To understand why people are so angry at the government’s drive to end the University Admissions test and replace it with a centralized system, you could do worse than to have a chat with my friend Ramón.

Ramón grew up in Caricuao, a rough-and-tumble part of Caracas where you probably wouldn’t want to live right now. While the buildings in Caricuao are formally built, Ramón doesn’t consider it a middle class neighborhood. “Sure, barrios like Antímano and Petare are worse off,” he says, “but crime and poor living conditions long ago took over my community.”

The 2000s were hard times for his family, so they had little choice but to send him to the local public high school. He and his classmates often missed out on tuition, mainly because teachers would refuse to lecture the saboteadores de la clase. Ramón started a course to qualify as a computer technician, but a visit from community service students from Universidad Simón Bolívar changed his path.

Though much diminished, Universidad Simón Bolívar (USB) remains one of Venezuela’s leading universities. As a public higher education institution, it’s completely tuition-free. The students Ramón met came on behalf of the Programa de Igualdad de Oportunidades (PIO), a system founded by Professor Enrique Planchart which aimed to increase the number of public school students admitted to this top school.

This was the first Ramón had ever heard of USB, back in 2005. That year, the PIO visited over 60 schools in underserved communities as far as Higuerote and enrolled more than 1,000 students in pre-university courses. Pretty impressive for a school that is only able to take in 1,500 nuevos per year.

Ramón went to great lengths to prepare for the big admissions test, a process that made him keenly aware of the shortcomings of the education he’d received. He got in, worked his way through six intense years supported by a USB scholarship, and finally landed a job abroad at one of the biggest and most successful software companies in the world. He now devotes a portion of his salary to helping his family in Venezuela pay down old debts and move to better areas, where rent is prohibitive for most.

Social mobility has always been one of higher education’s loftiest goals, and one that public universities in Venezuela made an effort to achieve long before the Chávez era: my own grandparents were able to dramatically improve their living conditions by moving from their small towns to Caracas and graduating from Universidad Central de Venezuela.

The government doesn’t see it that way. They have waged a slow but effective war on quality public universities, calling them “elitist”, refusing them the resources they need to function and buying military aircraft instead, making their professors leave the country in search of more humane conditions, and creating parallel institutions that, despite enrolling impressive numbers of students, have been criticized for including indoctrination in their curricula and not quite meeting educational standards. Are institutions like these really going to improve social mobility? Yo te aviso, chirulí.

The move to replace university-administered admissions tests with a national “Sistema Nacional de Ingreso” has been especially damaging. This SNI amounts to a semi-secret procedure supposed to take into account the high school GPA, “socio-economic conditions”, and place of residence. Pedro Ovalles, who has been teaching pre-university courses at the PIO for four years, tells me this could hurt rather than help social mobility.

“Our goal is to have more students from public high schools not only get in, but also graduate successfully from Universidad Simón Bolívar, and it looks like the centrally imposed admissions system is getting in the way”. He points me to a Master’s thesis in statistics that studied the academic achievement of first-year students. Since 2007, the university has had to yield 30% of its places to the government’s national admissions system, and the thesis concludes that these students haven’t generally performed as well as the ones who got in through the regular admissions test.

Why isn’t this system working? Pedro believes many students who get into USB through the SNI simply aren’t prepared for the demanding curriculum and the extremely fast pace of study. Many are way behind in maths, and some haven’t had a class in the subject for years. Even figuring out if a student has taken a (theoretically mandatory) subject can turn out to be impossible, because school transcripts no longer specify that a given subject wasn’t taken, but rather fill in the grade with the student’s average in the other subjects. (Really!) If on top of that you add the fact that students can’t fail a class before taking six different examinations… well, you get the point.

Ramón has shown us that social mobility through higher education is possible in Venezuela. How do we make sure more people have the opportunities he’s had?

We already have quality, free universities that are making enormous efforts to stay afloat despite the crisis, and that have more than one program in place to open the gates for those who can’t afford a decent private school. The government should then make sure our public schools are adequately funded, that our teachers are decently paid, that our students make progress in the PISA test… in short, to bring our public schools system to be on par with our universities. But you know what? That’s just too much work for our Presidente Obrero. It’s way easier to show off with misleading enrolment rates that fool the voters and international organizations, but are leading millions of hopeful students to an educational dead end.

