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Colombia Approves Free University Education


University in Colombia
Colombia approves free university education. Credit: AP / Colombia One

Colombia has approved free higher and university education as of 2024. In a decree signed by President Gustavo Petro, a few days before the end of December, the president thus fulfills one of his electoral promises: to guarantee higher and university education as a right in the country. Thus, from the next academic year (which will begin in a few weeks), public schools and universities in Colombia will be free for anyone who is accredited as an undergraduate student in one of these institutions, and is approved in the program in compliance with certain minimum requirements.

The state will study the veracity of the information provided by each student, as well as follow up on the studies that remain in charge of the public purse. To pay for this decision, the Ministry of Education will allocate a budget of 2.8 billion Colombian pesos from the national budget for the 2024 academic year.

Universalizing higher education

In this way, and through a presidential decree, Colombia establishes the route of action of the new University in Your Territory policy for free access to higher education. This guideline will begin to be implemented in the first semester of the 2024 academic year, which starts at the end of January.

“With the expansion of free education and the relaxation of the requirements to enter the Higher Education System, we are taking a significant step towards the consolidation of education as a fundamental right, so that all Colombians have the opportunity to access a quality education that allows them to live with dignity, in conditions of equity,” said the Minister of Education, Aurora Vergara Figueroa.

The new legislation includes the relaxation of requirements such as socioeconomic status, age, nationality, and the prioritization of indigenous populations, gypsies, black, Afro-Colombian, Raizal and Palenquero communities, victims of the internal armed conflict, persons with disabilities, peasant communities and persons deprived of liberty.

The Colombian president publicly congratulated himself for this decision. “I have signed the decree of free public higher education in Colombia. It was a campaign promise and today it is a reality. I will seek to make higher education a right for everyone living in Colombia,” the president wrote in his social networks after issuing the law.

Requirements and gradual implementation

In a press release from the presidency, it is explained that the requirements to be eligible to apply for the full subsidy of the study are:

  1. To be registered in the National System of Higher Education Information (SNIES) as enrolled in an undergraduate academic program (technical professional, technological or university), in any of the public Higher Education Institutions.
  2. Not to have a degree from a professional university program.

This important regulation will not be applied immediately in its entirety, but will be generalized gradually. This was confirmed by the government in the decree, where it affirmed that the project will be implemented in a progressive manner, thus adjusting to the availability of the allocated budget.

“The Free Education Policy will be implemented in accordance with the principle of progressiveness, will seek universality in a gradual manner and will be adjusted to the budget availability, the Medium Term Fiscal Framework and the Medium Term Expenditure Framework,” states the decree.

Will take in Colombians who were in Argentina

It should be noted that the decree has been issued when Argentina, after the “decretazo” of President Javier Milei, has communicated that it will not renew the study grants to a group of Colombian students in Argentinean national universities, within the framework of the economic reforms that include the possible implementation of fees in public universities for non-resident foreigners.

With this context in mind, the Colombian president has said that the country will receive back 20,000 Colombians who were studying for free in Argentina and who, according to the Colombian president, were expelled by Milei from Argentina.

“For them there was no so-called freedom. We will manage so that they can continue their studies in Colombia without major obstacle and also for free,” wrote Gustavo Petro in reference to those repatriated from Argentina.

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