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President Castillo announced free admission to universities during his government. Its viable? How much investment will it require? Are the study houses prepared? And above all, will it finally mean the realization of the supreme right to higher education or, on the contrary, will it be the end of meritocracy?
It would mean the end of an endearing ritual: the hookah haircut. A hazing that is both a crude but loving acknowledgment from family and friends to the student who achieved the feat of passing the challenging entrance exam. Getting into a public university is not easy and that is why being a shaved-headed hookah can be a mark of pride.
Allowing free admission to university, on the other hand, would mean that many young people who do not have the resources to pay for preparation academies and, even less, to study at a private university, can access higher education.
The announcement made by President Pedro Castillo in his National Holidays Message was welcomed by those who for years have criticized the inequality that exists in higher education: accessible above all to those who can afford it. As the rector of the National University of Trujillo (UNT) says , Carlos Vásquez Boyer , this measure would constitute "the real materialization of the right to university education."
However, it is necessary to know how feasible it would be to carry out this reform, what will be its real impact on society and if there are no other alternatives that achieve, with less time and resources, the long-awaited democratization of higher education.
–It is very important to see how the transition process will be from the current situation to a universal admission system –said educational researcher Hugo Ñopo . - That is not easy, that transition would take a long time, much more than the five years that this government has, and a lot of money, that I do not know if we are in a position to invest.
From the student side, the leaders of the Federation of Students of Peru (FEP) , the most important university union in the country, partly agree with this position.
- It is a proposal with which we sympathize - says its secretary general, Marco Apaza - but we understand that it is not a reality in the short term because we know that this implies a significant expense and we understand that there are priorities. We are in the middle of a pandemic and for us comes life first and then everything else. It is a horizon that we have to reach at some point. In the short term it is going to be very complicated.
A few days ago, the Peruvian Foreign Trade Society (COMEX) calculated how much it would cost the government to implement free admission to the university : currently around 60 thousand new students enter, which means a little more than 300 thousand enrolled in all the public universities. If the number of new entrants is doubled, an additional budget of 493 million soles per year would be required, which in a five-year period would add up to more than 2,466 million soles.
Where will the government get these resources from?
The defenders of the measure cite the example of Argentina, where higher education has been freely accessible since the 1950s and where it is applied in institutions such as the University of Buenos Aires (UBA) , one of the most prestigious in the region.
However, just as the entry rate is high, so is the dropout rate. According to the Center for Argentine Education Studies (CEA) , only three out of ten students finish their studies, a figure that is five in Brazil and six in Chile. In Peru, the dropout rate last year was 16% (which means that eight out of ten finish university).
–In Peru, one in five young people desert and that is already quite high because it implies the breakdown of many dreams, aspirations and an important investment of money for many families– says Hugo Ñopo. -Now, if you open the doors to universality, the most probable is that the desertion will increase a lot. What good is it to make our young people lose one, two, three or even four years going to a university from which they are not going to graduate?
For the researcher, there is a gap between the training with which young people leave school and that required by the university, but he says that the answer should not be to lower the entrance barrier, but to raise the standards of secondary education.
The general secretary of the FEP also agrees on the need to strengthen basic education, particularly the fifth year of secondary school, but goes further. In Marco Apaza's opinion, what the government should do in the short term is 1) increase the number of vacancies in the careers most demanded by society and 2) abandon the current admission exam model, which students consider outdated , and implement academic proficiency exams, according to specialties.
"At the same time, put an end to the entrenched mafias in public universities and increase the budget," he says.
PILOT PLAN IN TRUJILLO
A few days ago, the rector of the National University of Trujillo asked the Minister of Education, Juan Cadillo , that his be the center for pilot studies of the free entry system . Shortly after, he met with a group of officials from that portfolio to whom he explained his proposal, an idea that he has been working on for some time.
In dialogue with DOMINGO , the rector, Carlos Vásquez Boyer, explains that the plan is that free admission is for students in the upper third of secondary schools.
The idea is that the entrance exam is maintained, with the difference that those who do not pass it enroll the same and take all the courses of the first year, until they try it again in the next exam. If they pass it, they automatically validate their courses. If they don't approve, they could try next year, one last time. If they also fail to do so, they will drop out of university, but they will do so with the certified competencies of what they learned.
Vásquez says that with this model the UNT could double the number of annual entrants, which today is 3,600 students. He says that they have explained to the officials that they would require an additional $ 106 million in budget to finance the hiring of more professors and the implementation of the laboratories and other areas.
"There is an important criterion and that is that the State must provide information regarding the number of professionals it needs in each specialty," he says. - Because what we do not want is to overpopulate the market with a profession for which there is not enough demand.
To Hugo Ñopo, the idea of allowing free admission to the students of the upper third does not seem bad a priori, but that, in any case, its pros and cons must be carefully examined.
"Universality in the strict sense of the word is going to be impossible," he says. –We are going to have to find forms of semi-universality, like this one that you propose. Each one will have its flats. The upper third is a possibility, but it will be necessary to look for other alternatives.