Thousands of college and high school students took to the streets of Chile's capital on Thursday to protest the existence of schools run as for-profit enterprises and renew demands for free, quality public education.

The march followed the release last week of a congressional report accusing seven private universities of violating a legal requirement that educational institutions operate on a non-profit basis.

"We have to say once again that education is not a consumer product, education is a right. And to make it so, we need a state that ensures adequate regulation of the private sector and which also permits the strengthening of the public sector," student leader Noam Titelman told reporters.

The protesters marched down Santiago's main thoroughfare past the presidential palace.

Despite rain and the chill of a Southern Hemisphere winter, the students sang songs, chanted slogans and danced as they made their way across the city.

The festive atmosphere was disturbed only by a few confrontations between police and a small group of militants.

Starting last year, Chilean students have mounted a series of protests against a highly stratified education system that funnels state subsidies to private institutions even as public schools in poor areas struggle.

Chile's public schools and universities were neglected by the 1973-1990 dictatorship of the late Gen. Augusto Pinochet, who embraced doctrinaire free market policies.

Private schools mushroomed under the military regime and the trend continued after democracy was restored, even during the 1990-2010 tenure of the center-left Concertacion coalition. EFE