51 COMMENTS

  1. Alejandro, you changed your friend’s name from Ramón to Pedro. Take a look at paragraph 11.

    On a different note, the whole issue of missing courses due to lack of teachers has been going on for a long time and I can’t imagine how hard it is now. I remember in my public high school I would also get averages for a course when I didn’t have a teacher during the term. That was back in 1998. Later, parents would organize and pay substitute teachers directly because the way bureaucracy would (try to) do it was simple impossible.

  2. One of the most impressive things about the Venezuela of an earlier generation is the number of successful professionals you meet who were the first generation in their family to graduate from a university. And do so entirely within the public system.

    Rather than build on that, improve on that, chavismo has eroded the system by undermining admissions processes and curricula, politicizing them, starving universities, and putting pressures on professors to just let people through, as you describe well. Which in a world where political affiliation is a heavy determinant of social mobility, makes sense, but in a world where you want doctors, teachers, scientists, lawyers, engineers etc. to actually contribute to the improvement of the country, does not.

    It is one of those areas of damage that has effects that extend well beyond the longevity of this regime. What happens when the people who remember how things are done properly have all retired or moved? The country goes back to relying more and more on the extranjero “monsieurs”, just like the old days. In this way, the Bolivarian Revolution is a turn back to a colonial way of doing things.

  3. As with the economy, the government is using their preferred policy: ‘cortina de humo’. They are just ‘treating’ the symptoms (low pct of public high-school students going to public universities) without doing anything about the causes (low quality of public education) and making everything worse in the process.

    • The saddest part about the whole issue is, the clash when you find you can’t adapt to the USB’s fast pace and have to retreat, creating a frustrated person in the process. Like I’ve always said, the government needs to recover and improve public education instead of slowly suffocating public universities. Great article, Alejandro.

  4. Hey, great article. I can tell you first hand how bad the situation for public universities is right now here. I’ve just started Initiation week this Monday in Universidad Centrooccidental Lisandro Alvarado (UCLA) And let me tell you that things are not looking good. I already have a year waiting the start of my semester and it seems that due to the government’s lack of funding the teachers have gone on strike and are unlikely to lift it until January. These guys have been working with a minuscule budget and they can’t go on like this.

    Still I have to say. At least in my University the staff, student body, and Professors are really trying to make the best of an ugly situation. Really trying to keep things optimistic.

        • I just heard about this initiative today and didn’t get the chance to mention it in the article. They’ve raised all the money, though!

          Once the 501(c) is registered, people based in the US that want to support the USB will be able to do so and get tax cuts in the process. This has great potential, especially if we spread the word.

  5. You know what? As a fellow uesebista, I have the feeling that we are barking up the wrong tree with this whole admissions issue. The question is not so much whether the admissions procedure is the right one, but rather if the whole system of [public] university education in Venezuela is sustainable as it is. Yes, the admissions question is a smokescreen that the government is using, but we’re totally falling for it.

    And come on, playing a bit the devil’s advocate here, how common do you think stories as Ramón’s are? Presented as it is, it is just anecdotal evidence. You cannot base a whole argument on that.

    • It doesn’t work. Most of the USB’s budget goes to paying ‘servicios, pensiones, salarios y beneficios laborales’ rather than R&D or other things that ARE paramount for any academic institutions.

      I think that more than half of the students in the USB are from the middle and high income strata but all services are heavy subsidized (and when they tried to raise the price of the ‘comedor’ everybody complained). Furthermore, most of our universities can’t develop partnerships with private companies to get funding (FUNINDES -which is an R&D foundation within the USB- takes about half of the money the University receives for any project, which is absurd if you ask me!).

      The public education system depends heavily on oil as the rest of the country so in order to stay afloat I think a change of model is long overdue.

      • Exactly. This is the discussion we should be focusing on. I have the impression that our position of “no! we cannot take underprepared students from socially disadvantaged backgrounds because otherwise our university would collapse!” makes us look petty and miserly. Our universities are already collapsing, and it has nothing to do with the admissions criteria.

