Gabriel Boric’s government program (2022-2026) projects a series of transformations in different areas of State institutions and civil society. And among the organisms that need to be rethought is the Chilean Higher Education, urgently. Since its dismantling, carried out by the dictatorship, its main problems have not been remedied. One of them is the structural precariousness in working conditions that strongly affects professional development in Chilean Higher Education at all levels. Even after the enactment of a Higher Education Law (Law 21.091), which was supposed to mitigate these uncertainties by promoting a civil service career and improving working conditions, the situation persists without fundamentally altering.
The causes of this problem are multiple. On the one hand, its main reason is economic, since the lack of stable and basal financing for Higher Education Institutions (IES) is endemic, on the other, there are still legal loopholes that have not been modified as Decrees with Force of Law that they sustain organic elements within the universities. In addition, one could mention the institutional management and the lack of political will of the university governments. Let’s add to all this a bad design of public policies, implementation and execution, in particular, the notion of educational “quality” that must be accredited with quantitative or commercial metrics, without observing that there are subjects behind all this, processes and cultural contexts. and social.
In a first approach, it gives the impression that professional and labor development in Chilean Higher Education works only for administrators and the few teachers and researchers who hold a full-time contract. For the rest, working conditions have been “made more flexible” -according to neoliberal language- with the aim of reducing the budgets of the institutions. Although progress has been made in modernizing HEIs, no special interest has been placed on workers and their working conditions and how this affects the value of training processes and their social and cultural contexts.
In Higher Education Institutions, the work of civil servants is especially outsourced. Through this, not only the legal binding of the contract is avoided, but also the formation of trade unions or associations of a trade union nature, which has repercussions in the impossibility of participation in university decisions and progress in improving working conditions. CONATUCH (National Council of Chilean University Workers) has tried to make this public for a long time. “End the precariousness, outsourcing and flexibility of employment with political decisions that seriously address this demand of Chilean workers.” states CONATUCH in its political proposal, which has been presented in different periods of government in MINEDUC. In practice, civil servants (professional, administrative and low-level positions) are usually the most affected by the negative consequences of precarious labor subcontracting: lower wages, unequal treatment, workplace harassment, unjustified dismissals and alteration of performance measurements. labor, among others.
On the other hand, the majority of Higher Education teachers in Chile do not have a stable contract but are “paid workers” -approximately between 60% and 90% depending on the type of institution. In other words, most of the academics who “pay” for hours of teaching classes given, receive a proportional salary calculated with differentiated fees, whether by academic degree, discipline or internal categorization. In this way, they do not have basic socio-labor conditions such as unemployment or vacation insurance. The “boletariat” -neologism that brings together “proletariat” and “ballot” – is made up of these workers who are not recognized as such by the institutions since, from a legal point of view, they are eternally “independent” although they work decades for the same employer, meet schedules and have fixed tasks assigned. To end all this precariousness, educational institutions must stop being understood as companies that must maximize their profits at the expense of the working conditions of their workers, whether civil servants or teachers.
Likewise, the financing of academic research, for its part, is administered from individual competition for state funds (Fondecyt). The Fondecyts promote excellence in individual work, the constant renewal of ideas (last between 2 and 4 years) and the productivity of indexed articles. This research grant instrument is not responsible for the working conditions of its researchers and technical staff, nor for the relations between research and teaching, nor for the decentralization of knowledge. Its main focus is the production of articles based on international bibliographic metrics. For all this, Fondecyt leads to a policy that produces job insecurity without continuity, health, welfare or vacations. In other words, it is a policy that has the secondary effect of producing poor working conditions.
The training of postgraduate students also presents critical problems: first, because the credits they must access to be able to pay for their studies, require the payment of high interest payments (the CAE is between 2% to 6%) and, secondly , because the scholarships (either for Nacional or Chile Scholarships) that are delivered from ANID do not fully cover the needs of the scholarship holders. Furthermore, scholarships are not considered “salary” as such, since they are not taxable against the Internal Revenue Service. Since there are no “contracts” nor the subjects being “workers”, this excludes them from qualifying to receive social benefits from the State. Furthermore, postgraduate students who pay for their studies – which is a significant percentage in Chile – are even more exposed to market fluctuations, since they must study and work at the same time, so the continuity of their studies depends on keep your job.
A particular case is the Technical-Professional Training in Chile. The contractual conditions, from the institutionalized “ticketing” to the fixed-term or “contract” contracts, have caused a permanent and institutional crisis in the educational system. A few years ago, the employment situation of teachers in the Technical-Professional area came to light due to collective lawsuits for unjustified mass dismissals, types of fixed contracts for decades and labor harassment, this forced the Institutional Accreditation criteria (2021) should be modified. The financing of the State Technical Training Centers (CFT) is also in crisis, leading to layoffs due to the closure of the institutions, as in the case of the Los Lagos CFT.
The accreditation of higher education institutions also does not consider the working conditions of the different levels, actors and functions as a systemic, organic and basic element. Currently, the accreditations observe the number of professors hired, the percentage of them with doctorates and the allocation of state funds (FONDECYT, FONDEF, Anillos, Milenios, etc.). However, this view does not extend to the labor force of the establishment with an undaunted blindness, as if the working conditions of civil servants, teaching professors and research could be separated from the quality of the education delivered to the students. Furthermore, the evaluation criteria for granting accreditation in Technical Training Centers (CFT), Professional Institutes (IP) and university institutions are so dissimilar that they seem to reproduce and perpetuate inequalities and social segregation of students within the same HEIs. Furthermore, the high competition in the “HEI market”, where curricular innovation and the search for “added value” promote the differentiation between institutions based on their financing (inflow of active capital) and their type (private, State , mixed).
In short, working conditions in Chilean Higher Education are structurally precarious, with stressful duplication of functions and nonexistent or diffuse job profiles. The current situation is protected from the perspective of a neoliberal administration, where the university is organized as a company and the capitalization of knowledge is aimed at nurturing “priority areas”, displacing other sciences and disciplines, such as the Arts and Humanities. A national strategy is necessary for the development of policies that consider working conditions in Chilean Higher Education Institutions as a complex system with various actors, functions, spaces and, at the same time, as a process of training, creation and dissemination. of the different knowledge throughout the personal, work, professional life and in relation to the different communities. Although the change should begin with expanding the basal economic support to the institutions to restore their social and public character, an open and quality dialogue will also be necessary between the universities, social actors, State bodies and the productive sector. Only from a shared diagnosis can we take the weight of the structural precariousness of working conditions in Chilean Higher Education.