‘We will teach by candlelight’: Argentine students and teachers protest Milei budget cuts

By Thomson Reuters Apr 17, 2024 | 4:05 PM

By Lucila Sigal

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – Argentina’s public universities held protests on Wednesday against sharp budget cuts by the government of President Javier Milei, turning off the lights in classrooms to draw attention to their predicament – and save money on electricity.

The prestigious University of Buenos Aires (UBA) said it had experienced an 80% cut to its budget in real terms, an untenable situation.

“There’s no way to keep the university functioning with this budget,” said the dean of UBA’s faculty of law, Leandro Vergara, after giving a class on the building’s steps.

Milei, facing a deep fiscal deficit after years of economic mismanagement by governments on the right and left, has made slashing state spending a focus. He won election last year after regular rallies with a chainsaw, a symbol of his planned cuts.

In UBA’s faculty of exact sciences students and teachers have erected a clock with a countdown that indicates the budget will be enough for 43 more days.

UBA, one of Latin America’s top universities, provides undergraduate courses that are free of charge to everyone. It also runs six secondary schools and five public hospitals.

It said its budget had been cut 26% in nominal terms and 80% in real terms, given inflation running near 300%. It has asked the faculties to reduce energy consumption to eke out the funds.

The cuts have hit all public universities in Argentina, and there is a planned anti-government march next week.

The government has defended the cuts as necessary to fix the state’s finances.

“No one has to worry about their studies at the universities,” government spokesman Manuel Adorni said on Wednesday in a regular press conference. “(It will be) in the best conditions that the universities’ budgets allow.”

The ministry of education did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for further comment.

Nahiara Tripiana, a 22-year-old law student, said in an interview that her biggest concern was that people stop studying because they lack the resources to pay for private studies.

“In the future it will bring us terrible consequences on a social, cultural level, and for academic excellence,” Tripiana said. UBA’s alumni include five Nobel Prize winners and 17 presidents.

Vergara said the law faculty would try to keep classes going regardless.

“Classes are going to continue in any way possible,” he said. “We will teach classes even by candlelight, but the community should know that we are not going to close the doors.”

(Reporting by Lucila Sigal; Editing by Nicolas Misculin, Adam Jourdan and Rosalba O’Brien)