      • I am a USB engineer and I do not think that Ramón’s story is anecdotical.
        Yes, most students were middle class and came from private schools, but there were many students that came from poor and very poor neighborhoods. In my time, there were several good public high schools that could advantageously compete against some of the best private schools in terms of admission to the USB.

        I am very proud of my USB background and fond of my time there, despite it being a real academic boot camp. The USB is part of what I am, it is largely responsible for how I address technical, social and global issues.

        The goverment problem with the USB is precisely that: how we think after being trained there. That is why chavismo has been our enemy since day one. It is not just the fact that it is considered an elitist university. So from day one, the USB has been the target.

        I hate thinking that other generations of young venezuelans will not get the same opportunity I had. I hope that we, ex-USBs, can do something about it. I hate thinking that the USB will be destroyed. If someone has ideas, let’s hear them.

    • Why wouldn’t it be sustainable? If only we had bought 12 Sukhois less, we could’ve funded the USB this year. If the government hadn’t wasted the oil boom, but had invested in our future, we could still have quality public universities for a while.

      You’re right, stories like Ramon’s aren’t common enough, but as Canucklehead pointed out above, they used to be way more frequent. The question is how to best ensure the public university remains a vehicle for social mobility. Telling a lot of hopeful students they have what it takes to get in when they clearly don’t (gracias, Comandante Eterno) doesn’t help.

        • I’m not suggesting we fund everything with oil income. In fact, like Juan’s latest post suggests, it’s immoral to use up the oil we have and warm up the planet.

          Germany and Sweden have free university education for everyone. Spain has a system in which the best high school students don’t pay tuition. Why can’t we have such a thing in Venezuela? I understand these countries are significantly more developed and their source of income is taxing their citizens, but I’d much rather go for a European model where universities are affordable and not the American model, where the best schools are incredibly expensive and people have trillions of dollars in debt.

          • Well, but isn’t that [free university education] what we have in Venezuela, in essence? And the fact is that, under that paradigm, the system is crumbling. I’m certainly not advocating the American system, but I think that what we need to realize and convey is that admission test populism, or the 12 Sukhois that the government bought, is not really what is killing la Simón and our other public universities, but rather a whole set of deeply ingrained structural deficiencies. And that is the debate that we should be having. As pedro m says, this whole admissions thing is a straw man.

            Honestly, I feel that we need more constructive arguments than just “the university is autonomous! the government cannot tell us whom to admit!”. Maybe it’s me drinking the chavista kool-aid, but this is an argument that makes us look elitist and out of touch with the reality of our country.

          • Certainly. I re-read Juan’s Letter to a Venezuelan Academic that brings up the “set of deeply ingrained structural deficiencies”, and I must admit there are some very valid points there. I’m open to a discussion, we should chat about this!

            My argument wasn’t that the government shouldn’t tell us whom to admit because we’re autonomous, it is that the government thinks (or wants to make the electorate believe) that it’s improving social mobility by telling universities whom to admit. And it’s really not.

          • Big difference about Germany, where I studied at Heidelberg University, and Venezuela:

            Primary and secondary education, which are also financed through taxes, are very good and on average vastly better than in the USA (we are talking about average). The same goes for the Flemish part of Belgium and most other EU countries.

            In Venezuela ALMOST NO ONE (but a tiny tiny group) would like the country to participate in the PISA programme of open evaluation of secondary school standards. Why? Because virtually everyone who has a say now will lose if Venezuelans found out the truth, that our secondary school system has been for decades one of the worst in South America – let’s not compare it to the rest of the world- for the average pupil.

            Neither Chavismo nor most of people who are currently at the universities and oppose Chavismo would like this to change because this would mean not only better universities but also a lot of competition.

            The day most Venezuelan university people (not 0.001% of them) start looking at something else than their navels and realising they have to first help resolve the horrible mess of our public primary and secondary education system we might have some hope.

