VOL. 4, NO. 2, PGS. 22–40


The Disenchantment of Chileans
Does Higher Education have anything to do with it?
José Joaquín Brunner

José Joaquín Brunner is a Professor and Director of the UNESCO Chair at the Diego Portales University and former Minister Secretary General of Government of the Government of Chile. He is also the author of Nueva mayoría: fin de una Ilusión.

This translation has been automatically generated and has not been verified for accuracy.

WHAT is the relationship between the massive social protest that will erupt in Chile from October 2019 and Chilean higher education (HE)? Before going on to explore some ideas that attempt to answer this pressing question, it is necessary to situate the coordinates in which it is formulated. First, it is imperative to describe what our misunderstood “social explosion” consists of; how it can be characterised and how it has evolved. Secondly, it is relevant to know what the physiognomy of higher education in Chile is, what its political economy bases are, how it is organised and what its contribution to the technical-professional training of the population has been. Thirdly, it is appropriate to examine some of the perceptions and demands expressed by the protesters, most of whom are people with some level of higher education. Having done all this, it is then possible to offer an interpretation of the phenomenon of governance crisis and social protest around a central exploratory hypothesis: that the wide diffusion of HE, which has produced an excessive increase in the number of professionals and technical graduates, and the emergence of new groups of non-poor lower classes and vulnerable middle classes, born out of the transformations experienced by Chilean society over the last 30 years, is what has caused the masses to mobilise and demand benefits that are characteristic of developed capitalist societies and which the Chilean system only partially and unequally satisfies. Finally, it is worth asking how universities can respond to the challenge presented by the current crisis. Although the normative answers to this question in the tradition of Latin American thought are diverse, the correct one is perhaps the one that today seems most difficult to sustain.

It all started with the increase in public transport fares.

First, then, the massive social protest; that is, the phenomenon that began in the last quarter of 2019, initially, through the evasion of payment of the fare charged by the Metro (underground train) of the city of Santiago by students as an expression of repudiation of the price hike announced days before by the public company that manages this means of transport. Soon, this evasion gave way to violent action by hooded youths, who on 18 October stormed the Metro stations and damaged 77 of its 136 stations —6 were completely burned, 14 had partial damage caused by fires and 57 suffered various types of damage. The next day, the government decrees a state of emergency— one of the constitutional states of exception that puts the Armed Forces, along with the Carabineros police, in charge of street order —which extends over 8 days, during some of which a curfew is also decreed.

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