following the government takeover and confiscation of their campuses
Uncertainty and fear reigns among the student community, while the National Council of Universities tries to portray the government’s confiscation of private property as “business as usual”.
HAVANA TIMES – Students from the six universities closed and confiscated by the regime of Daniel Ortega have no idea what their future holds. No academic authorities have explained things clearly to them. Logically, they’ve been gripped by uncertainty, anxiety and frustration since February 2nd, when the private universities they were attending had their legal status abruptly terminated.
With the passing days, they’ve been consumed with questions that up until now no one knows how to answer. Not even former students from the Hispanoamericana University, shuttered by the government two months ago, are clear about the changes imposed on their center.
There’re no official enrollment figures in Nicaragua for the six confiscated universities. However, based on media reports and declarations from employees of these centers, Confidencial estimates that over 18,000 Nicaraguan students have been affected, across a number of departments.
According to data gathered, the Nicaraguan Polytechnical University (Upoli) held around 8,500 students, and the Catholic University of the Tropical Drylands (Ucatse) housed 3,200. The other four closed universities were smaller: Paulo Freire University (UPF) and the Nicaraguan University for Humanist Studies (Uneh) served about 1,200 students each; while Hispanoamericana University enrolled around 3,980. No records are available for the Popular Nicaraguan University (Uponic), but it’s estimated some 2,000 studied there. If these figures are anywhere near correct, there could be more than 20,000 affected students.
“Daniela” [assumed name] was a scholarship student at the Upoli who now fears she’ll lose the tuition subsidy that allowed her to study. She recalls that “the same day” the university’s legal status was cancelled, she and several of her classmates were heading there to pick up their grade reports. They found the campus occupied by the Police and the so-called “Union of Nicaraguan Students” (UNEN), part of the Sandinista Front’s repressive arm in the universities.
“They haven’t even told us what the tuition will be, or if the professors will be the same, which I greatly doubt,” the student commented. “I’m there on a scholarship, and I greatly doubt I’ll be allowed to keep it, because those in the UNEN already know who I am.”
Public universities don’t have the capacity
It’s not surprising that the university students are concerned. Even Ramona Rodriguez, president of the National Council of Universities (CNU), has admitted that “the public universities don’t have capacity to meet the demands of all the high school graduates (…) the private universities were a complement.”
In declarations Rodrigues offered to the State-run television channel 6, she noted that the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua alone pre-enrolled 30,000 students in its Managua campus, but could only accept 14,000. That campus is the largest in the country. Hence, she insisted, the private universities “serve as a complement.”
Less than a week after cancelling and occupying the six private universities, Nicaragua’s National Assembly decreed the creation of three new state centers on these same campuses: the Francisco Luis Espinoza Pineda University; the National Polytechnical University, and the Ricardo Morales Aviles National Multi-Disciplinary University. By creating these centers, the regime was attempting to give “the impression of legality” to what had happened. However, in reality, “it’s nothing more than a confiscation,” explained attorney Martha Patricia Molina.
Nonetheless, the CNU president also attempted to frame the transfer of private universities into State hands as a positive step. “We’re working to have those students’ monthly payments reduced. There’ll be some payment, of course, to be able to assure the sustainability of the institution, but it should be a cost that’s adapted to the economic conditions in our country.”
Rodriguez also promised a budgetary allotment for these three institutions, to come out of the 6% of the General Budget of the Republic that, by law, is earmarked for the universities. She declared that in the case of the Francisco Luis Espinoza Pineda University and the National Polytechnical University, these institutions would continue implementing the curriculum utilized by the shuttered Ucatse and Upoli.
The legislators created the Multidisciplinary University to replace four closed universities. The CNU president stated that at least for this year, “the syllabuses will be maintained” for each of the four universities. In 2023, the new administration would begin unifying their curriculum.
Student community uncertain
The State takeover of the private universities represents yet another blow to students who were expelled from the public universities in 2018 for protesting against the governing regime and demanding university autonomy. A certain segment of these students had been forced to begin their studies anew in the private centers.
Student Neyma Hernandez says that among her classmates, “there’s a lot of uncertainty and fear about everything that’s happening” in their centers of learning. “We feel like they stole our university, because in addition to belonging to its owners, the university also belongs to its student body.”
Neyma added: “There’s fear they’ll erase our academic records; fear they won’t give us our grades; fear they’ll take our scholarships away,” as occurred in 2018.
Like all her classmates, Neyma is anxious. “Not knowing what’s going to happen, not knowing what university to transfer to – because if we go to the UCA (Central American University), they [the regime’s functionaries] could come along any day and announce that our new campus was just stolen.”
Two-tier system in the public universities?
Ernesto Medina, ex-rector of the private Americana University, sees this State takeover of the private universities as “formalizing a great [social] inequity,” because now Nicaragua will have “public university students who pay, and others who don’t.”
The National Council of Universities, assigned to administer the newly created universities, “doesn’t have the technical, or the academic, or the legal capacity. The law doesn’t assign the CNU any faculties like the ones they’re assuming. What we know as the CNU in Nicaragua is an office in Managua, that houses an office team employed by the Council of Rectors, and whose functions are merely technical,” Medina highlighted.
He also points out that the creation of the three new universities wasn’t carried out in accordance with the previously established laws. “So – Are we going to have two types of autonomy?” the academic leader questioned.