Apr 13, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

Students in Chile have a history of activism, and they recently took to the street again with a new cause: Protesting the overturning of the Higher Education Law, which banned universities from operating as for-profit models. Here’s a closer look at the situation, as reported by teleSUR.

A Call for Education Equality

Higher education in Latin America was free until the emergence of private universities in 1981. Earlier this year after more than a decade of unrest over education equality, former president Michelle Bachelet passed a Higher Education Law aimed at making university education free once and for all for most of the population -- particularly the economically disadvantaged.

Said Bachelet at the time via Twitter, “By making progress on free higher education, we want to build a more equitable country with equal opportunities for all. With Congress’ approval, we enshrine in law a social right that should’ve never been in the market’s hands!”

Communist Party legislator and long-term advocate for access to free public higher education, Camila Vallejo echoed, “We are talking of decades fighting for a coherent regulatory framework and to stop this free market and profit in the private world.”

An Unexpected Roadblock

However, the Constitutional Tribune recently overturned the law, meaning that universities can continue to charge tuition and operate for profit -- an especially troubling turn, given that Chile is home to the world’s fourth most expensive university system, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

In response to the decision, hundreds of Chilean students came together to peacefully denounce both profiteering in education and excessive police force against protesters.

Meanwhile, the Chilean State University Consortium (CUECh) said in a statement, “Quality education is now a fundamental right in our society, implying that education is a non-profit activity. … By declaring unconstitutional article 63 (which declares that universities be non-profit) the tribunal … is permitting higher education institutions to be controlled by people who want to make a profit.”

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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