Argentine minister vows to tackle crisis

February 1, 2002

Graciela Giannettasio, Argen-tina's new education minister, has vowed that she will draw on all her experience, workaholic energies and deep Christian faith to resolve her country's long-running higher education headache.

Ms Giannettasio, of the Peronist Justicialista Party, was director of the Buenos Aires region's schools for seven years. It is the largest education system in South America with 17,000 schools, 250,000 teachers and 4 million students.

She took over as minister from Andres Delich, a Radical, last month and within a week she satisfied the most urgent demands of staff at the 37 public universities by ordering their overdue December salaries to be paid.

The closing weeks of 2001 were punctuated by strikes, protest marches and faculty occupations, with lectures conducted in the streets of the capital.

Academics, who are preparing for pre-courses and entrance exams in the lead-up to the start of the academic year in March, are considering future measures.

Ms Giannettasio promised to defend free higher education and tighten central control to help combat mismanagement. She invited rectors to submit funding proposals for 2002 that take account of the economic crisis.

Peronist president Eduardo Duhalde, Argentina's fifth leader since December 20, faces foreign debt of more than $150 billion (£103 billion), a spiralling recession and mounting unemployment.

Argentine expert Celia Szusterman, a senior lecturer at the University of Westminster and senior associate member of St Antony's College, Oxford, said that corruption, lack of accountability and a focus on party politics instead of teaching quality were to blame.

Dr Szusterman said: "Fifty per cent of students drop out after their first year and another 31 per cent later. This is a scandalous waste. Meanwhile the population of Buenos Aires is subsidising the 98 per cent of UBA students who come from middle and upper sectors of society."

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