Making my way across campus after a long summer break, I notice the misty, unnatural loneliness. It’s exam season and, after my proceedings in the classroom are done, I look upon the pile of leftover tests. Where did all the students go?

In a country where people struggle to eat, university students are now abandoning their dreams and surrendering to a darker future.

At Mérida’s Universidad de Los Andes (ULA), where I teach, the reasons kids have for dropping out are nothing short of heartbreaking.

I spoke to María, a former third year med student who didn’t come back after the summer break. “Money was a huge reason. Even though our situation is precarious, I was willing to fight for my university and defend it. But paying rent, food and everything else, you can’t fight or study.”

She left for Ecuador to help support her family. This doesn’t mean she is giving up on becoming a doctor. “I didn’t drop out. I know I can become a doctor, whether I am in Venezuela or not.”

Like María, many of my students left, despite being deep into their coursework. Back in 2016, ULA’s secretary, Professor Andérez, warned about the increased drop-out rates of both students and professors. “There’s another kind of desertion. Out of 100 students admitted, 30 don’t show up the first day of class.”

After four months of protests, an installed National Constituent Assembly, a call to vote for governors and a summer break, reports of a drop-out epidemic at ULA are rampant.

I was willing to fight for my university and defend it. But paying rent, food and everything else, you can’t fight or study.

The phenomenon is widespread. Universidad del Zulia (LUZ) has no official numbers, just estimates, with reasons common to all students across the country: crime on campus, weakened benefits like college dining, transportation, accommodation and scholarships, and the rising cost of all basic services and food. The same happens at Barquisimeto’s Universidad Centroccidental Lisandro Alvarado (UCLA), which reportedly closed the 2016 academic year with the worst dropout rate in its history. This year, the traditional intensive courses were not offered as an estimated 30% of students dropped out.

Caracas’s Universidad Central de Venezuela (UCV) headmaster, Prof. Cecilia García Arocha, has been warning about the alarming dropout since 2016. “In a faculty where 500 students are admitted, over 100 end up leaving.” Recent figures show that in some cases, like the School of Economics, half the students are gone.

At Universidad Metropolitana (UNIMET), Director of the Liberal Studies dept., Prof. Guillermo Tell Aveledo says they’ve lost about 34% of the students in his department, and that they now have the lowest registration numbers since 2010. “UNIMET is cheaper today than it used to be, if you look at it from the foreign currency perspective. We make efforts to include scholarship recipients and try to keep the professors’ wages updated against the current inflation.”

Por Amor al Arte

And then there are the professors. Colleagues often say they are still here just “por amor al arte;” at UCV, an estimated 50 teachers leave each faculty, every year.

Back in 2013, the Venezuelan federation of university professors (FAPUV) was in deep conflict with the government over the collective bargaining agreement. During three months, classes were cancelled and there was even a hunger strike. Caracas Chronicles turned the coverage into a whole theme week (which is worth taking a look at, very little has changed since).

In the end, FAPUV reached a compromise with the government after it promised to install roundtables, a promise which it promptly disregarded. The government doesn’t even acknowledge FAPUV as a legitimate organization. Collective bargaining agreements  have been discussed with a parallel federation in an arrangement that groups professors with administrative and labor personnel. After showing discontent again this year, FAPUV got invited to negotiate the third collective bargaining agreement since 2013, but refused to attend the meetings under these considerations.

Three years ago, Professors worried because they couldn’t afford books, today they worry about food.

I spoke to Prof. Tulio Ramírez, former coordinator of UCV’s Doctorate Program on Education, to know more about the reasons for the exodus of professors.   

There are three main reasons: miserable wages, deplorable working conditions and the overall anguish of living in a country this dangerous.

“A full time, upper tier professor earns about $40 a month. The basic food basket is $280. Three years ago, Professors worried because they couldn’t afford books, today they worry about not affording food.”

Universities work on a hunger budget, so seemingly less important expenses get cut off. “We used to have an online bibliographic database. Research doesn’t get financing; the amount assigned by UCV to fund a project in late 2016 was Bs. 30,000 (minimum wage was Bs. 27,000).”

“I have my resignation on a USB drive, ready to print,” says another UCV Professor I spoke to. “We’re living on borrowed time.”

The Bigger Picture

Some other numbers are troubling.

Venezuelan scientific research is falling. When compared to Colombian research, results are dramatically underwhelming (Source: Scopus).

