San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Costa Rica university spending may rise despite drop in GDP

The slumping economy will not impact the amount of government money streaming into the country´s public universities.

In fact, the Education Ministry is prepared to offer a 10 percent increase over the 2009 budget, on top of a 6 percent adjustment for inflation.

“I think this is a good offer,” said Education Minister Leonardo Garnier, who is reaching the end of the negotiation process with four of the country´s universities. “We recognize that it is important to protect our social programs, especially higher education, but we also need to balance that with the (government´s) fiscal reality.”

Typically, government funding of higher education is linked to the gross domestic product (GDP), with roughly 1 percent of GDP going toward the four public universities, which educate about half of the country´s university students.

But the recession, which swept through Costa Rica beginning in 2009, led university officials to ask for more. This year the Education Ministry increased higher education allotment by 15 percent, or $30 million.

As the crisis continued to eat away at the economy, university leaders expressed concern about possible reductions; a worry that was confirmed by the threat that President Oscar Arias would slice $13 million (or 3.6 percent) of the budget (TT, Feb. 27).

The universities turned around with a demand for a 24 percent increase in the spring – an amount Garnier said was impossible.

“What we are offering is a two-year, 13 percent increase,” Garnier said. “I don´t know why (university rectors) wouldn´t accept that, but the government can´t offer any more.”

If university leaders accept the offer, $388 million will be added (up from $53 million last year) to the 2010 budget. The money will be divided between the University of Costa Rica, the National University, The Technological Institute of Costa Rica (ITCR) and State University at a Distance (UNED) for scholarships, equipment and research projects. Government funding accounts for 60 to 90 percent of their respective budgets.

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