      • I know this may be a stretch but why can’t our universities do this kind of things: http://www.wsj.com/articles/harvard-endowment-earns-15-4-return-for-fiscal-2014-1411506002

        Sure we are not Harvard, but just because we had the money (buying the sukhois is a waste of ‘de todo’) that does not mean we have to spend it on our universities if instead we can develop mechanisms to let them look for funding. Of course they should receive some sort of help from the state but everytime I hear the ‘Autonomy’ rant I roll my eyes. Our universities’ autonomy is like my autonomy right know: I work, but I still need my parents to help me out with expenditures. That is not being autonomous!

  6. My dear USB. It is so sad.

    But going back to the elitism of the institution, even in my day in the 80s it was so so hard for underprivileged people to keep up.

    I proved to my dad that mass transit into the University is very inefficient so I got a little Chevette. I would profit professionally from having a PC, so I got one. I needed text books, I would buy all of them (even if sometimes they were pirated photocopies).

    When I arrived to the university I had a built in support network. 15 of my high school classmates were admitted that year, this gave me an instant study group and a click. I knew senior students, so they would coach me on what courses to take and how to study.

    And with all these advantages we struggled mightily and saw many fail, even a small number in our click.

    I also saw a few incredibly brilliant guys, whom without these advantages, succeeded. If they survived the first year, as years went by, our daily demands made us mingle and grow together. Ultimately you graduated with a professional network and a credence of degree from USB.

    Elitist… all the way.

    So now many years later I appreciate the phenomena played out all over the world. In the US, the Ivy League schools and the right B-school does the same effect. In France they have the grandes écoles and so forth.

    So Chavismo in its spite for the middle class goes on with this scorched earth campaign against it.

  7. One more point (I can’t help myself)

    I’ve pondered for a while if USB makes sense in Venezuela. Would it not be more cost effective to just ship the bright guys to the elite universities of the world and saving on the upkeep of a USB.

    My dad wanted for me to ship out to the US to study Computer Science, after all learning tech in the industrialized world makes all the sense in the world. But a close friend of his said this while we argued back and forth about it “Si se va a estudiar el pregrado en USA, si vuelve, va a ser un gringo que habla castellano sin acento”. (If he makes his undergrad studies in the US, if he returns he will be a -gringo- whom speaks spanish without an accent).

    So the USB, UCAB and UCV as elite universities have a purpose of developing the mandarins of a country.

    • Sending 1,500 people a year to elite schools in the US? Assuming Harvard’s cost of attendance, that’d be around 105 million dollars a year. According to the Rector, a fair budget for the USB in 2016 would be 8,500 million bolívares, or 10.4 million dollars according to today’s DolarToday. So keeping the USB makes more economic sense.

      And I stand by your dad’s argument: I’m really glad I studied in the USB, volunteered for social causes and lived in my country during my most formative years.

  8. Excellent article. I remember when I was an undergrad at USB and the PIO was a new thing. Everybody was complaining about the government messing with the admissions system, but I always thought it was a waste of energy. After all, even if a bunch of students are forced into the university without being properly prepared, they will fail their first year courses and be forced to leave.

    The really important point to me is funding. The university needs enough money to run things effectively, including the diners, the transportation, etc. For example, I would not have been able to graduate without the subsidized comedores, since paying for my own meals was out of the question. I am not saying the subsidy should be for everyone, but it should be available for a big chunk of the student body. The idea that only rich kids go to La Simon is a myth.

    The funding issue also affects graduate students deeply. Since 2010 the USB has had to cancel subscription to scientific databases for lack of funding. How can you be expected to finish grad school if you don’t have access to scientific literature? Back then I had to rely on my pals who had already left to go to grad school abroad. They would use the resources in their universities, download papers I needed, and emailed them to me. After I left the country, I had to do the same for colleagues and even my old professors!! I can’t imagine how difficult that has become now.

  9. I am really proud of my USB degree (“carnet 76” for those who care). I cannot imagine a better education. It saddens me to learn where we have ended up.

  10. Important post. I can only imagine the mess that UCV and others must be if USB is in such deep shyt.

    The ongoing Disaster of Cleptozuela’s education system cannot be overstated. In my view, lack of Real Education is the fundamental #1 reason why the country is in shambles, among the very worst on the Planet to live in today. The main reason why Ad/Copey didn’t do enough to “sembrar el petroleo” or educate the alienated poor, who in turn became more and more resentful. The mainreason why the Chavismo Pest came about, exploiting such inequalities and resentments between the “sifrinos burgueses” and “el pueblo o “los tierruos”. Exploiting the populace’s Massive Ignorance, to start en indoctrination Castrista brain-wash ‘alphabrutization/ programs.