Historically, research is done at autonomous Universities. With not enough financing and an unmanageable crime wave on campuses, it’s no wonder that senior professors, who usually have the experience needed to publish, are fleeing the country. Nothing reflects the bigger picture like the published research in numbers… and it’s not pretty.

On The Verge

The government is, as usual, in total denial, repeating that ever since the Revolution arrived, university enrollment went up 223%. As if finding a spot at a university means that you can afford it.

The regime, by will or ineptitude, is destroying national academia. The campuses where ideas were born and talents blossomed are becoming a mockery of themselves. Empty seats fill classrooms and near-abandoned quads are an increasingly common sight. What hurts the most is that the undermining of universities hits harder on the less privileged. If nothing is done, education will be a right reserved only for the elites.

Just like the revolution said it always was.  

__

Santuario de ideales donde la lucha esgrime

Sus portentosas armas con fin derrocador

Donde el sudor es sangre y el corazón no gime

Para alcanzar la cima con paso vencedor

           – Himno de la Universidad de los Andes.

21 COMMENTS

  1. “The regime, by will or ineptitude, is destroying national academia.”

    They have to. Bolivarian Socialism relies upon the ignorant and willfully stupid. If you look behind the curtain and see what is going on, you realize that it is all a fraud.

  2. At USB they decided to join the class of 2016 (which was going to start last April), and the class of 2017 (which was going start on April 2018). Classes started this September and the total enrollment of both classes was still lower than in any of the previous years.

  3. Thanks for giving us the big picture on the university situation. The thing about some of those medical students is, they’ve waited a shockingly long period to get a spot at a public university, only to have to set their education aside because of how bad things are getting.

  4. Albañiles, buhoneros, vendedoresde empanadas pueden ajustar su ganancia a la inflación y cobrar lo que quieran. Pero el profesor y graduado universitario debe mendigar un misero sueldo minimo que no compra ni dos pollos (y es la misma basura en sector privado que en el estatal) de paso hay que ir a hacer servicio comunitario y otros abusos como la rural pata los médicos.

    La dictadura del proletario. En este país economica, politica y culturalmente se repudia a la academia.

  5. so help an outsider understand Venezuelan Universities during the rise snd reign of Chavez. Were the universities, faculty and students in support of Chavez. If so when did that change snd why. Did it change when the governnment cut the students” benefits or it did it change because of the chavista dictatorship. And the same question about the people of Venezuela. Would they care about the loss of democracy if the welfare state were still flush with oil money?

    • “Were the universities, faculty and students in support of Chavez”

      No, never. The student movement was “resistencia” before it was even called that and played a major role in oposing the constitutional reforms Chavez was trying to push years ago. Venezuelan public universities also have autonomy and have offered heavy resistance on behalf of the defense of that autonomy.

      That is why Chavez created all this alternate institutes filled with partisans, like Universidad Bolivariana and Simon Rodriguez, to be his indoctrination centers, because youth and academia was never on board with him. He explicitly was calling out students and insulting students in national broadcasts, he persecuted and threatened students since day 01. Calling them terrorists, and “manitos blancas” and “burgoise pitiyankis” and whatnot.

      universities like UCV and ULA were breeding grounds for leftists and marxists ideas in decades past, yes, that is true, and they did played a role in opposing Carlos Andrès Perez and contributed to the state of destabilization in the 90s that indirectly helped Chavez political ambitions. Chavez did have ideological allies in academia, particularly the Humanities faculty in the UCV (kids who constantly protested and vandalized the university in the 80s and 90s) but those were not the same kids of the 1998 generation onwards.

      Remember one thing that is key: Venezuela was already a socialist nation before Chavez. Adecos were never that different ideologically compared to psuv. So even when a lot of students came out of an education system biased towards the left, they didn`t necesarily biased towards Chavez`s left.

      His base of supporters was mostly uneducated, mostly rural people, badly urbanized areas (slums) and mostly elderly There was also a huge percentage of swing vote, from people who dislike the other parties, or really don`t care about politics, but are willing to vote for whoever has the money and they think benefits them ( they are called ni-nis )

      • “Remember one thing that is key: Venezuela was already a socialist nation before Chavez.” Lo que dije yo. The whole thing started swinging left way before Chavez. The 1976 nationalization of the oil industry was when it really surfaced.

  6. so, if push comes to shove and there is a civil war in Venezuela (which I pray doesn’t happen) socialists would be killing fellow socialists little different in ideology but pethaps different in their view of adherence to democratic forms, a la Mensheviks vs Bolsheviks
    But how does the private sector fit into this. You have or at least had private industry. There must be divergence on the degree of nationalizing business. And lastly, where will the money come from to fund socialism in a post oil economy especially since your country has not set aside funds for that purpose.

