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Colombia offers $1.4 billion additional education spending to end protests

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By Reuters
Colombia offers $1.4 billion additional education spending to end protests
Colombian President, Ivan Duque, signs the financing agreement for public education accompanied by the student leaders in the presidential palace of Bogota, Colombia December 14, 2018. Courtesy of Colombian Presidency/Handout via REUTERS   -   Copyright  HANDOUT(Reuters)

BOGOTA (Reuters) – Colombia will spend an additional 4.5 trillion pesos ($1.42 billion) on public higher education during President Ivan Duque’s four years in office, he said on Friday, as a student strike protesting the lack of resources stretched to 10 weeks.

The figure was negotiated in more than a dozen meetings between the government and representatives from student and educator groups, Duque said in a video statement.

Student protesters from 32 public universities have clashed repeatedly with police during nationwide marches, snarling traffic and public transport in cities across the country.

Duque took office in August pledging to improve higher education, but the government has since said it faces a shortfall for social programs and funding in next year’s budget.

“This agreement seeks not just the strengthening of the public education system but the firming up of resources – public universities will have more than 4.5 trillion during these four years,” Duque said.

Student groups have not called off the strike, saying first they will discuss the deal with their members.

Public university officials reckon the system has a cumulative deficit of $5.7 billion between operating and investment expenses.

Education spending covers 16 percent, or about $13 billion, of the total national budget for 2019.

(Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb and Helen Murphy; Editing by Helen Murphy and Richard Chang)