The new indefinite delay in the start of classes at the state university Casimiro Sotelo, following the illegal confiscation of the Central American University (UCA), demonstrates the “ineptitude and incompetence of the Government. They have no students, no budget, they have not solved the problems of the professors, and they do not know what to do with a real university,” says academic Ernesto Medina.
Meanwhile, more than 5,000 students are in limbo and at least half of them are applying to Jesuit universities in El Salvador and Guatemala to validate and continue their studies, but there is no short-term solution for their concerns.
In an interview with Esta Semana and CONFIDENCIAL, the former rector of UNAN León and The American University (UAM), analyzes the expectations of more than 2,500 students of the UCA, who aspire to continue studying in the Jesuit universities of Central America.
He also discusses the even more complex problem faced by the university students who had already completed their academic curriculum, and who only needed some paperwork to receive their degree.
Classes were supposed to start this Monday at the new state university Casimiro Sotelo, more than a month after the illegal confiscation of the UCA, but Rector Alejandro Genet says he has postponed them for a second time now, this time indefinitely. What does this new delay mean?
It is nothing more than a demonstration of ineptitude on the one hand, incompetence on the other, and a total ignorance of what it means to administer a serious institution of higher education. They are used to believing that a university is a matter of chalk and blackboard and of people who bow their heads and obey what they are told. They are faced with a different reality, of a real university, and they don't know what to do with it.
Is there a budgetary problem, and can the government assume the budget of the university?
That is another problem, the budget, and it has several origins. First, a total lack of foresight and the belief that all they had to do was just to close and reopen [the UCA] as they had done with the other universities. They are finding that a large number of students do not show up because they do not want to study at that university. The issue of professors has not been resolved either and they have not found a way to deal with the financing.
That’s because a significant portion of the students at the UCA, especially scholarship holders, were being financed with support, with the help of people involved in solidarity and those people disappeared. They have no way to cover that budgetary gap.
And on the other hand, the blow that the UCA had been receiving for some time with the budget reductions, is now falling on them like a “hot potato.” It is impossible for them to get 6% because it means cutting the budget of the other universities and none of them is willing to give up the budget.
I don't think they will be able to get resources from the state budget, at this stage of the execution. I imagine that they are currently trying to negotiate with the different sectors that receive funds to see who will sacrifice something to sustain the UCA with the bare minimum, but this already means enormous damage, because there are things that they are not going to be able to finance.
This new state university Casimiro Sotelo does not even have legal status at this point. That is, a law has not been passed in the National Assembly to create it. What are the consequences of the fact that university Casimiro Sotelo does not even legally exist?
Nobody trusts this institution and that is why students are not showing up, and that is one of the reasons why they are postponing the opening. The other reason is that they are showing themselves to be irresponsible savages who make decisions that are transcendental for the country on a whim. That is what they have done with the closing of the UCA, without having examined the situation well, and without having prepared the conditions to guarantee a minimum standard for the continuity they talk about within the CNU (National Council of Universities).
This is a procedure that they have done almost immediately in other cases. After two or three days, the [National] Assembly meets and they prepare the decree of the closure and the creation of the new University. Now, since they think they can do what they want and nobody is going to protest, they have not paid attention to this detail, but obviously a university without a legal status, without a legal basis, is nothing. The first ones to resent this are the students, the professors, and not to mention the international community, which is waiting to see what happens to the UCA.
More than 2,500 students of the UCA want to switch to other universities
The most visible impact is on the situation of the students who are in a state of limbo. Many are trying to be admitted to other universities, but there are others who are trying to finish their degrees. Can you estimate what the enrollment of this new state university Casimiro Sotelo would be?
I have heard figures of this initiative taken by the Jesuits days after the closing of the UCA, to open a portal where students interested in continuing their studies with the Jesuits could register indicating their situation. They have received more than 2500 applications. In other words, there are 2,500 students who want nothing to do with this new university created by the government. If we start from the fact that the UCA had a little more than 5,000 students, it means that now it is short of 2,500 students.
