San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Public Universities Demand More Money

Students, professors and administrators from Costa Rica’s four public universities crowded the road in front of Casa Presidencial Tuesday, June 15 in a shared call for a greater piece of the national budget.

They argued that, between the new administration’s proposed tax reform and the ability of legislators to find money for a pay raise, there should be more funds allocated to the country’s higher learning institutions.

“The government is living a contradiction,” said Diego Zúñiga, 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 by giving the universities resources you are 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 the 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 their estimated annual automatic budget increase of 8 percent.

Negotiations on funding for higher education have been proceeding for nearly a year and are in their final stages, but they ended in a stalemate on Tuesday, following a session that lasted until 9 p.m.

“The country has many other priorities, not just the universities,” said Marco Vargas, presidency minister, at a press conference inside Casa Presidencial. “We hope the dialogue continues to center on strengthening higher education, but doesn’t forget about other government priorities.”

While he spoke, chants from the protest outside 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 conscientious university students that are here today for a just cause.”

–Chrissie Long

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