Santiago (AFP) - Chile's constitutional court on Tuesday struck down a law that would have banned universities operating for profit, dealing a blow to free tuition reforms brought in by former leftwing president Michelle Bachelet.
In a 6-4 decision, the court's judges sided with a group of private universities that challenged the measure as unconstitutional.
Bachelet, who ended her term early this month, hit back on Twitter to say the ruling "distorts the democratic decision to eliminate profit from higher education."
During her 2014-2018 rule she had pushed to expand free university tuition in Chile, seeking to discard changes made in 1981 under the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship that allowed the private sector to offer higher education for a fee.
The move was popular with Chilean students, and her successor, conservative billionaire Sebastian Pinera, had vowed to uphold it.
A small group of around 20 students protested outside the constitutional court on Tuesday before being dispersed by police.
"Chilean families have been taking to the streets for a long time to say we don't want for-profit education, that we don't want businessmen filling their pockets from the resources of hundreds of thousands of students," said Rodrigo Rivera, spokesman for the national students' association CONFECH.
In its ruling, the court endorsed other parts of Bachelet's reform, shaking up the state education system and financing measures.