Cash hope for unpaid staff

August 5, 2005

Academics at the University of Buenos Aires who are working without pay will benefit from a government promise to raise the university budget.

Daniel Filmus, Argentina's Education Minister, agreed to raise spending by 14 million pesos (£2.8 million) and said that a further 13 million pesos could come from the Government's overall university budget for new infrastructure projects.

The university's governing body told ministers that UBA would be unable to open for the academic year in October unless the planned annual budget was raised from 443 million pesos to 471 million pesos.

UBA, which has 350,000 students and 25,000 salaried academics, is the largest university in Argentina.

It wants to spend 3.5 million pesos on improved benefits for at least 1,500 of the 11,000 academics who are working unpaid. Much of the rest of the extra money will go towards improving the pay of salaried academics.

Fernando Vidella, dean of the university's School of Agronomy, said: "I think the state must double spending on UBA for it to be adequately funded. For example, it has a much lower level of resources than public universities in Brazil and Uruguay. The state does not even fund the lighting - this faculty has to raise the money for utility bills and maintenance."

The university will use part of the extra funding for a benevolent fund for academics who work unpaid. Full-time senior academics earn an average of 2,500 pesos a month.

The Government's intervention comes amid allegations of the misappropriation of funds by the rector, Guillermo Jaim Etcheverry, and his predecessor, Oscar Shuberoff.

UBA's governing body - made up of the deans of the 13 faculties and other academic and student representatives - accused Dr Etcheverry of breaking the university's rules by allocating up to 140 million pesos without authorisation. It set up an inquiry to look into where the money went.

In the case of Dr Shuberoff, federal magistrates are looking at the reason he did not include nine properties he owns in the US in sworn statements he made about his wealth.

Last month, the university's governing body revoked the position of the dean of the faculty of engineering, Bruno Cernuschi Fr!as, after he was accused of misallocating funds.

This year has seen in-fighting among university leaders in the run-up to this autumn's election, by students, of new assemblies for each faculty, which in turn will choose each school's dean, and go on to elect the rector next April.

Edgardo De Vincenzi, rector of the Open Interamerican University, a private institution in Buenos Aires with 30,000 students, said: "UBA was one of the world's best universities, but it has become very politicised. It has forgotten its role in society and is led by people of a mediocre calibre."

Berardo Dujovne, vice-rector of UBA and dean of the School of Architecture, said: "I think all universities are politicised in some way. That can be good - positive change can emerge from argument. However, if the people who run a university are indulging in too much partisan in-fighting that is bad for its reputation."

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