Former rector tried over undeclared properties

November 12, 2004

Buenos Aires. A former rector of the University of Buenos Aires faces up to six years in prison for not declaring eight properties in the US, adding to the woes of Argentina's biggest university.

Oscar Shuberof, rector of the university for 16 years until 2002, is on trial at a federal court in Argentina for not declaring the properties in a sworn statement about his wealth while in charge of the state-run university. If found guilty, he could be sentenced to two to six years in prison.

The news comes at a bad time for UBA. The university, which has 325,000 students, faces a severe budgetary crisis. There have also been calls by leading academics to split it into several smaller universities.

Eduardo Zimmermann, rector of the University of San Andrés, one of Argentina's most prestigious private universities, said: "UBA's problems are one of the biggest challenges facing higher education in the country.

It is underfunded and too large. It is being accused of corruption. It has lost its original mission and needs to be restructured."

The country's Anti-Corruption Office investigated Dr Shuberof and linked him to the eight properties in Virginia, which were acquired between 1980 and 1989.

Dr Shuberof's critics accuse him of using the university as a bastion for the Alianza political party while in the post of rector.

Guillermo Jaim Etcheverry, the new rector, is campaigning to increase the university's annual budget from 326 million pesos (£60 million) in 2004 to 855 million pesos next year.

He said that if it was not raised, there was a risk that teaching staff would leave. "They will go to other universities or other countries, where they will be paid more. The salary problem is very grave."

He added that more than 70 per cent of UBA's lecturers earned less than 300 pesos (£55) a month. About 20,000 of the total 32,000 teachers work for free.

But, Juan Carlos Pugliese, the Minister for Universities, said: "We could triple UBA's funds only at the expense of the general university budget."

Julian Garces, a fashion design student at UBA, said: "I think UBA is phenomenal, given the number of teachers working for free and the size of the budget. But I think the university's courses must be improved so they show students how to make a living out of what they have been studying."

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