Argentine university/reseach

From: Carlos Gonzalia (
Date: Fri Mar 02 2001 - 14:11:01 MST

First of all, I have to remark most of Argentina's university system is
free, and managed by the national government. There are cultural and
reasons for this (and political!), but to make things short, I will just say
this is the situation. Private universities are few and expensive, attended
by those fewest lucky ones of the higher social classes (which constitute
than 5% of the population). These fewest are indeed so fewest, quite some
private universities have found themselves at odds to make ends meet in past
years. And of course, private businessmen have little interest in investing
these universities, their operations in Argentina are based mainly on
agro-industrial production and manufactures, so low skill workers are more

Argentina spends just the 3.5% or so of its GDP on education. Some reasons
this are that GDP (traditionally weak) has dropped a lot, national debt
have grown a lot, and government is basically funding only the essentials in
every item of the national budget. For universities, this means most of the
budget goes into wages and building upkeep. Typical figures put wages as
up to 70% of university budgets. Add the upkeep costs of buildings, and
this is a real meager budget, and you have to wonder how much money do
receive for research. Almost nothing. The fact that there is any reseach
on is sort of a miracle, in my opinion.

This doesn't mean buildings and facilities are shiny and great, either. As
basic upkeep can be afforded with the limited budget, you very rarely have
anything else but a blackboard and a cramped, badly lit classroom to do your
trick. Computer labs are few and ridiculously underfit, students typically
a couple of hours computer time a week, if that. Subjects where materials
equipment are critical (say, electrical engineering) can barely offer a
of practical lab skills. Libraries, well, libraries are filled with old,
historical curiosities, of textbooks. My origin university could usually
100-200 new volumes each year, when I was leaving for my PhD here in Sweden.
told it's even less now. Suscription to academic journals or procedures is
almost unheard of, perhaps 3 or 4 for each department. Funding for sending
researchers to conferences abroad is equally non-existant. If you have one
the higher faculty positions, you may be allowed one trip abroad each year.
Quality postgraduate students are lucky if they get some funding for one
domestic conference/school each year.

There are (rare) international cooperation programs, some little research
from them thanks to the generosity of foreign researchers. There are (ok,
WERE) even some loans for advanced research and sending people abroad to get
good education, but these programs were killed when the IMF imposed to the
government a "rationalization" expenditure effort. Education foreign loans
the first to go. Which makes me an unhappy man, since I was staying in
within one of said programs. I'm still trying to see what the blazes to do
the Swedes don't give me their own scholaship to finish up here (still 2
to go).

That research and education still happen in our universities is mainly due
people making great personal sacrifices to achieve it. 20% of university
work for free ("ad honorem"), either because there is no funding to pay
them, or
because they have another job outside academia (to earn a living) and they
as a personal compromise/thankfulness with the university that formed them.
are not naive: they know things will not change a jot, even in 20 years, and
they will not see a dime in return. Probably even longer. They still chose
to do
so in an amazing feat of solidarity. Of course, there are few such
people, and most of the time when universities can't pay even a very low
the positions simply remain empty, and existing faculty has to double or
their efforts to provide at least a minimum offer of courses that will allow
students to have a full programme. One of the many niceties the government
been forced to do to meet IMF's administration standards is cutting wages
faculty earning over 1000 USD. In most cases the cuts have been around 10%
more. You may think people would move to private sector, right? Well, with
unemployment rate (stable around 15%) and subemployment rate (empl.+subemp.
combined take around 30% rate), they are happy they still have a job. So
keep it, even with ridiculous wages. Understaffing and overwork are common

More about wages. Of those 80% faculty who do get a check for their job,
earn 2.8 USD/hour. Considering their contracts allow only for 10 hrs/week
(another nice imposition of IMF, they call it "flexibilization"... isn't
semantics nice?), these 2/3rds of faculty earn around 120 USD/month
would be like "teaching assistant"). Needless to say, they must resort to
several simultaneous positions, or external jobs. Also needless to say, they
spend way more than 10 hours/week working to keep the courses functioning
at a basic level, but the extra hours are not officially recognised or paid.
any case, the quality of their teaching is severely handicapped, and
stress/outside work takes their toll. About 1/6th of faculty are in the next
higher position (sort of "regular professorship" position), they earn about
USD/hour, and about 440 USD/month. Again, many of them have to resort to
multiple positions and outside work. Again, quality suffers greatly. The
1/6th earns around 6.3 USD/hour, and about 1000 USD/month average. These
are usually long time professors ("special professorship"), with 10 or more
continuous years in the position. Many work on parallel as chairs, academic
secretaries, and similar organizational duties, without receiving any extra
income for it in most cases. Faculty earning 1500-2000 USD/month is very
usually due to a long standing in their position or historical chairs.

It gets even worse. Regretfully, not all faculty are like these amazing
doing ad honorem work or accepting ridiculous wages to do many times the
their contract marks them to do. There are quite some academics that simply
cling to their positions like parasites. They are mediocre, snobbish, and
stagnate the little research and advacement that still happens. But, they
the political connections, so they keep their positions. The political class
dabbles shamelessly on university life, and keeping their friends in nice
positions is only one of their goals. They also actively recruit militants
within the students, which are (for traditional cultural reasons) already
politicized. Many of the successful (and less scrupulous) student militants
quickly absorbed into the party machinery. This perpetuates the dabbling,
once graduated, these recruits in turn dabble into the university life with
same lack of scruples their party mentors showed up. Many of these parasitic
faculty are encrusted into the surviving research system too, which makes
all kinds of shady and incompetent deals. Nepotism, bribery, and criminal
incompetence are not unheard of.

Now I should mention how it is for students. Forget about scholarships or
at least for the big part of them there is nothing like that they can resort
60% of university students have to work to support their studies. As I
mentioned, the unemployment/subemployment rates being what they are, they
lucky if they do get said jobs. Still, the number of students entering the
university system keeps increasing! And the reason for this is simply that
want to get a degree, since the very few job opportunities out there can be
fought for with better luck with such degree. This would be a great
of life and all that, if it were not for the jobs they are applying to being
menial work, shop attendants, clerks, and similar very low skill chores. The
result is one of the most highly educated "unskilled worker" segment around
world. ;-)

In closing: without money, resources or infrastructure, our academics manage
produce graduates with a reasonable level of quality. And they do this
the political establishment, incompetent governments, and even their own
fossilized colleagues. The only reason for this minor victory is the
compromise and sacrifice of these academics. In a country in which
camps, urban guerilla, chronic leadership ineptitude, cultural fascism, and
economic exploitation have been rampart until recently, many of the
academics of
international quality look at this in despair and go away to some decent
place, where they can actually achieve their scientific potential. I can't
them. But I guess I have been infected with the "compromise virus", and I
and appreciate hugely the people who allowed me to have an university
due to their sacrifice and insane amounts of work. I hope I can be half as
half as hard-working, as they were, when I get back and join the bucket
The world would be a much darker and aimless place for me if their effort
out to be in vain.

-Carlos Gonzalia

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