    If in 4 decades, the AD/Copey somewhat Elitist Cleptocracy had better educated those people, the 6 Million Maduristas plus 10 Million painfully ignorant Chavistas you see today, incorporating them into the Productive Economy, the deep schisms between “poor, uneducated, “socialista” pueblo people and the middle-upper class of “burgueses pelucones apatridas” would not have happened. La gente comun no se hubiera creido ese cuento sin tanta ignorancia, celos y resentimiento. Huge dichotomy. Perfect for Chavez

    Ad it’s because of Massive Ignorance that you also get Massive Corruption. People have zero clue about Justice and separation of powers, the moral value of Honest Work, and they’ll believe anything, and since they were alienated, they start stealing, or buscando tigres everywhere, enchufandose first chance they get. All comes from horrible Education. Look at Norway: They find Oil, they are educated, disciplined: no corruption, they can handle it, wonderful country. Chile, same thing, much better educated, disciplined by 17 years of tough Pinochet Sticks and Carrots, they can deal with their vast Copper resources, best country in Latin America.

    Now Cubazuela got the opposite, 17 years of Populist Kleptocratic Crap, zero Real Education, worse that ignorance: Massive Indoctrination, Massive Brain Drain and Brain-Wash. Millions and Millions. Embrutecidos y Alfavrutisados por los Chabestias. Worse than ever. The teachers and professors are GONE, by the thousands, almost 1 Million of the best Vzla have, the Educated profesionals, most of the readers of this blog, for instance, Gone. 90% of us will probably never return.

    The disastrous, catastrophic impact of this Embrutecimeiento of Vzla’s popluce will have profound, terrible effects of the Country for Decades to come. The Damage has been done. Regardless of what the next Ad/Copey Chavista light, under-educated, corrupt MUDcrap can do, El daño profundo esta hecho. The entire country is SCREWED for decades. Educated people anywhere in the world know that. Ignorance. Corruption. Simple as that.

    • You must be fun at parties…

      But In all honesty I agree that is the sad truth of the matter. The Brain Drain is one of the most damaging side effect of the regime’s rule, one that’ll cripple our potential for future growth when these red devils are kicked out.

      People will try to put lipstick on the pig by saying “Don’t worry all those professionals and bright students that left the country are learning from the best minds from around the world, and gaining valuable experience for when they return! xD”. And In all honesty they won’t return.

      • Parties in Miami or Veracruz next week are just fine, dude. Not planning to touch Venezuela anytime soon, it’s seriously screwed for the long run, and those are the 2 mains reasons. Not to mention the 25,000 dead per year. Hopefully In several decades, after all the blah blah blah talk about micro and macro economic indicators or whatever, people will be better educated and less corrupt. Then we’ll party in Vzla.

  11. Well, there goes my alma mater.

    As typical of Chavismo, they identify a problem and proceed to develop a “solution” that is backwards, addresses the issue from the wrong end, and just doesnt work.

    Yes, it was clear that the USB was serving more middle and high class students, for years, because when you put some evaluations to filter people that actually got an education out of their time in school, guess what, you are basically saying that Venezuelans in public schools will enter only if they are very lucky and work their asses off to remedy the deficiences in their education due to the state of public schools.

    The solution to that would have been… to invest in public schools, to reform them, to ensure more and more people get the education they deserve and need and can go to the USB exam with some assurance of being able to pass it if they are diligent students.

    The Chavista solution is to decree control of who goes or not to ensure they colonize the USB with chavistas and screw the idea of actually having some standards to ensure excellence because thats “elitist”, so transforming in the future an USB degree from a desirable achievement showing your competence and effort to a piece of shitty paper.

