Saturday, March 28, 2009

What happens when things are free

The other day as we were walking around Córdoba, we popped into the Universidad de Córdoba. It's right in the center of town. It's free to all who want to study, but it's not doing too well. Students would rather attend the nearby Universidad Católica de Córdoba, even though they have to pay. Why? Well, it seems that you can't learn very much at UC because of perpetual strikes by workers and professors who want either more pay or fewer hours. It reminded me of the problems I faced while trying to get a degree in Argentina in the late 1970s, at the Universidad Nacional del Comahue. It was also free, but sometimes there were just no classes. I met with the Dean one time to complain that because a prerequisite subject that I needed was not being offered that year, that my graduation date would be set back by an entire year. "Well, the problem is that you're just too advanced," he replied. It's not unusual for students to take 5-10 years to get a university degree. Many of those who do graduate in a timely fashion end up leaving the country for better opportunities, which is Argentina's loss and our gain.

The picture here is of a banner posted by disgruntled UC students, and my translation goes like this: "8:00 o'clock means at 8:00 o'clock. The students were there, but the law professors arrived late, and the administration was nowhere to be seen. -Union of Upset Students." There were lots of protest signs all over. Down the street at the UCC, everything looked great.


Cristian said...

Hi Scott, I read about you in another blog that I read, El Opinador Compulsivo. People who write there are right wing conservatives from Argentina, so I am sure you will enjoy exchanging some ideas with them.

I studied at a public university in Argentina, the University of Buenos Aires, and I am proud of it. What happens when things are free is that sometimes classes are canceled due to strikes. What happens when they are NOT free is that you can not even study in the first place! I hope you understand that going to a private school is not even an option for most people in Argentina.

In any case, even it if were an option, the public school is better. But that is a different story...

Scott Grannis said...

Cristian: Thanks for your comment, which adds importantly to my very brief post. One of the people at Opinador Compulsivo happens to be my son-in-law. He as well as many other people I know studied at the public universities in Argentina, and they are all very smart. The cost of education can be handled many ways, of course. I believe that offering education for free to anyone who wants it is not the best solution. Virtually anyone who wants to study at a university in the U.S. can do so even if he or she is extremely poor, thanks to public subsidies for state universities, scholarships, and loans.

Cristian said...

Scott, thanks for your reply. So he is your son-in-law...what a funny coincidence. I think they do not like me too much because I always argue with them, but I consider them good friends.

I also had the chance to study in the US when I finished my BA in Argentina. What I saw there was that almost all the students were white. I wonder why Hispanic and Black students never make it to school (unless they are good at football, of course). Another thing that called my attention was that some of them, even white, had to go to the army, and maybe even to war, in return for money for tuition. And I also recall that many students could not afford to pay tuition because they did not have access to loans, due to bad credit records in their families. That is what happens when things are not free.

Patrick Jones said...

Nice post. I´m an US citizen currently living in Buenos Aires and recently wrote a post about the UBA being free.

However, I must say that your phrase, " Virtually anyone who wants to study at a university in the U.S. can do so even if he or she is extremely poor, thanks to public subsidies for state universities, scholarships, and loans." couldn´t be anything farther from the truth. I come from a middle class family in the US and even with all government loans available, I still have to pay $7,000+ out of pocket per year to attend a public university. The idea of scholarships paying for school is in my opinion rather foolish. I was a top honor roll student in my highschool and didnt receive one academic scholarship from my university. The average highschool student who wants to attend college to receive a degree will not receive even close to the value of tuition in scholarships.

Depending on when you attended school, maybe the idea of paying for school out of pocket was possible. My uncle attended public college in the early 80s, received a radiologist degree, and paided around $50 per credit. I currently pay around $350 per credit, and I need at least 120 credits to graduate which comes out to $42,000.

I wish it wasn´t like it was, but that´s how the US education system works. Imagine how far the trillions of dollars from Iraq would go in educating US youth. We can only hope.