Congress rejects Argentina’s international student fees

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Posted on February 14, 2024


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Congress rejected the right-wing president Javier Milei plan to impose tuition on foreign students studying in Argentina, citing a violation of the charter’s guarantee of free and equal public education. 

Many saw Milei’s attempt to sever free education as the first step toward his libertarian president’s deconstruction of international student fees, which he included as an article in his expansive Omnibus Bill. This move has caused discussion throughout Latin America. 

The government will probably oppose universities that have long taken pride in providing free education, as guaranteed by the Argentine constitution, if the bill returns to congress. 

Sandra Tarquino, the director of international relations at Antonio Nariño University and co-founder of INILAT, the continent’s organization for higher education internationalization, stated, “There has been a strong struggle in Argentina for the autonomy of public universities and for free and open higher education.”

It is hard to envision any public university using this feature. According to Tarquino, “the revenue from charging tuition may not be offset by the cost in reputation and consistency for a nation that has carried in Latin America the banner of free public education for all.”

The plan was a component of the massive Omnibus Bill, which the new president had drafted with the intention of starting to restructure the state and the economy. However, last week, deputies unexpectedly sent the entire bill back to the legislative draft stage. 

Many Argentinians think it appropriate that foreign students should pay tuition in a system that is funded by national taxpayers, especially in light of the country’s 40% poverty rate and skyrocketing inflation. 

However, Tarquino stated that there is “lack of evidence of the cost-benefit ratio of the decision” among academics.  

Despite being one of the most sought-after locations for foreign study in Latin America, fees only apply to non-resident international students, the majority of whom are from neighboring countries and account for only 2% of the student body. 

Due in significant part to tourism brought in by the students’ friends and family visits, foreign students made up over USD $389 million of the city of Buenos Aires’s GDP in 2022.

“The negative impact that could be caused by the fact that Argentina would cease to be one of the most desired destinations for Latin Americans to pursue higher education is greater than the total number of students to whom the measure would apply,” Tarquino added.

Gustavo Petro, the president of Colombia, claimed that the action would essentially “expel” 20,000 Colombian students. To accommodate these students, the Ministry of Education in Colombia has proposed reevaluating the country’s free tuition policy. 

Since 90% of university revenue in Argentina comes from state support, the government may threaten to withhold funds if universities refuse to pay the new fees, even though this would go against the constitution’s guarantee of university autonomy. 

Marcelo Rabossi from Torcuato Di Tella University in Buenos Aires said, “Here we could be entering into a power game to see who is more powerful: universities or the state itself.”

Rabossi suggested that Argentina should consider foreign students as an investment rather than an expense and concentrate on utilizing their abilities after graduation.