  12. I am a proud 03 “SimonGallo”, I love my alma matter but if we are being honest, La Simon is a very elitist university. From its conception as an “excellence university”, founded in the middle of nowhere so that students enrolling devote their time to study and not to do demonstrations against the government in the middle of Caracas, our university has taken pride on educating the best of the best, academic elitism!
    and to be fair, that’s fine!. Academic elitism is the foundation of the best universities in the world, bringing the best and brightest minds together to educate and inspire them is the mission of the universities.
    The problem with academic elitism is that in a country where access to free-good-quality high school education is scarce, academic elitism transforms into economic elitism, public school pupils just can’t compete with students coming from private schools. The fact that the PIO program even exists is the living proof that the university is indeed elitist, that it recognizes it, and that it is trying to do something about it.

    Don’t fool yourself thinking that “the system is fair” that “everyone gets a chance” and that “there are some students coming from underprivileged backgrounds” it is a huge lie. Top students are in the majority coming from privileged backgrounds and it has not only to do with the fact that they start ahead due to a better education, it has also to do with the fact that they don’t need to commute by bus 3 hours every morning and every night, or with the fact that they might not even be able to buy the text books to prepare for the exams. Money and education go together whether you want it or not. Unless we have a real scholarship program that ensures every student is able to support itself without needs of external funding, and a better public school system universities will continue to be in the majority for the top 1%.

    Changing the admission policy does not really endanger the future of the university perse, the quality of the education La Simon gives its students relies heavily on the professors, the fact that they earn peanuts and have no money for research is what truly endangers the survival of the university. As long as I am aware (my brother is still studying there) the university has not changed any policy regarding academic excellence thus I do not see how the admission change is taking away from the quality of the university. That said, the new method it is a clear violation of the autonomy of the university. This is from my point of view a much bigger issue and why it should not stand. The fact that universities are being called on being elitist to be honest is just the truth!.

  13. I studied in the UCV and it was a great education in a beautiful campus with excellent faculty. With that said, the following phrase for the article underwhelmed me: “He points me to a Master’s thesis in statistics that studied the academic achievement of first-year students. Since 2007, the university has had to yield 30% of its places to the government’s national admissions system, and the thesis concludes that these students haven’t generally performed as well as the ones who got in through the regular admissions test.” These results seem far from conclusive. What does “generally” mean? How different is the academic performance? More information is necessary to agree with this statement.

  14. Hi Alejandro, thanks for bringing the topic and take the time to write about it.

    Once more oversimplification and pragmatism block the view of the reality of our public universities. There are few facts that people tend to avoid factoring in but will help me to bring my point:

    – The USB, as well as the UCV, and others are funded with public money. Thus, there are paid (in theory) by all Venezuelans.

    – Most students are coming from good middle to high economic class. Mostly are from Caracas with few ones from the province (the case of USB and UCV). Most province students come from well off families.

    – Good elementary, middle and high schools in Venezuela with enough quality to get in the USB are mostly private.

    – Although education is free, there are not many provisions to support economically challenged students.

    – The most common student segregation system is based on academic quality prior to enter the universities. There are very few segregation systems in place to manage social-economic difference.

    Long time ago, before Chavez &Co. this issues with public universities existed. You are wrong justifying the elitesque entry system with the balance of PIO. Just bringing that up tells you that the university continues to see their own interests, looking inward rather than manage the issue.

    The admission test (Prueba Interna) was an alternative system of entry that allowed the universities to manage the leftover placements due to shortcomings of the national admission system and its “3 choices”. The leftovers recycling turned into the defacto admission system for the many advantages that brought to the university starting with accepting only the ones that would pass the admission test and (it is Venezuela!) some opportunities to “help” some people that otherwise would not make it in the school.

    The public universities covertly and then overtly relegated the national admission system for the internal admission test. This test questionnaire is not endorsed across universities, each university retains the right to ask whatever they may want without endorsement of the OPSU or other universities. The initial results were so dismal than in time the university created the “propedeutico” to manage the good chunk of students that did not made the cut (but got close enough).

    So, if you add the internal admission test, the cost of studying (yes, it is quit expensive to study even when tuition is practically free) and the fact that pre-university education is best when you go private then yes, you have an elite based superior education system. Mix that up with a complete lack of rules on social strata demographics and representation in the students body and almost inexistent provisions to make the wealthiest students to support the university (pre and post graduation) and you have a mess that goes well beyond the government (4th or 5th or whomever comes next) reasserting its right to manage what the public (us) are paying for.