But there is a group of students that should particularly concern us: those who had already completed their academic curriculum, had completed all the subjects of the study plan, and only needed some paperwork to receive their degree. These boys and girls are in limbo, they do not know what is going to happen because they do not have their degrees.
They have already finished their classes and the UCA cannot give them their degree. The new university has not said anything and most likely cannot do anything. Even the students themselves are not going to want to receive a degree from a phantom pirate university as a substitute for their UCA degree.
The students who consciously decided to study at the UCA, those who paid for the UCA, knew that they were receiving a quality education, and they will not accept that for those four years of sacrifice made by them and their families, they are now given a paper that is useless. This situation should concern us because an answer has to be found and these students have to receive a degree from the UCA, which is what they are entitled to.
What about those 2000+ students who have applied to Jesuit universities? There are many questions about the absorption capacity of the UCA in El Salvador or the Landívar in Guatemala. They themselves have said that they were not prepared to offer online education at this time.
They are trying to relaunch their offer of online studies that they had during the pandemic. Obviously, in the educational philosophy of the Jesuits, they prefer personal contact with young people, but given the situation, they are trying to reactivate online study. However, I understand that they do not have the capacity to do it with the same possibilities that the UCA once offered.
I understand that they have spoken to some of the students who have shown interest in continuing with the Jesuits and have told them that one of the options is that they may have to move to El Salvador or Guatemala. Obviously, this will only be possible for a very small group of UCA students. To be able to live in El Salvador, according to the data we have collected, costs around 600, 700 dollars a month, living modestly as a student. in Guatemala, it’s more expensive, from 900 to 1000 dollars. So not everyone is going to be able to do it.
A ministry of higher education?
What about the faculty of UCA, its professors, and also the administrative staff? They have practically been out of work for more than a month.
Of the management staff, I know that they are no longer part of the UCA and they do not have access to any information. I don't know about the administrative staff. At the UCA, there was a union aligned with the Government, which has played a very negative role in all this tragedy. I don't think the administrative staff has many problems.
Regarding the professors, I do believe that there are peoplewho are meticulously reviewing the files of students and professors, based on what I have heard the rector say. I imagine that they are reviewing people who they do not consider trustworthy and surely they are not going to be able to continue at the UCA.
I am afraid that many professors, in the current conditions of the university, are not willing to work either. I believe that another reason for postponing the opening is that they do not have a guaranteed faculty and they are improvising with professors who come from the UNEN leadership, as they have done in other places. This is not going to work either, because the UCA students will not accept that kind of professor.
Coinciding with the crisis of the confiscation of the UCA, the state universities controlled by the Sandinista Front are discussing the proposal of a project to create a Ministry of Higher Education, because they say that the model of the National Council of Universities is already exhausted. Why do they need a new ministry now?
To strengthen the total control they want to have over the universities. Everything they have done in the last two years was aimed at the total political control of the universities so that there will be no repetition of a situation in which young people from the universities go out to protest and mobilize the population to raise their voices and make demands from the Government. But this is nothing more than a return to the past.
They are trying to revive the situation of the eighties, where the National Council of Higher Education, the CNES, played the role of a Ministry of Higher Education. At that time, those who decided on higher education in Nicaragua were the Cuban advisors who came from the Cuban scenario, where there is a Ministry of Higher Education. They certainly did not do it at that time because there was only one public university, which was divided precisely because of the influence of these advisors.
Since the triumph of the Revolution was possible thanks to a discourse of mixed economy, of pluralism, there was a bit of hesitation to have a Ministry of Higher Education that by nature had the objective of ending university autonomy and establishing a vertical line from the Government to the universities. This did not go down very well, but is in fact what happened.
Now they have come to realize that in their project to gain control, Law 89 - the Law of Autonomy of Higher Education Institutions - creates many ambiguities and that is why the way to solve it is to eliminate the CNU and create this Ministry. That way, all the private universities of which it was previously not known exactly who managed them administratively, will now also be subject to the authority of this Ministry.
This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by our staff.