation of forces as they were some years ago, as if it were eternally reasonable to invest this percentage of government income in higher education and no other investment could ever have a greater priority or have to be financed at its expense. Raised to the status of dogma, the 6% has become infallible, inevitable, indisputable.

But the national correlation of forces is different than at the beginning of the nineties, when 20,000 university students got the “authentic interpretation” of the 6% they were looking for with the support of the whole population. Despite the loss of that consensus, some people are still holed up behind the myth. Maybe they’ve turned the 6% into a taboo precisely because they know many people are no longer convinced it is untouchable. More and more people have started questioning the sense of investing part of their taxes in churning out lawyers who later suck them dry in the courts or cream off their life savings as the fee for legalizing their farm. Or sociologists who once they become directors of NGOs with monthly salaries of $2,500 will hang a portrait of Che Guevara in their homes while caving into their desire to buy the latest Volvo. Or economists who get involved as development consultants without the least idea of the bus fare to those rural zones where nothing is developing.

This “myth” is really about a correlation of forces with not always conscious or explicit class arguments and group interests. Many university students only want to swell the technocratic ranks and climb the social ladder. Right from the start, the university is held up as the goal of the educational system. A degree is seen as a mechanism for social advancement and its attraction is even greater in societies like ours with their extreme levels of inequality. If there were not such a gigantic difference between a business manager’s salary and a carpenter’s wage, university might not be such an attractive option. At least it wouldn’t be seen as the great way to catapult oneself into the middle class and, with a bit of luck, the upper class. And although the system is cranking out administrators, doctors and lawyers who earn less than mechanics and taxi drivers, all university students bank on becoming successful professionals who will quickly crown their careers with a highly-paid post. The truth is, however, that the limited level of national income does not stretch very far. For all that, we all know how much easier it is to fight for 6% for the universities than a pay rise for nurses, construction workers, shoemakers or even teachers themselves.

Another smooth operator in this mythical field of the 6% is the FSLN, which blatantly fans the flames of the university protests to demonstrate that it is still owns the streets and can capitalize on the most persistent demand of the last 12 years—that of young students. Behind the myth, UNEN and CNU ringleaders try to legitimate their leadership and conserve or increase the income of the universities they run or in which they are developing as future politicians.

Generational confrontation
and ideologized truths

This year the 6% has been almost unanimously attacked by professionals writing newspaper opinion pieces. One rarely explicit factor motivating their positions is their unease over extending higher education, which inflates the professional market and devalues degrees. The fact is that the idea of academic-based selection that many of us favor is not only inspired by the desire to see the country invest its resources well and produce competent professionals. It is also fed by growing uncertainty about our positions and future in the professional labor market. That’s why old professionals insist—also with some justification—that the new professionals are mediocre, the academic achievement levels are low and the state investment in the universities does not show a good return because the dropout rate is over 30%. When these arguments are levied to argue for constricted expenditure on higher education, the conflict acquires the trappings of a generational confrontation.

Knowing that their new condition makes it hard to aspire to well-paid jobs, many recent graduates with good or even mediocre qualifications do not immediately seek to join the labor market, but rather to get a scholarship and study for a master’s degree. The idea is to be able to rectify the deficient education they received and improve their credentials in the eyes of public and private employers. The pressure exerted by old professionals thus has a certain effect: it at least defers the entrance of young men and women into the ruthless professional market.

Meanwhile, journalists at the service of big capital, those who write the ideologized truth of La Prensa, highlight the corruption in the UNI and the ruckuses in public universities, where their bosses’ relatives neither study nor work, but virtually never mention the corruption and inefficiency in the private universities. For example, they gave nowhere near the same coverage to the scandalous bankruptcy of the University of Mobile, now the Ave María College, which changed its name, religion and owners.

The urgent need to demystify the 6%

Many non-explicit interests are at play behind the 6%. They need to be identified, described and unmasked to demystify the 6% and start up a more serious debate, free of sophisms, taboos and cards hidden under the table and with less political pressure. Only this way can we draw a little closer to the goal of better distributing the state’s limited resources.

Six years ago Nicaragua’s Juan Bautista Arrien, coordinator of the Program to Promote Educational Reform in Latin America (PREAL), warned of the danger of failing to deal with this myth. “The conflict over the 6% as it has been managed by both the government and a sector of university students,” he said, “has robbed us all of the possibility of examining, debating and trying to resolve other very serious problems currently facing national education. It has robbed us of perspective. How many university students know what is currently happening in our education system? How many university professors have any in-depth knowledge of the educational situation in this country? We have been forced to concentrate on surviving to such an extent that we know increasingly less about the vital risk facing our education.”

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