Report Nº: 106729/04/2024


The massive university protest put the discussion of the university budget on the agenda. Just when the government celebrates the fiscal surplus. Faced with chronic problems of underfunding and mismanagement, the solution is not to adjust but to improve the organization of the State, in this case, that of the universities.

The President announced as his main achievement the fiscal surplus for the first quarter of 2024. With a long history of chronic imbalances in the public finances, the emphasis placed by the president on fiscal balance is not exaggerated. However, a few hours later, a massive university protest took place, gathering students, teachers, graduates and the general public in the main cities of the country. The cause that drove these marches was the rejection of the reduction in real terms of the public transfers to the universities.

The strength of the protest led the government to rethink its strategy. In this context, it announced that it would guarantee the functioning of public universities. But it warned that it will demand accountability on how universities administer the public resources allocated to them. It should be noted that universities enjoy full management autonomy and are governed by collegiate bodies representing the different university stakeholders, i.e. teachers, non-teaching staff, alumni and students. 

What does the evidence say about the functioning of universities in Argentina? According to historical information published by the national Ministry of Education, it is observed that:

  • In 2012 the federal state invested $1 million per year per student at 2023 prices and in 2023 it invested $723 thousand per year per student.
  • In 2012 there were 45 universities while in 2023 there are 56 universities.
  • In 2012 the average budget per university was $31 billion while in 2023 it was $21 billion.  

These data show that the university budget has been falling for a long time. The fall is in terms of students and even more in terms of universities. This is a consequence of lower budgets accompanied by the creation of more universities. This strategy was advertised as a commitment to science and education but, in practice, operates as an engine of the higher education system decline. 

Underlying the university conflict are several contradictions. On one hand, its contribution to fiscal adjustment is marginal. Fiscal spending on universities was not the most reduced in real terms in 2024. The reduction in the real value of the university budget contributed barely 2% to the fiscal surplus of the 1st quarter of 2024. This contrasts, for example, with the reduction in pension real spending that explains 38% of the reduction in real terms of the national public spending. On the other hand, those supporting the protest overlook the fact that the fall in the budget is not a recent phenomenon generated by the current government but a long-standing process that was worsened by the management deficits in public universities. 

Adjusting a poorly organized system does not solve the problems but aggravates them. From the fiscal point of view, it is most likely that the small savings achieved in the university budget will be reversed in the coming months to avoid new protests. From the point of view of efficiency, the adjustment maintains and deepens bad management. For example, it does not reverse the demagogy of creating universities without funding, when it would be convenient to concentrate scarce resources in the largest and most traditional universities, together with a good system of scholarships for students from the interior of the country to access them. In education, it is better to have a large number of students with well-trained and well-paid teachers than many small institutions with few students and poorly paid teachers.

What happens with universities is reproduced in the rest of the public sector. The adjustment does not solve the organizational problem that the Argentine State suffers from. For this reason, to reverse the decline, without underestimating the importance of fiscal balance, the decisive factor is to take seriously the agenda of structural transformations proposed in the May Pact.


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