Chile has a very diverse higher education sector, and has been subject to a lot of policy experimentation in recent years. That makes it a case to watch, both regionally and globally.
Prior to the 1973 coup, Universidad de Chile was the country’s pre-eminent school, with campuses across the country. But academia didn’t fare so well under Pinochet, as there were waves of arrests, exiles, and, in some cases, executions. All of this meant that, on occasion, whole departments suddenly vanished. U de Chile was subsequently split into a dozen smaller institutions, most becoming independent – but less powerful – public universities in their own right.
By the end of the military regime, there were 25 “state-sponsored” universities – 16 public and 9 private (mainly Catholic), which are usually referred to as the “CRUCH” universities (pronounced croossh (it’s an acronym for the Council of Rectors), all funded through a mixture of public funding and student fees (more the latter than the former). None were really what you’d call a research university – Latin America historically has never really had many of those – but it had the usual prestige hierarchy, with the two oldest universities, Universidad de Chile and Pontifical Universidad Catolica de Chile, at the top.
But the key Pinochet-era decision was to open the higher education market to private competition. The result was the creation, over three decades, of 35 new, fully-privately funded universities. Few are considered anything like the equal of the older universities, academically. Partly, that’s like private universities almost everywhere, as they tend to avoid offering programs in prestigious but capital-intensive subjects like Engineering, Science, and Medicine; but mostly it’s because a lot of them are for-profit, and are therefore seen as suspect.
Chile’s sub-baccalaureate system – 45 Institution Profesional (essentially, polytechnics) and 68 CFTs (essentially, community colleges) is entirely privately-run, the only country in the world where this is so. The existence of these institutions is an irritant to CRUCH universities, who have responded by using their influence in the accreditation system to (essentially) impose accreditation criteria designed for universities on community colleges. Result? Only 2.2% of CFT programs are actually accredited.
What’s distinctive about Chile is the diversity of its funding channels. There’s a public subsidy for the CRUCH universities, which is mostly historic rather than formula-driven, and a different, voucher-ish public subsidy for private universities able to attract students with high scores on the national university-entrance exam. There’s one student loans program for CRUCH universities, and another, much less subsidized, program for everyone else. Add in some half-hearted attempts at performance-contract funding, a dozen or so bursary programs for various target groups – plus, of course, the fact that as a percentage of GDP, Chile’s private contributions to higher education are among the highest in the world (nearly 1.5% of GDP), and you can see why the policy environment is fairly chaotic.
Now, add into all this the fact that President-elect Bachelet has promised to make all education free. What does that mean in a system which is 70% + private? No one knows.
Stay tuned. This will get interesting.