Sit-in ends as strife shifts

September 22, 2006

Students at the National University of Comahue, the biggest state university in Patagonia, Argentina, have ended a three-month sit-in that had paralysed the institution. But a second Argentinian university is in crisis and leaderless.

In May, hundreds of left-wing students belonging to the University Federation of Comahue, began an occupation to prevent the election of a new rector. They took over the rector's offices and six faculties. Until the sit-in ended this week, it was doubtful whether some 15,000 students would be able to embark on the next academic term, which begins this month.

The crisis at Comahue, which has 24,000 students and is based in Neuquen, with nine satellite campuses in Patagonia, comes as radical students at the University of Buenos Aires have blocked the election of a new rector on five occasions.

UBA, the biggest university in the country with 360,000 students, has been without a rector since May and has accumulated a backlog of 1,900 university regulations that cannot be implemented without the rector's authorisation.

In May, Comahue's electoral college voted in a new rector, Daniel Boccanera, the former dean of engineering. But a group of academics who felt they had not been consulted challenged the decision in the provincial courts.

At first, the judges ruled in Dr Boccanera's favour, but an appeals court decided that he should step down and that new elections should take place.

A date for fresh elections has not yet been set but the UFC's leaders decided to stop the sit-in because they did not want students to miss out on the next academic term.

Their main goal is to ensure that students have the same representation on the university's governing body as academics.

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