Students in Chile are protesting; they are demanding free and better education. The more communist-inclined are demanding nationalization of the country’s copper mines—which produce some sixty-percent of the country’s income. Politicians dither and special-interest groups lobby. It takes six years to get a degree when at most it should take four years.
There are clearly class differences in Chile. You do not need statistics to underpin the observation that as you go further north-east in the city, the apartments get smarter, the people better dressed, even taller and better looking. Ride up along the coast and the sheer mass of high-rise apartment blocks looking down over a rocky shore, attests to the money some have to enjoy the good life, even in the absence of sandy beaches.
The mining folk that I chatted with are comfortable. The middle-aged talk of second homes, foreign trips, expensive wines, and smart restaurants. The young talk of cars, trips home to the south, and foreign education and even foreign work assignments. They are all in demand and well-paid. Mining clearly is one way to go to put that eduction to profitable use.
I have no statistics on scholarships to mining and other mine-related engineering students. It would be interesting to know how many Chilean students are getting through the six years of education on direct mining money. Or on indirect mining money, which we may define as income earned by parents in the mining industry. Are any of the many foreign-owned mining consulting companies serving the Chilean mining industry sponsoring students? If they are not, they should be.
How many Chilean-trained engineers are working out of the country on mining projects? How many foreign mining folk are working on mines in the country?
These and many more questions swirl around the ultimate question: why does it take six years of education to get a mining degree in Chile? If it is the fault of the system, then I can begin to see why students want it free. No undergraduate degree needs six years of study. Not even mining engineering. In most places you can have a Masters Degree after six years of study.
No education is free—somebody works so that others can study. And this is particularly so for university students. No all who aspire to go to university can get there and too many who do get there simply do not have the brains or aptitude to study. So inevitably there is a drop-out rate. That is why engineering students are in demand and paid accordingly. They have proven they have brains, aptitude, ability, concentration, or all the above, and hence can get a degree. Thus they can be taken into industry and commerce–of any shade or variety.
Certainly the young Chilean engineers that I met who are working in the Chilean mining industry are smart, intelligent, committed, and hard-working. I am almost tempted to say they are more-so-thus than elsewhere but that would be an unfair comparison. I did not dare ask any of them if they are so good because of six years of study, a good educational system, or just because they are innately clever.
So while I can sympathize with parents and students struggling to pay for university eduction (I am still paying for one of my daughters and know the cost), I cannot concur with the idea of free university eduction for all who wish to go. Things get competitive at university. It is a winnowing experience. Only some will succeed. Many will fall by the way. It is a shame, but not all humans are alike, even though they all deserve equal opportunity. There is no such thing as equal outcome, equal success, or equal life-styles. Not even in mining.