Students, professors and administrators from Costa Rica’s four public universities crowded the road in front of Casa Presidencial Tuesday in a shared call for a greater piece of the national budget.
They argued that if legislators could find money for a pay raise and if the new administration was undertaking a tax reform, there should be more money to fund the country’s institutions of higher learning.
“The government is living a contradiction,” said Diego Zuñiga, vice president of the Student Federation of the Costa Rican Institute of Technology (FEITEC), from outside Casa Presidencial. “We are telling them, ‘No. You have to provide more resources because giving the universities resources is developing the country.’”
The government has proposed a payment of 1.3 percent of the gross domestic product to the universities, or ¢400 billion ($755 million), but universities are asking for 2.34 percent.
“With the amount they are proposing, we can maintain the current programs, but we can’t grow in course offerings or staff the schools with more professors or offer more scholarships,” said Andrea Navas, president-elect of FEITEC. “What we want is an amount that is fair in order to grow.”
Education Minister Leonardo Garnier called the request by university rectors “out of proportion” and asked school leaders to look internally for ways to reduce an estimated annual increase of 8 percent.
Negotiations over the budget for higher education have been proceeding for nearly a year and are in their final stages.
“The country has many other priorities, not just the universities,” said Marco Vargas, presidency minister, at a press conference at Casa Presidencial. “We hope the dialogue continues to center on strengthening higher education, but doesn’t ignore other government priorities.”
While he spoke, chants from the outside protest seeped through the doorway. The students came in costume and boomed music in a peaceful demonstration.
“The general idea of the protest is an artistic festival. We didn’t come to throw stones or do damage or (partake in) violence,” said Navas. “We want to make it clear that we are committed and conscious university students that are here today for a just cause.”