López Obrador's Pseudo Universities: Hiding Scam in False Opportunity

ESTIMATED READING TIME: 5 minutes and 11 seconds 

In May of last year Mexican President Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) successfully passed a national educational reform through Congress. This reform, although quite similar to the one already in place by former President Peña Nieto, changes a couple of things. It removed the Instituto Nacional para la Evaluación de la Educación (The National Institute for Evaluating Education), meaning there will no longer be teacher evaluations. Additionally, there is now a set national list, imbedded in the constitution, that indicates courses that needs be taught to all students. However, I am here to talk about another significant aggregation, which was the goal AMLO made to increase accessibility to higher education at the national level, “the president of the nation, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, has set a goal to grant access to university-level institutions to 300,000 young Mexicans.” This is a much-needed project as Mexico is a country where only one in five students have access to higher education, as stated by the OECD.

While essential and noble, a goal as large as this one should not be taken with a grain of salt and when aspiring to it, it should definitely be remembered who needs this the most and why it is needed. The young adults targeted for this goal are the most vulnerable and are most likely in poverty, they can use this opportunity to obtain better jobs to support their families. There are many ways a project aimed to reach this goal can be created. Nonetheless, there is one essential component any project for this purpose would need. The ability to go to university granted by a government program, at a minimum, needs to guarantee that the degree obtained by that university is usable in the job market. In this case, it means it would require it to be accredited by the SEP, the Secretariat of Public Education. This is obvious. But, the project AMLO launched in December of last year to seemingly spontaneously create 100 universities known as Universidades del Bienestar Benito Juarez (UBBJ) out of thin air, that promise the access to higher education that is meant to lead to higher quality of life through the access to better jobs, falls short and fails to meet the minimum requirement I mentioned. 

The government has allocated 1,000 million pesos, equivalent to 52 million US dollars, to this undertaking. An undertaking that according to an organization in Mexico called Mexicanos Unidos contra la Corupsion y la Impunidad (United Mexicans against Corruption and Impunity, MCCI), is not accredited by the SEP simply because it does not meet the basic requirements to provide higher education. Simple requirements such as having, classrooms with desks, chairs, books, and other essentials. Their study evaluated the new program using the methodology set by the National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy, an organization under Mexico’s Ministry of Social Development. Under those requirements, they would score a mere .7 points out of 4, “The primary results of this evaluations show that the UBBJ Program demonstrated substantial deficiencies in its design, only fulfilling 17% of the elements required”  Furthermore, these universities have not submitted any of the required documents that all other universities in Mexico submitted upon their creation, for instance, an official and set curriculum. Yet, they have managed to open 83 of the 100 universities they plan on opening. Frankly, it is difficult to discern what, if any, standards or requirements the universities are setting up for themselves. To further cheapen the value of this program, out of 30 locations that were studied, none would qualify to obtain an RVOE, an official recognition of the validity of studies that is given by the SEP. On average these locations only had 46.2% of what would be required to receive the RVOE. This is incredibly important because, as stated on the Mexican government’s official website, “The primary consequence [of participating in a program that does not qualify for the RVOE] is that the degree program taken by the students lack official validity and therefore also lack the possibility of obtaining any professional degree and certification [required to practice what has been studied].” In turn, individuals that study at UBBJ and graduate will NOT be able to officially practice, as in a job, what they studied; this consequence is most detrimental to those that studied something that absolutely requires these documents for practice.

The one of the key purposes of this project was to take higher education to young adults, all 100 universities are meant to be in marginalized areas where there are no institutions for higher education located less that 50 km away. The reality is that out of the 83 opened, only 38% fall within that category. Meaning, that where there is real poverty, the places that are higher education deserts, remain as such. The young adults living there continue to not have access to the education they deserve, strive for, and that could be a great tool for lifting them out of poverty in the long run.

Understanding these realities makes me question, what is truly the purpose? If the SEP regulations to become an accredited institution are not followed and the requirement made by the very people who are in charge of this project are not being met, why is this program in existence? It does not even do the job of truly accomplishing AMLO’s “goal”. Furthermore, where did the 52 million dollars go? Most of the locations being used are donated by communities, says Raquel Sosa, system coordinator of UBBJ. That is on top of the fact that there is a complete lack of structure as well as basic supplies.

Is it just to scam the most vulnerable young people who enrolling in this program will have to sacrifice their time, possibly their jobs, and at the very least money for books and transportation? Not everyone believes that the government’s job is to support all citizens through their education, however, I think we can all agree that the government does not have the right to use the advantageous position they are in to spread information meant to mislead the most in-need through a government-made program that deceitful in what it can offer. The only thing that Universidades para el Bienestar Benito Juarez can offer the Mexican people at this point in time is false hope.

Photo source: https://cuestione.com/detalle/mexico/la-verdad-detras-de-las-universidades-para-el-bienestar-benito-juarez