Argentine students and professors protest university budget cuts under Milei

In a sign unrest was growing in response to Milei’s policies, even conservative politicians, private university administrators and right-wing TV personalities joined the march, defending the common cause of public education in Argentina that has underpinned the country’s social progress for decades.

“It is historic,” said Ariana Thiele Lara, a 25-year-old recent graduate protesting. “It feels like we were all united.”

Describing universities as bastions of socialism where professors indoctrinate their students, Milei has tried to dismiss the university budget crisis as politics as usual.

“The cognitive dissonance that brainwashing generates in public education is tremendous,” he said.

At the University of Buenos Aires, or UBA, halls went dark, elevators froze and air conditioning stopped working in some buildings last week. Professors taught 200-person lectures without microphones or projectors because the public university couldn’t cover its electricity bill.

“It’s an unthinkable crisis,” said Valeria Añón, a 50-year-old literature professor at the university. “I feel sad for my students and for myself as professor and researcher.”

Students protest for more public university funding and against austerity measures proposed by President Javier Milei, featured on the sign, in Buenos Aires on Tuesday. The posters read in Spanish “With fascism, there are no rights,” center, and “Why so much fear to educate the people?,” right, and “Defending the university is defending the country,” left.Natacha Pisarenko / AP

In his drive to reach zero deficit, Milei is slashing spending across Argentina — shuttering ministries, defunding cultural centers, laying off state workers and cutting subsidies. On Monday he had something to show for it, announcing Argentina’s first quarterly fiscal surplus since 2008 and promising the public the pain would pay off.

“We are making the impossible possible even with the majority of politics, unions, the media and most economic actors against us,” he said in a televised address.

On Tuesday, the footfall of protesters resounded in the city center. “Why are you so scared of public education?” banners asked. “The university will defend itself!” students shouted.

“We are trying to show the government it cannot take away our right to education,” said Santiago Ciraolo, a 32-year-old student in social communication protesting Tuesday. “Everything is at stake here.”

Since last July, when the fiscal year began, the state has provided the University of Buenos Aires with just 8.9% of its total budget as annual inflation now hovers near 290%. The university says that’s barely enough to keep lights on and provide basic services in teaching hospitals that have already cut capacity.

The university warned last week that without a rescue plan, the school would shut down in the coming months, stranding 380,000 students mid-degree. It’s a shock for Argentines who consider a free and quality university education a birthright. UBA has a proud intellectual tradition, having produced five Nobel Prize winners and 17 presidents.