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Free University

Prof. Gabriel Mario Rodrigues

Gabriel Mario Rodrigues – Chairman of the Board of Directors of ABMES

“In schools of economics, one of the first lessons one learns is that there is no such thing as a free lunch.” (Francisco Wirton)

From time to time another wave of people come up wanting to touch on the subject of the “public university with monthly tuition fees” that does not find consensus because people here and there always confront them and, in the end, the argument goes nowhere.

What is certain is that, radicalism aside, originated in the public colleges, the argument is always based on the text of the Constitution. It is not clear, however, that times have completely changed and that, as public universities have not been able to conduct themselves from various angles of good management, they are constantly living under economic crises, and thus their taxes, which fuel their existence, can easily run out. And not as we imagine, with proper financial allocations to teaching, research or extension activities, but because of the payroll that soon may exceed extraordinary, unmanageable limits.

Thus, under the rule of red corporatism, the academy does not want to hear about it. One of the cases, Unicamp, had its biggest representative, Rector Marcelo Knobel, participating in a sponsored event in São Paulo sponsored by Unip, Wednesday (26), promoted by Folha de São Paulo, under the title “The Challenges of Higher Education “.

In addition to Knobel, Sergio Firpo of Insper, and Paulo Meyer Nascimento of the Institute of Applied Economic Research (Ipea), also participated in the first roundtable entitled “Financing Public Education: Who Would Pay for the University?” For the last two, the financial crisis that the country is in is serving to show the need to seek private resources to maintain and expand public universities. Hence the theme returns to the discussions, as a wave, between managers and economists in search of a possible solution.

Increasing the taxes of the wealthy was one of the alternatives pointed out by Knobel, which Sergio Firpo, professor of Insper’s Unibanco Institute Chair, strongly disagreed defending the charges of monthly fees, in the simple argument that one has to be charged for services rendered, under argument “you pay for what you get”, an uncontested condition that would include a good percentage of the average upper-class student. Those with lower purchasing power would continue to enjoy gratuity. Nothing more logical and rational.

With some dose of escapism, not to offend intelligences, Knobel argued that “tuition payments would not solve the problem.” Without anyone saying that this would be a solution, the argument would certainly minimize the problem. It is a pretext that only blurs the subject when saying that the money would represent only 10% of the budget (?). Well, 10% is much better than 0%. And, by the way, what is the budget of Unicamp, and of USP and Unesp?

“In a time of crisis like this, any help would be valid, even if it did not account for financing everything,” Firpo argues. Right on the target. For him, “Our country is incredibly unequal. Charging (for higher education) can be a very effective instrument of income distribution. ”

Paulo Meyer, an Ipea researcher, agreed that higher education could benefit from any extra resources.

The strong argument of supporters of the end of free public universities is that it is not fair that the whole society should fund the studies of young people of the upper classes. Meanwhile, the opponents insist that the measure would not be enough to solve the crisis. That is right. But what other measures are there? No one offers any. Remember that the World Bank defends the measure, arguing that the Brazilian public university is inefficient and unfair.

It is worth remembering that the main argument against free public universities is that the majority of students in the public network are among the highest-income earners Brazilians, who in theory could well afford it.

For Fabio Waltenberg, a professor at the Fluminense University, instituting tuitions in public institutions would be to tinker with a system that works well (?), Indicating that he is unaware of the colossal problem of social security, which has been dragging itself heavily on the ground of irrationality by those who do not accept changes in order to survive.

Paulo Meyer asks: “Those who have a college education tend to earn higher wages throughout their lives. Is it fair that the entire population should pay in full for higher education, for which only a minority has access and for whom the labor market tend to reward financially for the efforts made to obtain a diploma?

Just to illustrate, see the case of the University of Brasilia that on April 12 was taken over by hundreds of students. The youths invaded the central building and camped there for 19 days. The occupation was a protest against the situation of administrative funding shortage experienced by the institution. In March, days before the invasion, UnB had increased the values ​​of the university restaurant and announced the dismissal of outsourced employees and trainees. The reason: containment of costs due to the lack of funds it should have received from the Ministry of Education (MEC).

Despite the movements, the forecast is to close 2018 with a deficit above R$ 92 million. Last year, the gap exceeded R$100 million. The problem of UnB extends to most public higher education institutions (HEIs) in Brazil. The federal network, for example, lost 50% of the investment resources and 20% of the state revenues between 2014 and 2017, according to Emanuel Neves of the newspaper Gazeta do Povo, in his article “Tuition: Bitter Remedy for Public Universities.” Adding that “tuition could be a way out of the crisis of institutions, but the  implications and potentials of the measure require deep analysis.” It’s a fact that everyone agrees on, but when and who will take it up?

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Master of Arts in Political Science, California State University Northridge. Twenty five years experience in executive functions at Brazilian colleges and universities. Writer, lecturer. and consultant is, presently, educational editor for Brazil Monitor