Colombia’s main student organization on Monday announced to shut down higher education on October 16 and 17 to force the government to make progress in education reforms promised years ago.
The announced student protests are the last in a series of strikes that have hit Colombia this year.
Student organization MANE is demanding a $320 million increase of the current national public university budget of $1.3 billion, increased academic autonomy and democracy, a reform of student loans and a permanent body to facilitate negotiations between authorities and students.
Instead of calling an indefinite strike, the MANE initially plans to shut down universities and take to the streets for two consecutive days to avoid putting unnecessary pressure on the universities who, according to the students, are in financial crisis.
“The intention is to not affect the student, but to pressure the government to give us solutions to the problems of higher education in the country,” student leader Sebastian Lopez told radio station W.
“We want a solution to the 11.3 trillion peso ($6 billion) deficit the universities have. This is not even a demand of the students, [but of] the rectors of the country’s public universities,” Lopez told another radio station, Caracol.
Additionally, the students want the government to make progress in a planned higher education reform planned by the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos, but put on hold in 2011 after the first wave of student protests rejecting a planned privatization of universities.
The strike was agreed upon by students from across Colombia who had gather at the National University in Bogota to define their strategy in ongoing tensions with the government.
End of ultimatum
In August, when Colombia was going through the most severe anti-government protests in recent history, the students had already warned that if the government would not take pending demands seriously.
In an interview with Blu Radio, student leader Sergio Fernandez said the government response had not been adequate.
The 2011 student protests were the first and largest protests to hit Colombia’s cities since Santos took office. Hundreds of thousands of students shut down urban centers in peaceful protests to demand the government to revoke a law on higher education.
Following that protest, the Santos administration promised to restructure the proposal together with the students. The reform never returned to congress.