Thursday, March 15, 2007

UBA: Ah... the waste (by Helen)

In BA is the University of Buenos Aires. This Univeristy is absolutely free. That implies the commitment to Argentina's most valuable resource - human capital - is actively present. If somebody wants to become a doctor, teacher, lawyer, accountant, philospher, or architect, they can go to the Univeristy of Buenos Aires (UBA) and learn how to do just that.

The medical school (which is what I am interested in) has a wonderful reputation, respected world wide as well as a source of true pride by the Argentinians. I could spend the rest of this blog expressing admiration for this system. But, instead I am going to lament the shameful way that the University is neglected.

When Ken and I went to register for language classes, we had to go to the Centro Universitario de Idiomas at 25 de Mayo in el Centro, the Language Center for the University. This building was a spectacular marbled building with gorgeous floors with intricate mosaics of marble, winding staircases with intricate banisters, high ceilings, columns & anything else you can imagine that may have been built with pride in the days of the past. The problem is that the place is shamefully neglected. First of all, it is filthly. The beautiful floors of mosaic marble haven't seen a floor cleaner in I-don't-know-how-long. The bathrooms were disgusting - no supplies, no soap, no toilet paper, it was like a latreen. The furniture is ancient, & there is no computerized account of the enrollment. This is a dirty, neglected, pen & pencil affair. And yet, the staff is dedicated, proud, capable, and amazingly productive. The salaries are minimal, and the working enviorment dismal, yet this Univerisity produces an educated people that can compete world wide in its capability and productivity. There are no updates such as air conditioning.

On Avenida Las Heras, there is another huge monstrosity of a building, 3 blocks from us, that looks like an old church from the 1600's which is falling apart, and yet I found out that this building is actually UBA offices.

The medical staff that is a product of UBA has world-recognized ability, yet has to strike to bring their salaries to a livable wage--$2400 pesos for the average health care worker (about US$800 per month). The retail pharmacists make less than bus drivers (correct me if I am wrong) and nurses do not even have credentialed initals (like RN or LPN) after their names. In other words, no professional recognition.

The dicotomy of pride and neglect is striking. It is sad. It should be a source of public outrage. If this neglect for higher education were going on in the US, there would most certainly be groups of alumna, professors, congressman, and parents of students, making all kinds of fuss and demanding public, as well as private, intervention to clean up the UBA facilities, increase salaries, and restore the grandeur of these spectacular buildings.

I would be very interested to hear from our Argentinian readers regarding this issue. Do you see it differently than I do? I'd really like to understand.


TangoSpam said...

Where are they going to get the money? Argentina does not spawn the multi-millionaires who leave there money to their alma mater.

Chas said...

If they're cranking out world-class physicians, maybe higher education is the one thing they're NOT neglecting. It must be challenging to offer an education that's both free AND plush.

Mia said...

For foreigners mate is an acquired taste, I suppose. I don't drink mate, not because I think it tastes like dirt (it doesn't to me), but because I am too lazy to bother and because I can't stomach sharing a bombilla. I do like mate cocido.

By the way, twenty years ago, drinking mate was not as popular in Buenos Aires as it seems to be today. Back then Porteños would never carry a thermos, that was a "yorugua" thing ("vesre" for Uruguayan). I don't remember to have seen many people cebar mate in public places, either.

Re: UBA: Ah... the waste, Chas' comment pretty much sums it up.

But I want to ask you, Helen, what waste? Argentina may not look it but it *is* a Third World country, you know. To spend money they don't have on renovations they can't afford, that would be wasteful.

[...] in the US [...] making all kinds of fuss and demanding public, as well as private, intervention to clean up the UBA facilities, increase salaries, and restore the grandeur of these spectacular buildings.

But in the US students pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in tuition. How much did you say it costs to study at the UBA? And what's Argentina's (PPP) GDP compared to the US'?

emilyeffinconrad said...

maybe I need to go to that college

Pablo Flores said...

The students and the faculty can't be bothered to do anything, and that's a shame, but it's not much they can actually do anyway. However, in times of plenty (like now), the government (which is responsible for public education) could and should drop a few million pesos to restore the building, and a few thousands every month to maintain it. They're advertising the fiscal surplus all the time, as if having money to spare was a good thing in itself.

Fernando (Nerd Gaucho) said...

Hi there, I admit you have a nice blog, although I do not agree with everything you say.

Just some food for thought, to get things in perspective:

Argentina has enjoyed several straight years of fiscal suprluses ONLY since 2003. The last time that happened (several years of consecutive fiscal surpluses) was in the late 50s or 60s, or so I remember reading somewhere. (I was born 1974, hence I have to rely on news sources).

During the '80s and '90s "cutting the education budget" and teacher / professor strikes were the norm.

Plus, in the '90s, while a president that should not be named pegged the local currency to the US dollar, the educational system was turned from a diverse one to one that favoured a "services" economy. Industrial secondary education was almost killed.

