Argentina shelves cuts

May 21, 1999

Nationwide protests have forced the Argentine government to shelve plans for drastic cuts to education funding.

The budget, drawn up by the government under pressure from the International Monetary Fund, would have meant 100 million pesos (Pounds 62.5 million) a year less for universities and overall cuts of 280 million pesos for education.

The issue had split the cabinet, led to the resignation of education minister Susana Decibe and brought warnings from the rector of the country's largest university that cuts could lead to closures.

Legislation reversing the cuts to education funding was approved by the Argentine congress in record time, although reductions totalling 1,100 million pesos to other areas of public spending will still go ahead.

The restoration of the budget for universities was voted through by a makeshift alliance of opposition and government politicians. Many believe the government of Carlos Menem was taken aback by the strength of feeling on this issue and was not prepared to pay the political price of such an unpopular move.

Presidential elections are due to be held in October this year. Students and academics held protests in major cities across the country last week.

In Buenos Aires, one lecturer gave medical students an open-air anatomy class in the middle of the street while economics students attended a lecture in an underground station. Traffic ground to a halt as protesters blocked off streets.

Oscar Shuberoff, rector of the University of Buenos Aires, which faced cuts of 17 million pesos, said it would have been unable to pay its staff and described the moves as "the final blow to state universities".

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