College Guide


May 17, 2013 12:51 PM You Want to Know What Competition in Education Will Do? Look at Chile.

By Daniel Luzer

And now, fed up with this complicated, class-reinforcing and overpriced system, the students have started to revolt.

When ongoing university student protests began in May 2011, the demands for change had grown: the students want nothing less than the elimination of the voucher system and the formation of public education. Their slogan is “¡No al lucro!”—“No to profit!” The slogan is explicitly aimed at the private universities and banks profiting from high interest rates and exorbitant surcharges on risk-free government-backed student loans, but it also bluntly rejects the intensely neoliberal foundation on which Chilean society is based.
The student protesters demanded that the universities be investigated for profiteering. They demanded that municipalization be reversed. They demanded free education. They shut down several universities for an entire academic year. They took over government buildings. On June 30, 2011 some 100,000 Chileans turned out in the streets of Santiago and were joined by another 300,000 or so in solidarity marches in the rest of the country.

Chile hasn’t fixed this problem yet, though the government has made some effort to introduce reforms.

There is some question, presented in the article, about why this privatization effort has proved so unpopular with the country’s students. Former Chilean president Ricardo Lagos argues that this is simply a stage of development. First Chile needed more access, which the system provided: “The educational problem was coverage. Now the question is quality, and quality is quite different.”

No, it’s not that complicated, argues University of Chile sociologist Alberto Mayol. The problem is simply that all this market enthusiasm destroyed the country

We are Chileans of an age in which ideas … are ‘bought,’ where ‘to cooperate’ means to be dim or naïve (because to be intelligent is to be selfish), where achieving an object regardless of the means is ‘making it,’ and where being a millionaire is synonymous with a high intellectual capacity.

And that’s what Chilean students might be protesting. It’s not necessarily that access comes before quality and now it’s time to work on quality. Maybe the problem is that neoliberalism in education is the cause of low quality.

Let’s keep this in mind, education reformers. In theory more competition offers all sorts of potential to improve quality. But we can move beyond theory here; we know how this story goes.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer


  • Dora on May 30, 2013 7:09 PM:

    What you are referring to is described in detail in Naomi Klein's book The Shock Doctrine. It started in Chile with Friedman's ideas and then was again seen in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. It's termed "Disaster Capitalism".

    The introduction of the book tells it all.