So, it's not like "the public education system is in bad shape even while the government is currently enjoying surpluses", the public educational system (and the whole public administration) is in bad shape after DECADES of following IMF advice and the economists that claim "the State can do no good".

A famous economy secreatary (a bald one, I will let you figure who he was) said one time that having local scientists was unneccesary, as Argentina would just buy the commercial products as the result of "1st world" scientific research.

Threatening a shutdown of the local scientific research body , he publicly told local scientists who were on strike to "go do the dishes" (vayan a lavar los platos).

So, back to the current scenario... you are reading the right wing rag La Nacion too much. Try to diversify your news sources.

Let me quote blogger "YankiMike":

Writing for the International Herald Tribune, the CEPR's Mark Weisbrot compares K's leadership and willingness to ignore orthodox economic wisdom to Franklin Delano Roosevelt's success during the depression of the 1930's:

"Like Roosevelt, Kirchner had to reject the advice of the majority of the economics profession (Roosevelt did this even before Keynes had published his General Theory), stand up to powerful interests (foreign bondholders and utility companies, the IMF and World Bank), and do what was best for the country."

His colleague, Dean Baker, penning for the American Prospect makes the continued strong growth one of the 5 most important economic news stories of 2006.

In short... most americans come here and jump to conclusions, you have to see "the long movie" -historic perspective-, not just "today's picture" to understand why things are as they are.

Best wishes, and keep the good work.


Ken and Helen said...

I suspect,that even tho I had nothing but praise for UBA, that people will be defensive because they love their system so much. But to answer the question of what is the definition of waste: it is the gap between what can be accomplished and what is not accomliplished, but what is accepted. "Waste" is not necesarily something that people want to cease. For example, if you earn $200,000 a year, but sell your soul for it, and therefore choose to earn $80,000/yr for a better life style, then waste is an inappropriate term. But, if you ask your professors to live and work in an unacceptable enviornment, that they would not choose, then waste is an issue. Now, I know from being here for 3 months that cleaning people are affordable. And, honestly, how much does "soap on a stick" cost. (My friends from the states will not understand this reference). Soap, toliet paper, and one cleaning person, is affordable. AND, I never heard anybody speak of volunteers. Now, I will back up while the sparks fly.

Mia said...

Helen, it really has nothing to do with "being defensive because they love their system so much." Yes, you praised. How could anyone not? But you also criticized based only on what you know from living your entire life in the US.

It really bothers me when people come to this country (the US) and criticize things they know little about. It bothers me even more when a USAmerican visits a Third World country and starts saying things like "If this were going on in the US..."

Please don't take any of this personally. I was in your situation once. Thankfully, being a "citizen of the world" for so many years has helped me broaden my perspective.

Chas said...

Ok, now I'm on Helen's side. I think her point may be that what's missing is not the money, necessarily, but the will. The quality of the physicians emerging from UBA might not be diminished by a small expenditure toward upkeep. Perhaps she's saying that there's something vaguely disrespectful to the students about expecting them to forge their educations in squalor. Maybe she thinks that neglect of the physical plant tends to diminish the dignity of such a venerable institution. Perhaps she feels that it's unbecoming of a queen to have to walk around in rags, and that a small investment in royal comportment would go a long way toward improving her stature among the people.

If that's what she's saying, I tend to agree.

Ken and Helen said...

Charlie you are a genius with the words.

Mia, When I wrote this blog I was actually seeking an answer to the question of why some of the UBA buildings are so neglected. Being the practical person that I am, I expected answers such as: "The Cinco de Mayo building has too many infrastructure problems, so the money has been allocated elsewhere. Have you seen the Law School, its beautiful." Or "only a few classes are held downtown, as well as summer registration, so that building doesn't get much attention." Or, "The budget is so tight that the school voted where the money should go, and you need to see the following". Or, "you only saw that building in the summer, when the staff is on vacation". Or even, "the professors use the bathroom upstairs, which is clean and has soap and toilet paper"

"To spend money they don't have on renovations they can't afford, that would be wasteful." wasn't really an answer to my question.

Perhaps there is no answer, and I will leave it alone now, because as you pointed out, I should form no opinions.

Mia said...

Chas, I couldn't disagree more.


The money has been allocated elsewhere, indeed. Not to pay for building renovations, though; that can wait and it will.

I never said, not even implied, that you should form no opinions. What I said is that one should not criticize a country one knows very little about.

Chas said...

Ok, but we still haven't addressed the idea of volunteers. Couldn't some of the smaller deficiencies be rectified by caring students and faculty? (Even as I type this, I realize it's SO naive to think this would work, unless it was organized by someone. But why couldn't that happen?)

PS, K&H: Aw, shucks (blush). I think the queen thing might've been one metaphor too many, though.