Argentina confronts dropouts

April 27, 2001

Argentina will introduce legislation to restrict student entry to the country's universities.

Rising student dropout figures, overcrowded lecture halls and saturated labour markets, especially in medicine, are said to have driven the government's decision. More than 60,000 university medical students aim to join the country's estimated 90,000 qualified doctors.

Education minister Andrés Delich - who has named his predecessor, Hugo Juri, to lead a panel to report on the issue - said that although his ministry respected university autonomy, the state had failed to formulate an appropriate higher education policy for the past 20 years.

He said: "Student entry is an instrument of education policy. Like a surgeon's scalpel, it can cure or kill. In medicine, objective limits and the need for quality teaching render restrictions necessary. But engineering and other subjects with low matriculation figures require the stimulus of grants and incentives."

The chief backer of the government's move is the Córdoba National University. It restricted entry for medicine this year - 600 students as opposed to a previous annual average of 1,800 - after a row over the fact that just 179 of 2,440 students passed first-year medicine last year.

Oscar Shuberoff, rector of the the University of Buenos Aires since 1986, is seen as the most serious threat to the ministry move. He stopped a plan to decentralise the university in the 1980s. Dr Shuberoff said he agreed with the need for legislation in higher education but opposed plans to limit student entry.

UBA's annual student intake is 60,000, and its student population has risen by 38 per cent to 253,000 over the past four years.

Manuel Terrádez, president of the Argentine federation of universities, rejected the idea of restricted entry but said he would discuss plans to help students through all stages of university if the country's full university community could join the discussions.

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