Funding higher education in Uruguay: a policy question
University of Southampton, School of Management,
For years the dominant theme of higher education in Uruguay has been financial distress. However the literature relating to higher education has not addressed the question of how higher education institutions receive their funding. The aim of this study was to provide an analytical view of the current model of financing higher education in this country and predictions about its possible evolution or change according to the views of different stakeholders.
This study used a qualitative approach and multi-modal tools - documents, literature, semi structured interviews, a Focus Group and speeches at Parliamentary sessions- were chosen to address several questions from different perspectives.
Findings in this research suggest that the traditional historical funding model used until the 1990s has evolved into a historical/ incremental model. In this case, increases, or new funds that are allocated to the system, are tied to certain specific purposes determined in the Budget laws. In this way, funding relies on: (a) historical allocations, actually the biggest part of the allocations, which are always the same and are expected to be the same; and (b) new allocations (increases) focused on certain projects which are specified in the Budget Laws by the Parliament. In this way, Uruguay mirrors the regional pattern in which very little strategic planning occurs in the financing process.
This study suggests, too, a particular approach to accountability in Uruguayan higher education. Resources are allocated to the system by the Parliament on a decentralised basis and institutions keep broad decision-making powers. The Ministry of Education and Culture is not involved in the process of allocating resources to higher education. The Government applies no control on institutional performance or efficiency. University autonomy is considered the raison d´etre of this approach; information gathered for this study suggests that Governmental agencies hold very little concern about the use of public funds. Internal use of public appropriations has bureaucratic controls and is only monitored through the conventional accounting audits prescribed by law.
This research shows that a new left wing state-wide administration headed by the Frente Amplio Party will devote more funds to the finance of public higher education, primarily concerned with the insufficient amount of funds devoted historically to the sector. A considerable increase is expected as political leaders and Government officers have announced that the educational sector will receive added funding in the future Budget Law. However, there is also a view that, although the system will receive further funding, the funding model will remain the same. Moreover, whilst there is concern about the insufficient amount of funds devoted to the sector, the majority of stakeholders are not paying attention to the merits or problems of the current model of funding the sector.
This study also suggests that: a) in the future the funding authorities may expand the mechanism of allocating funds oriented to special programmes and, in this way, introduce some kind of strategic orientations; b) further funding for public institutions may be originated in the collection of the graduate tax and that its utility could be improved in ways to introduce more funding to the system; c) it is unlikely that a future model will consider the use of formulae or quality considerations; and d) the introduction of a tuition-fee scheme is very improbable in the short term because the availability of further funding will reduce the pressures to introduce alternative funds to complement public revenues. Further, the ideological and political predominance of the Frente Amplio party in the Parliament (historically placed against tuition-fees) will certainly abort discussions about cost-recovery in the public University.
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