Defending Public Education: Insights from Argentina’s Massive Demonstrations

The packed crowd overflows from the Place de Mayo and left, as far as the eye can see, into the neighboring avenues. This is probably the most impressive demonstration since Javier Milei came to power. Under the flags of the University of Buenos Aires, where she started her studies last week, Mariela held her sign high. In large letters, the message justifies the concern: “Don't steal my future!”

Followed en masse throughout the country, the demonstrations were most impressive in Argentina's capital, home to a large number of universities: 850,000 people, according to social organizations, marched on April 23 in defense of public education and condemnation of President Javier Mileio's budget cuts.


At the age of 21, Mariela has just left her parents' home and her small village in Patagonia to pursue her dream: to settle in the capital and study law. The beginning of the school year was a cold shower. As soon as classes started, UBA declared an “extraordinary financial situation” and announced several drastic measures, including reducing expenses for electricity, air conditioning and heating to a minimum. “The rooms are dark, the teachers have sad faces” describes Mariela.

The exact sciences department directly started the countdown: in 36 days, if the government does not take action, the university – which has produced 4 Nobel Prize winners and where more than 347,000 students study – will no longer be able to function.

You don't need to be a math genius to understand the problem. In one year, prices in Argentina rose four times on average. The budget allocated to the public university for 2024 has not been increased. The result: almost 90% of the budget is currently dedicated to teacher and staff salaries. The remaining money should be used to finance business expenses, such as electricity, internet, maintenance of classrooms and laboratories, insurance, purchase of accessories, books, etc.

“Soon we will no longer be able to pay the electricity bills, which have increased by 577 percent from April last year to April this year. warns the vice president of UBA. We'll have to stop using the elevators. Libraries will have to function as long as there is daylight,” explains to the newspaper El País.

Argentina: Javier Milei wants to rule without parliament

The health sector is particularly at risk

The budget crisis particularly affects faculties that require high equipment costs, such as veterinary, natural sciences or medicine.

UBA has six university hospitals. One of them, the prestigious Hospital Clinicas, announced that it was forced to reduce its activity by 75% due to lack of funds. Many operations have been cancelled. Buying medicine (some have gone up by 1000), paying electricity and gas bills has become a challenge.

But outside of UBA, the entire university system is at risk. Several institutions sounded the alarm as soon as classes resumed in March. Strikes were organized, and teachers took to the streets to alarm the population.

“People are the ones who pay”

The government, for its part, was inflexible. “Improve the way they spend and invest”: this is the doctrine of the Secretary of State for Education, Carlos Torrendello. In reality, he is only bowing to the sacred “deficit zero”, the drastic reduction in public spending promised by Javier Milea. “He said he would make the so-called caste pay, but it is the people who pay!” protests Carolina, the math teacher.

In Argentina, Javier Milei has already tested on the streets: “Milei believes that he can do what he wants with Argentina, that the people will let him do it”

The hatred that the president devotes to the country, which he describes as “criminal organizations” actually resulted in mass and indiscriminate layoffs. Several public organizations, including the Telam news agency, were closed overnight. For Javier Milei, the public university is a place of indoctrination infiltrated “leftists“, responsible for “brainwashing“on a large scale.

So far, universities have received only a few meager concessions from the government. Last month, he announced only an increase in the budget related to “operating costs”. As the mobilization of April 23 approached, embarrassed by the images of universities plunged into darkness, the minister of “human capital” proposed, in order to fill the coffers, an increase in enrollment fees. Unsurprisingly, the offer was immediately rejected and the demonstrations continued.

A movement destined to continue

In the human tide that advanced towards the presidential palace, the protesters showed creativity, waving books, but above all signs with scathing slogans, far from the usual long-winded slogans of the unions. Many have referred to Conan, Miley's dog who died in 2017, to whom the president devotes a strange cult, and about whom he speaks in the present tense… as if he were still alive.

“I'm learning that I don't have to ask a dead dog for advice!”, “Conan doesn't exist, there is a right to education!”. The same day, the student posted a hilarious video that went viral, in which he announced that he was holding a dog hostage while wearing a hoodie. Holds a string with an empty necklace on the end.

The sky turns pink, the demonstration ends. Luis, 23, a computer science student at the University of San Martin, yawns loudly. He spent a good part of the night painting the signs in the lecture hall, he explains clearly pleased with the day “historical“. What if the Government does not react? “So the movement will continue. Public education is our sacred cow”.

Leave a Comment