In what is believed to be the largest protest march in modern Cuenca history, as many as 10,000 University of Cuenca students marched through the city’s historic district Wednesday morning.
Although the government had backed down on proposed budget cuts for public universities on Tuesday, march leaders say they wanted to send a message to Quito that higher education should never be a bargaining chip in budget negotiations.
“We are gratified that the government changed its mind about slashing public education funding but it should never be put on the chopping block,” said Jorge Estrella, one of the protest leaders. “The fact that it was tells us how little those in power understand what is important for the country. Universities are the foundation for building a better future for Ecuador.”
The Cuenca march was the second mass protest in two days over proposed cuts to university funding. On Tuesday, an estimated 8,000 students marched through the streets of Old Town Quito.
During a Tuesday meeting in Quito, Secretary of Higher Education Adrián Bonilla announced that the government was dropping its proposed cuts for public universities. The proposed budget recommended cutting funding to some universities by as much as nine percent.
“After a thorough and lengthy discussion, the government has decided that public university budget allocations will remain at 2017 levels,” Bonilla said. “We fully recognize the value of higher education to Ecuador.”
The Tuesday meeting, held at the National Polytechnic University in Quito, was attended by administrators from all public universities, including the University of Cuenca. During the meeting, Bonilla explained that the 2018 national budget “must reflect the austerity measures that the entire country must share.”
In the proposed budget, $145 million was trimmed from the 2017 allotment of $1.9 billion for public higher education.