Undoing the Neoliberal Higher Education System? Student Protests and the Bachelet Reforms in Chile
This article focuses on the education reforms of the current government of Michelle Bachelet (Chile, 2014-2018) triggered by the large student protests of 2011 – the “Chilean winter” – and the overwhelming support of the public for the movement’s demands. The students’ main demands included free education and a greater involvement of the state in education. The parties of the centre-left alliance, then the opposition, embraced these demands and promised broad educational reforms including free post-secondary education. After the center-left coalition (Nueva Mayoría, New Majority) won the presidential election it introduced three major education bills: the “short law” of free education, the creation of two new public universities and fifteen Centers of Technical Formation, and the reform of higher education’s regulatory framework (still under discussion in parliament). While these bills are aimed at increasing the state’s role in higher education, they fall far short of the students’ aspirations. In fact, as implemented the bill have consolidated a mixed public-private higher education model resting on a vision of post-secondary education as a marketplace in which institutions compete for students, subsidies and funding. The conclusion discusses the inherent limitations of these reforms, especially how the weakness of the welfare coalition made it impossible to transform the students’ demands into sustainable higher education policy.