Ecuador’s Constitutional Court ruled Thursday that the government can proceed with deep budget cuts to the country’s public universities. The court had placed a temporary stop on the cuts in May, saying it needed to review constitutional language that gave universities priority status in cases of budgetary stress.
In April, the government said it would make a 10 percent across-the-board reduction in university financing. The announcement drew criticism from university administrators and students and faculty mounted protests in Quito, Cuenca and Guayaquil.
In its ruling, the court said that the budget reduction does not violate the constitution given the stress on public finances as a result of the Covid-19 health emergency. It said that government revenue has been severely reduced by the emergency and that cuts are justified in all public services given the circumstances.
The court decision drew an angry response from several university leaders. “We regret that the court does not consider higher education to be fundamental for the development of the country,” University of Cuenca rector Pablo Vanegas said in a radio interview. “More than ever, in this time of crisis, the country needs strong universities to help us solve the problems that we face.”
Like other university administrators, Vanegas said he has already been forced to make deep cuts due to late payments from the government. “We have already terminated many valuable faculty members, reduced programs and made other adjustments in this time of emergency,” he said. “We have done everything possible to protect the educational experience of our students but the ruling by the court will make this impossible in the future.”
To continue operations under the cuts, he said, public universities will be forced to reduce the number of students it can accept. “The enrollment reductions could be drastic, possibly as much as 20 percent. We will study the situation and develop our plans accordingly.”
Vanegas said the court ruling could spark another round of protests. “There is a great amount of sadness out there as well as great anger. I would not be surprised to see new protests.”