For years, Latin America’s investment in educational infrastructure, primarily schools and universities, has lagged peers to the north, east and west. The problem is particularly acute in Argentina. Good news then that Buenos Aires is planning a USD 313 million investment in university infrastructure. The so-called National University Infrastructure Programme has been touted regularly by the government in recent weeks. In part, president Alberto Fernández is likely to want to allay concerns that a renegotiated debt repayment deal with the IMF could see significant cuts to public spending, with education in line for the chop.
A Brazil analyst at a London-based investment firm explained, “In both Argentina and neighbouring Brazil, a key concern is whether significant new investments in university infrastructure are value for money given that the post-pandemic teaching reality is as yet unknown. Is the government expecting a mass return to the class or will distance and online learning take a strong hold on the educational model?”
“In both Argentina and neighbouring Brazil, a key concern is whether significant new investments in university infrastructure are value for money given that the post-pandemic teaching reality is as yet unknown.”
Brazil analyst, investment firm, UK
Argentina’s Minister of Education, Jaime Perczyk, is particularly keen to emphasise educational investment in Argentina’s poorer regions. On a recent visit to Salti province in the country’s far north, he announced the construction of several new buildings in the impoverished town of General Güemes. Other facilities were announced in the neighbouring department of Orán including specific details on improved water and sanitation infrastructure for schools.
It is estimated that the programme, which aims to extend academic coverage and increase access to higher education, will have a positive impact on the 1.5 million students and teachers throughout the country. Currently, projects, works, spare parts and infrastructure expansion are being carried out, generating some 13,500 jobs in the cities where they are located.
Perczyk stressed that within the framework of the programme “there are works in all the universities that presented projects, without discrimination and in all regions, with three criteria: classrooms, because the idea is that there are more students and with better conditions; laboratories, because there are universities that do not have and for students to do research, and the third is libraries, there are universities and colleges that do not have libraries and it is something central for the functioning of a university.”
“If the number of face-to-face lectures is reduced, university centres could use the space of classrooms to improve its libraries, both in size and in quality. One of the main problems in Brazil and Argentina was how some students lacked proper internet access or their own space to work and study, particularly among less favoured families. Re-thinking libraries as co-working spaces would be a first step to make the most of unused infrastructure,” added the analyst.
“If the number of face-to-face lectures is reduced, university centres could use the space of classrooms to improve its libraries, both in size and in quality. Re-thinking libraries as co-workings would be a first step to make the most of unused infrastructure.”
Brazil analyst, investment firm, UK
Indeed, depending on the space available some faculties could be transformed into proper co-workings with a payment quota, either annual or monthly, for companies developing projects at the university.
The main problem in both countries? Politics. Too often, education is seen as a cost instead of an investment. Add to the equation state elections in some regions and elections in Brazil this year. Investing in universities, be it in infrastructure or proper education programmes, rarely yield immediate votes.