We will teach by candlelight’: Argentine students and teachers protest Milei budget cuts

Lights were turned off in University of Buenos Aires classrooms both to raise awareness and save money

Medical students walk in a hallway of the University of Buenos Aires Medical School in the dark, as the university has to restrict the use of electricity due to budget cuts, in the run-up to a national strike on April 23 against Argentina's President Javier Milei's policy of cuts in public education, in Buenos Aires, Argentina April 17, 2024. REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian

Argentina’s public universities held protests on Wednesday against sharp budget cuts by the government of President Javier Milei, turning off the lights in classrooms to draw attention to their predicament — and save money on electricity.

The prestigious University of Buenos Aires (UBA) said it had experienced an 80% cut to its budget in real terms, an untenable situation.

“There’s no way to keep the university functioning with this budget,” said the dean of UBA’s faculty of law, Leandro Vergara, after giving a class on the building’s steps.

At the UBA’s faculty of exact sciences students and teachers have erected a clock with a countdown indicating the budget will be enough for 43 more days.

UBA, one of Latin America’s top universities, provides undergraduate courses that are free of charge to everyone. It also runs six secondary schools and five public hospitals.

It said its budget had been cut 26% in nominal terms and 80% in real terms, given inflation running near 300%. It has asked the faculties to reduce energy consumption to eke out the funds.

The cuts have hit all public universities in Argentina, and there is a planned nationwide march to defend them on Tuesday, April 23.

The government has defended the cuts as necessary to fix the state’s finances.

“No one has to worry about their studies at the universities,” government spokesman Manuel Adorni said on Wednesday in a regular press conference. “[It will be] in the best conditions that the universities’ budgets allow.”

The Ministry of Education did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for further comment.

Nahiara Tripiana, a 22-year-old law student, said in an interview that her biggest concern was that people stop studying because they lack the resources to pay for private studies.

“In the future, it will bring us terrible consequences on a social, cultural level, and for academic excellence,” Tripiana said. UBA’s alumni include five Nobel Prize winners and 17 presidents.

Vergara said the law faculty would try to keep classes going regardless.

“Classes are going to continue in any way possible,” he said. “We will teach classes even by candlelight, but the community should know that we are not going to close the doors.”

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