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Why Charging Foreign Students For Public Education Could Set Dangerous Precedent

By | [email protected] | October 17, 2016 4:26pm

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Journalist Jorge Lanata has been on the receiving end of lots of criticism today after he aired a controversial report about the cost that foreign students attending the University of Buenos Aires (UBA) represent to the state and the number of foreigners who use the Buenos Aires province’s healthcare system.

Social media users didn’t hesitate to call the report, “Argentina, país generoso,” (Argentina, a generous country), xenophobic, noting that the Constitution expressly forbids making distinctions between foreigners and Argentines.

There are almost 13,000 foreign students in the UBA’s lecture halls. The number represents 4.4 percent of all students, compared to 1.2 percent 20 years ago.

“If one takes the annual cost of what all Argentines pay to finance UBA, it’s AR $28,400 per student. Taking into account that group of 13,000 foreigners, the Argentine state spends more than AR$360 million per year so foreign students can study for free. If you take an average and conclude it takes them five or six years to graduate, the state ends up spending over AR $2.5 billion on them,” according to the report that aired last night.

Many were quick to point that charging foreigners to attend public university goes against the Constitution.

The Argentine Constitution specifically establishes in its Article 20 that foreigners residing in the country enjoy the same civil rights as an Argentine citizen.

Moreover, the foundation letter makes it clear in its preamble that the country has as a fundamental principle to “ensure the benefits of freedom for us, for our posterity, and for all men [and women. It was 1853, what are you going to do?] who want to inhabit Argentine soil.”

Moreover, the University of Buenos Aires’ Federation of students (FUBA), Julián Asiner, assured that the university actually has an opposite stance than Lanata’s when it comes to the subject.

“UBA’s dean offices pushed reforms to attract foreigners because they pay for more expensive post-graduate studies. In contrast with Lanata, they are a way to compensate for the low budget.”

Beyond the specifics of the report itself, the kind of talk is dangerous precisely because it opens the door to more type of xenophobic expressions. It also goes against Argentina’s principles as a country.

We’ve already witnessed how anti-immigrant sentiment can morph into specific policies targeting immigrants. In 2014, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s administration included in its bill to reform the Criminal Procedural Code the possibility of deporting foreigners who were caught committing crimes that had sentences lower than three years in prison. The project was approved by Congress, but the Macri administration suspended its implementation at the time of taking office and presented a modification that is currently being evaluated by Senate.

Argentina is a country founded by immigrants and has always had the door open to foreigners. The success of politicians like Donald Trump in the United States and Nigel Farage in the United Kingdom, show how xenophobic and isolationist rhetoric is gaining more and more traction around the world. Let’s keep Argentina out of that club.