Bolivia's university plans get go-ahead

November 17, 2000

The Bolivian parliament has sanctioned government plans to create a new public university on terms that radically reinterpret constitutional guarantees of autonomy.

The Universidad PNoblica y Aut"noma de El Alto, due to open next February, will be the country's first to be administered by a purpose-built "inter-institutional" council under the permanent presidency of the education ministry. The ministry said the aim was to teach technical subjects and practical skills to help combat poverty in Bolivia's fourth-largest city. Its 700,000 mostly indigenous Indian inhabitants feel that the country has abandoned them.

In April, Gonzalo Taboada, rector of the 170-year-old Universidad Mayor de San Andres in the Bolivian capital of La Paz, threatened to block the "anti-constitutional" plans as they excluded teaching staff from running the university. Professor Taboada had obtained support from the Bolivian universities' executive committee and industry minister Ronald MacLean.

The government's recent decision to include representatives from the university's executive committee and Mr MacLean on the university's council - and that Professor Taboada might be given a role in running the new university - appear to have quelled threats. The council will include representatives from local trade unions, parents' committees, the local students' federation and the Catholic church.

Education minister Tito Hoz de Vila applauded the acceptance of his proposal for an "ideologically different" university. He said: "This model will help overcome the defects of our system and sensitise it to the needs of a globalised market. It represents a warning to our universities that they will have to break with tradition."

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