Academic staff at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), the most important university in the country, have been on strike for more than 160 days in protest at the government's plan to increase student fees. It has been a devastating experience.
Two hundred professors have been dismissed and there is a threat to close UNAM. It could be declared bankrupt so that the government would be able to cancel labour contracts without having to pay compensation. But it is vital that UNAM remains open. It educates more students than any other university in Mexico, many of them from other countries in Latin America. UNAM's 1,100 research scientists conduct 60% of the research done in Mexico.
Non-academic employees are also threatening to strike at the end of October unless they receive an absurd pay rise of 40%. This would spell the end of UNAM.
Mexico has an external debt of almost US$200 billion, and the World Bank has imposed on the government tough economic measures which result in undesirable social and cultural effects. UNAM's financial requirements are now seen as a heavy burden on the government's budget and President Ernesto Zedillo seems intent on cutting such “excessive expenses”. Yet all the economic problems of our country are a direct result of the actions of dishonest administrations over the years, who have been blind to the needs of science and technology.
UNAM is being seen as a business, which is an absurd mistake. Mexico has a small community of just 6,000 full-time researchers, 4,500 dedicated to natural sciences and engineering. Research receives far too little financial support.
UNAM has always played an outstanding role in science and it is imperative that this should be promoted and preserved above any other political consideration.
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Cuevas-Sosa, A. Cash crisis threatens to close Mexico's leading university. Nature 401, 524 (1999). https://doi.org/10.1038/44000