Chile’s Pinera Proposes Increasing Free Education Ahead of Protests

Chile’s President Sebastian Pinera on Monday proposed a bill to boost free technical education, days ahead of a planned student march in Santiago, the first such protest since he took office a month ago.

Pinera, a businessman and ex-president whose first term was marred by massive student protests seeking an education overhaul, said his proposal would increase public financing for technical colleges, allowing new students to attend free of charge and helping reduce a shortage of graduates in technical fields.

“Higher technical education has not received the recognition it deserves from the government,” Pinera said in a speech announcing the proposal.

Trade unions in Chile have said at least 600,000 technical professionals are needed in fields ranging from construction to mining in the world’s top copper producer.

Pinera’s announcement comes four days before university students have promised to take to Santiago’s streets to protest a recent decision by the country’s constitutional court overturning a law that had prohibited for-profit companies from controlling universities.

Pinera addressed the increasing tensions in his speech.

“I want to take advantage of this opportunity to make clear that free higher education is here to stay; there will be no profiteering from higher education,” he said.

During Pinera’s first administration between 2010 and 2014, hundreds of thousands of students demonstrated on the streets of Santiago to demand universal access to free higher education.