"We have obtained a ruling in favor of our boys and the country"

"We have obtained a ruling in favor of our boys and the country"

Francisco Salgado, Rector of the University of Azuay, refers in this interview with Campus to the favorable opinion of the Constitutional Court to the claim of the co-financed universities headed by our institution.

The court ruled that the Ministry of Economy and Finance had failed to comply with articles 22 and 33 of the Organic Law of Higher Education by not transferring the funds to private universities that receive state revenues for student scholarships.

The co-financed universities are the Universidad del Azuay, the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador, the Universidad Católica de Santiago de Guayaquil, the Universidad Politécnica Salesiana, the Universidad Laica Vicente Rocafuerte de Guayaquil, the Universidad Católica de Cuenca, the Universidad UTE and the Universidad Técnica Particular of Loja.

For the Rector of the UDA, the most important thing is that a jurisprudence has been created for the future of the higher education system:

I was delighted that something we did with a lot of faith and love finally got a favorable opinion.

It is very difficult to have a case accepted by the Constitutional Court, it has to be done very well. And having a favorable ruling so that the assignments for the boys' scholarships are fulfilled is something very satisfactory.

It is also very important because the other universities fully trusted us, our team and me. And being able to fully respond to that trust is very rewarding.

This ruling is in favor of low-income kids so they can study at our eight co-financed universities.

150.000 students study in these universities, that is, a quarter of all students in the country's higher education system.

Of those 150.000, 50.000 study with scholarships. In the University of Azuay, in the previous cycle, we had about 2.100 students with scholarships.

So this is an achievement for those 50.000 students, because many low-income people -with the current admission system- cannot get into public universities, and the only way they have to access higher education is with a scholarship.

This ruling therefore has a profoundly social meaning, it is an achievement not only of the University of Azuay, not only of the co-financed universities, it is an achievement for the country.

What happens from now on? Can this ruling be appealed? What is the scenario presented with a government that is already leaving?

For me the most important thing about this ruling, which is final, is that it creates jurisprudence for the future.

Because although the context we live in, the country's economy and other factors, is highly uncertain, the important thing is that when we come out of the crisis, the State will not be able to delay - as it has done at its discretion up to now - the transfer of funds that must pay by law to universities.

The government has complied with all the rulings of the Constitutional Court, even when they have been adverse. There is no point in not complying with it now.

Regarding the payment of what they are owing us, which comes since December of last year, and also the VAT refund, the Court's decision gives the Ministry of Finance the possibility of making a schedule of the transfers.

In other words, they will not be immediate, but it has already been established by establishing jurisprudence that it is a rule that must be met.

The same day that the favorable ruling for the University of Azuay took place, an unfavorable ruling was also known for the claim of the public universities. And the fate of these universities is closely linked to the co-financed institutions. What is your opinion of the current situation of the Ecuadorian higher education system?

First I must say that we are looking at two opinions that were given on August 31, but there were about nine opinions of the Court that referred to education in general and about four to higher education.

There are provisions that are not being publicly discussed that for me are fundamental for the autonomy of the Ecuadorian university.

The Court has declared unconstitutional a circular from the Ministry of Finance that ordered a series of cuts in the budgets of the public function, and the Court ruled that this ministry can regulate spending in the entire public sector except in the universities.

That for me is a very big achievement because a lot of occasional teachers were being laid off because this ministry circular said that contracts could not be renewed.

They had also stopped acquiring inputs.

And the Court is saying that this does not apply to public universities.

Another issue that the Court resolved was in relation to a provision of the CES (Higher Education Council) that tenured professors had to assume a much greater teaching load.

Before, a maximum of 16 hours of class per week had been maintained for the full-time teacher, the CES went from 16 to 26 hours, and the Court says that is unconstitutional.

And that is important because teachers need time to prepare their classes, to update and research, publish their research and do community service.

This is a great achievement for university autonomy because the CES has to observe that it cannot ask for anything that comes to mind, but rather has to be in common agreement with the universities, because that is what the opinion says.

I think these resolutions are very important and they have to be known.

Regarding the other issue, of course the university has difficulties, here in Ecuador and all over the world.

What exacerbates the problem in our case? The difficult economic situation, which predates even the pandemic. And, in the same pandemic, there is an eroded trust in the government for the management of public resources.  

But there is a desire of all that this situation changes.

What situation do you think we are in at the moment, as a university and as a higher education system?

I believe that we must be clear, the situation in the coming months will continue to be difficult.

We are "in the middle of the river." You have to be very careful, very prudent.

The pandemic is a marathon, we cannot say that we have overcome it; Even in the places that preceded us in the matter of contagions, there are outbreaks.

We must have the support of everyone to get through these difficult times, we must be very united to maintain ourselves as a university community and as a higher education system.

And we are united.

In the case of Cuenca, the four universities have a very good relationship and we are doing joint projects.

This is an endurance race and we have to go out together.