    • Thank you very much for your insightful comment. It is a very complex subject, and you bring up very valid points that intersect with Juan’s Letter to a Venezuelan Academic.

      About not having enough provisions for economically challenged students in place, I know there are scholarships and student job opportunities from DIDE. Ramón is not the only case. They’re not enough? Maybe, how would we know? It’s very difficult to find statistics on this. If more scholarships are necessary, increasing the university’s budget (can we afford it?) or establishing an endowment could help with that.

      We all want a better and more inclusive education system in Venezuela, and I’m well aware that my love for the USB biases me. It’s just that there’s plenty of evidence that it’s trying to make social mobility a priority, and I’m tired of the government’s constant bashing. The USB may be elite, but they’re a *very* social-conscious elite.

  15. If you take a look at the admissions test report of Cohorte 13 (the most recent one I could find), you will find that 92.5% of admitted students to “Carreras Largas” are from private schools. Yes, I am aware that in Venezuela private schools are very heterogeneous and that coming from one does not necessarily mean that you are well-off, but just let that number sink in for a while… 92.5%!

    With numbers like that, stories such as Ramón’s can only be exceptional, not representative.

    And then, it’s also what cesapo mentions above – even if you take two students with similar academic abilities, life at USB will be very different for them if they come from vastly different economic backgrounds. In the end, the guy or girl who had to take the bus for 3 hours to go to university might end up dropping out because the grind is just too much -not because of a lack of talent- whereas the guy or girl who can just drive to university might end up graduating in 7, 8, or 10 years -eventually- just because he or she can afford to. I’m not saying that it isn’t worse in other places, but presenting La Simón as some kind of meritocratic nirvana misses some important points.

    With that said, I am fundamentally against the idea of the government meddling with the University’s admissions policy, but we have to work with what we got, and I am afraid that our position has been very inward-looking and not very constructive. Hell, it might have even been counter-productive: probably we could have gotten some assurances in regard to funding if we had agreed in the beginning to a reformed admissions system, but I guess we were too busy defending the status quo. Now, we’re left “without the goat and without the rope”.

    In any case, this brings me back to my original point: our universities are collapsing, but it has little to do with the admissions policy. We cannot say that the only problem is that the government does not fund the universities adequately because it prefers to spend the petro-cake on Sukhois. I’m all for free university education for everyone, but can we afford it? While this is not [necessarily] a case for American-style education, even in countries such as Germany and Sweden, where tuition fees are indeed low or non-existent, the government is not the sole source of income for public universities. Our whole model is in need of reform.

    • Gaston, thanks a lot, your comment is spot on. The problem is very complex and the model indeed needs reforms. Without hard data on how much money the government has (had?) it’s difficult to say if we can keep funding public universities, or if we even should (since we *need* to upgrade funding for the public K-12).

      After thinking about it, yes, I think for the time being (as long as we can’t afford free higher ed) people who paid for their private high schools should at least pay that much for university.

  16. My two cents, maybe everybody has said this at one point or another already:

    * Basic and intermediate education infrastructure should be improved, you can’t keep pumping people that don’t even know how to do basic math, and expect them to do something useful with their “cupo” in an university, sending unprepared people to universities is being done at the expense of taking the chance from other people that are better prepared to conclude their studies faster and give a better performance.

    * We have to completely obliterate all that political brainwashing bullshit that’s being done with the chavizmo-made universities, and turn them into actual universities where people go and learn an actual career, for now, there’s a huge load of money getting wasted into brainwashing people.

    * And of course, improving the teachers and employees’ paying and working conditions should be another priority, they have an absurdly important job, and are treated (and it’s have been since a long time ago) like enemies of the state because what they do is basically uproot populism from people’s minds, and we all know how populist have been ALL the governments in this country.

    Sadly, anything of the above could only be acomplished if an obligatory requisite is met: chavizmo should be kicked out of power and destroyed as a political movement leaving no trace to corrupt people again in the future.

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