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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Policy Translation of Social Movements Demands: The Case of Free-Tuition in Higher Education in Chile


Chile experienced massive student protests against market-based education in 2011. In 2013, center-left President Michelle Bachelet proposed tuition-free higher education for Chile’s bottom 70%, fueling controversy due to the uncertainty and unexpected medium and long-term consequences. This study analyzes how the free-tuition policy was developed, the actors involved, the political discourse deployed during its implementation, and the strategy used to make this policy a reality. Using semi-structured interviews with key actors, such as policymakers and scholars, and a review of newspaper columns, we wanted to explore how politicians and bureaucrats translated the students’ demands into the free-tuition policy. Our findings suggest that the policy translation process involved former student leaders, free-tuition policy prioritization, and a quick, straightforward implementation process that enabled the government to fulfill its promise.

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