Building a Regional Academic Credit System in Latin America

Jane Knight
2015 International Higher Education  
ly in the lower-level ranks (assistantships). At the same time, in response to student demand, UBA has increased the openings in the traditional professional fields such as law, accountancy, medicine, architecture, and psychology. Most of the 300,000 students at UBA are now concentrated in these professional fields in faculties with scarce research activities. These professional faculties have average enrollments equivalent to those of large universities in other countries. For example, the
more » ... or example, the Faculty of Economics and Business Studies has 45,000 students. In contrast, the Faculty of Exact and Natural Science has only 6,000 students, and the research activities are highly developed. Moreover, unlike the professional faculties, the majority of the academic staff at the Faculty of Exact and Natural Sciences work full-time, and there are no ad honorem faculty. But, as the expansion of UBA enrollments has taken place mainly in the professional fields, the actual structure of the university is clearly biased toward the professional-oriented model. As a consequence, given UBA's huge size and complexity, it is quite difficult to reach a consensus on the university's institutional mission. The present political conflict at UBA clearly reveals a cleavage between the professional faculties (which back the candidacy of the dean of the Faculty of Law) and the academic-research-oriented ones (which support the candidacy of the molecular biology researcher in the Faculty of Exact and Natural Sciences). Partisanship and Corporate Interests According to the UBA statute, the president is elected by the university assembly, which is composed of the deans and academic bodies of the 13 faculties and the university council. In the tradition of the 1918 Cordoba Reform, the university council and the faculty bodies are tripartite bodies formed by representatives of professors, students, and alumni. One characteristic of these representatives, as well as those from student unions, has been their ties with major political parties. Consequently, there has been an element of partisanship concerning the way votes from the constituencies have been cast. Likewise, the majority of the student population and the faculty are not motivated to become involved in university elections and academic politics. Moreover, at least 60 percent of students work and study at the same time and 85 percent of faculty teach part time. They simply attend their classes and then return to their activities outside the university. The vacuum created by the faculty members' and students' lack of commitment to university governance has been filled by those actors who are more interested in their personal or political careers than in the well-being of the academic community. The Political Representation Issue Student leaders also protest the actual composition of the assembly, questioning the election mechanisms, and faculty representation on academic councils. The main issue revolves around the point that only "regular" faculty can participate in institutional governance. This means that they can be elected to political posts-such as president, vice-president, or deanor become members of the academic bodies. They can also vote in the elections to these posts. As the 1966 UBA statute establishes, "regular" faculty are appointed on the basis of periodic open competitions. Nonetheless, at UBA, only half the professors hold regular posts (i.e., a stable tenure-like status). Given the complex set of factors, a large proportion of the faculty are currently employed as "interims," without having been appointed through open competitions and without the periodic reviews of their performance. Student leaders are now demanding that these interim professors and assistants should also be able to participate in the university governance. This could only worsen the partisanship of UBA's political life. Faculty could be hired or fired depending on their political sympathies with different political parties or corporate groups. The only possibility to deepen democracy at UBA is to increase the proportion of faculty hired under open competitive procedures. Ultimately at stake in the present conflict are three key issues: first, whether UBA, given its huge size, should be a federation of autonomous institutions or a university with a clearcut common institutional mission; second, whether the partisanship of university politics can be replaced by greater involvement and representation of university actors in academic decision making; and, finally, whether university authorities have the ability to address the issues posed by the failures in open competition so that faculty can be elected under more transparent procedures that guarantee both academic freedom and quality in performance. international higher education countries and regions 18 According to the UBA statute, the president is elected by the university assembly, which is composed of the deans and academic bodies of the 13 faculties and the university council.
doi:10.6017/ihe.2006.44.7907 fatcat:zrxaepbkzbfvjelsoqp2t72xwi