Free admission to universities: how does the Argentine model work?

The universities in Argentina they are free entry, unlike other countries in Latin America and the world. Its access does not have entry barriers —whether the institution to which one wishes to apply is public or private—, according to the Higher Education Law from this country.

Law 24,521, which governs the university institutions of the Argentine educational system, establishes the so-called “unrestricted admission”. It was approved in 1995, after the constitutional reform, and updated in 2015, which establishes the “non-delegable and main” responsibility of the State regarding higher education, and considers it a “public good” and a “human right” , terms that did not appear in the previous text.

The reformed law states that no citizen can be deprived of access to the university for personal or social reasons and makes the State responsible for guaranteeing that right.

In this nation there are 112 universities (62 public and 50 private). Of the total, 80% of students belong to state schools and 20% to private schools, according to the 2019-2020 University Statistics Information Synthesis report.

All persons who have passed secondary education can enter undergraduate teaching at the higher education level.

People over the age of 25 who have not passed the secondary level can also enter higher education if they show that they have sufficient preparation, work experience, skills and knowledge to pursue the studies to which they want to apply. This last requirement may vary depending on each study center.

Entry is free and unrestricted. Leveling and orientation processes may exist, but these processes must in no case be selective, excluding or discriminatory.

It is a course, used by many universities, which is made up of basic subjects of the chosen career in order to level the knowledge of the students who enroll, while taking into account that they come from different schools —public, private or from other countries— . It is not a separate course from the university, to then enter, but from the first cycle or university year.

They can last from one month to one year and are usually mandatory, depending on the degree or university.

Although the Higher Education Law guarantees free admission, in some faculties of certain institutions (very few, such as the National University of Mar del Plata), students must take a selectivity test. It is a course that at the end requires a final, eliminatory or selective evaluation. If approved, the student can enter the chosen career. Otherwise, you will have to wait until the following year to try again and pass it.

Each year, public universities hold two calls. The first pre-registration must be done in February/March and the next one in November/December. This depends on each institution. On these dates the requested papers must be ready.

After completing the pre-registration and paying the required university tuition (in the case of private institutions), the registration date must be awaited, where the day the classes begin will be announced. This is the general procedure to access university in Argentina.

The Argentine public university is free and is financed by the Ministry of Education.

This gratuity arose in 1949, after decree 29,337 of President Juan Domingo Perón, in which he suspended the collection of university fees.

The report on educational inequality in Argentina from the Observatory of Argentines for Education, dated January 2022, indicates that, among young people from the poorest sectors, only one in ten (12.4%) reaches university.

This figure is related to graduation rates at the secondary level, a high percentage of minors from low economic conditions do not finish school. In a country where its university education system is free and with unrestricted admission, these two properties have not been able to bridge the gap in access to higher education.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the social pyramid, in the highest economic sectors, about half of young people (46.0%) attend university.

Figures from the report show that, as careers progress, students who stay in college fall into higher-income classes, while lower-income students tend to make up a smaller percentage of the college population.

“In the first year, the students with the lowest income (decile 1) represent 7.9% of the total number of students, while in the fifth year they represent 1.1% of the total. In contrast, in the first year, young people with higher incomes (decile 10) represent 5.3% of enrollment and reach 12.7% in the fifth year”, reports the Observatory of Argentines for Education.

“It is convenient to analyze the policies that the State has taken to try to solve a model that is regressive in its results (those who have more receive a greater reward). Although it is true that the opening of new national universities in the towns of the most vulnerable cordons of the suburbs —in the 1990s and from the mid-2000s— facilitated the arrival of first-generation university students, the system continues to be expulsive for those students from lower-income sectors, despite free entry,” says Marcelo Rabossi, professor and researcher at the Torcuato Di Tella University in Buenos Aires.