San Nicolás de Hidalgo in Michoacán San Nicolás de Hidalgo in Michoacán, one of the universities facing financial problems.

Funds squandered by universities: auditor

Federal Auditor's Office says cash-strapped schools spent on items unrelated to education

Two cash-strapped public universities that are seeking additional federal funds squandered their budgets on items unrelated to education, according to the Federal Auditor’s Office (ASF).

In its latest review, the ASF said the Autonomous University of Morelos (UAEM) and the Michoacán University of San Nicolás de Hidalgo (UMSNH) spent government-allocated funds in 2015 on floral arrangements, Mother’s Day presents, balloons, table linen, the hiring of musicians and food.

In total, they and other state-funded universities — including the autonomous universities of Chiapas, Guerrero and Nuevo León — spent 448.9 million pesos (US $24.2 million) on items unrelated to their budget objectives.

Both the UAEM and UMSNH are among a number of public universities which together have requested an additional 4 billion pesos (US $215.7 million) to cover salaries and operating costs.

Former UAEM chancellor Alejandro Vera Jiménez has been accused of illicit enrichment and disappeared after a warrant was issued for his arrest. He reappeared today with three amparos or injunctions in his hands to prevent the warrant being enforced. He also said he was considering running for state governor or another public position.

The ASF also detected that the Michoacán and Morelos universities used budget funds for costs that had not been authorized by the Secretariat of Public Education (SEP), including the payment of retirement pensions and fees to trade union commissioners.

Other spending irregularities included excessive payments for workers’ salaries and benefits. Together, they add up to an amount well over 1 billion pesos.

Several universities, including the UAEM and UMSNH, were also found to lack adequate documentation to verify what they had spent their budgets on.

But according to two researchers from Mexico’s largest — and most prestigious — public university, the schools are not entirely to blame for the budget blowouts.

Imanol Ordorika, an academic at the Autonomous University of México (UNAM), says that some of the payments that are deemed to be irregular are in fact unavoidable due to collective agreements universities have signed with trade unions and that the ASF shouldn’t carry out a “simplistic” analysis of their expenditure. He cited Mother’s Day gifts as among bonuses that may be built into workers’ remuneration packages.

Ángel Díaz Barriga agreed, adding that provisions established in agreements signed between workers, trade unions and universities often date back years.

Ordorika instead said that the central issue at play is the reduction of budgets that are allocated to public universities and that there has been a funding shortfall for many years.

He pointed out that the current higher education undersecretary, Salvador Jara, was formerly the chancellor of the UMSNH and completely responsible for the economic situation it now finds itself in. Paradoxically, he is now conducting a campaign aimed at discrediting public universities, he said.

Diaz added that the ASF subjects the tertiary education sector to over-regulation and treats universities in the same way as government secretariats, when in fact the dynamic they operate under is much different.

Source: El Universal (sp), El Financiero (sp)

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