    • A civil war in venezuela implies that there are two armed factions fighting and in Venezuela´s case those factions would most likely not be mud vs government. Most likely in fighting between sectors of chavismo, more like the government or the military imploding than anything else. Chavismo even have its own paramilitary in form of colectivos.

      i don´t think opposition , as in, other political parties outside Psuv and the civil society will have any place in a military struggle other than fear for their lives since armed capital is not one those factors are know for.

      After the fall of Perez Jimenez in 58 (nationalist dictator) Venezuela was a democracy were the main parties agreed to share a monopoly on power, and they excluded both right and left radicals (punto fijo pact) but still keeping the clergy on its side. Creating an Social cristian oligopoly that was sort of like a popurri of sorts that was never truly marxist but never truly liberal either , just very populist , specially after the 70s. Crony democracy but democracy nonetheless. Despite setting the precedents for the statist rentism and oil dependance we see today Venezuela did have its own national industry and didn´t faced any of these issues that are so commonplace today, like queues for food, shortages and this amount of crime, we lived way better than most latin americans did anyway, even entering the 90s were things started to fall apart.

      This IS a rich country, we could be producing enough food for the national demand and even exporting things we used to be known for like coffe and cacao. We are rich also in all sorts of minerals , even in Coltan . Not even mentioning turism. So the potential for recovery is there, the problem would be how to get the ball rolling after so much destruction, we would not be starting from a blank state but from very negative values.

      I don´t think the same kind of populism can ever be sustained again, even with a diversified economy after a few years of a moderately decent government in case there is a change.

      Most likely the turn will be to either a more radical and genocidal dictatorship or a very chaotic and problematic transition to a liberal economy after a regime change but still carried out by the center left.

  7. “This IS a rich country, we could be producing enough food for the national demand and even exporting things we used to be known for like coffe and cacao. We are rich also in all sorts of minerals , even in Coltan . Not even mentioning turism. So the potential for recovery is there, the problem would be how to get the ball rolling after so much destruction, we would not be starting from a blank state but from very negative values.”

    Lo que dije yo. We see the same things in Venezuela. Free markets and capitalism work best. If doors were open and rock-solid guarantees of safety and security of plant, property, and equipment were in place together with rock-solid guarantees to open world markets, capital might be lured back in. The problem is as you say, that it is far from a clean slate. The difference between cost of living in Venezuela and the world has to be equalized without killing 20% of the population, and that means socialism (probably by direct subsidies to individuals). Pinochet had a better slate to start with and got away with an enforced free market, which took three years (I think) to begin producing an economic miracle.

    The attention of those who truly want a free Venezuela should be placed, in my humble opinion, on precisely the sort of planning and foresight you express. Now, now, now. You cannot move a nation forwards without positive goals, without a vision of a future that can be assembled in real terms, without a plan. I hate to think that the reason more is not heard about free market capitalism is simply that voicing that would lose percentages of support.

    • Just out of curiosity, to see if anyone here can improve on, or explain this: https://dolartoday.com/venezuela-tiene-futuro-ricardo-hausmann-como-recuperar-el-bienestar-de-los-venezolanos/ It seems to me that Mr. Hausmann is hung up on “divisas”. He cites the lack of “divisas” as a primary cause for the decline in production in Venezuela, linking that lack of dollars purchased from the regime to the lack of dollars owned by the regime to the decline in oil prices and volume of oil production which is the primary export. In short, it seems he links the regime as the only source of dollars.

      What is necessary is a floating exchange rate, and toss the word “divisas” into the garbage can. Gerber (Nestle) just announced formally the suspension of production of baby food at their Carabobo plant. They (Nestle) have money, that isn’t the question, and that isn’t the problem. The problem is that the Chavista regime will not allow them to import raw materials using their own money. That’s how I see it, as far as I can decipher this totally bizarre “divisas” thing.

      Another writer highlighted that companies doing business in Venezuela through “divisas” book an immediate paper profit by purchasing dollars from the Chavistas at somewhere around one-tenth the floating exchange rate of the “black market”. In short, those companies buy discounted raw materials, then sell them in Venezuela and book the profits in those bolivares, then report those as operating profits when in fact they are profits on regulated exchange rates designed to subsidize prices at the production end.

      Both those scenario problems are solved simultaneously simply by allowing a floating exchange rate. If Gerber can make a profit importing raw materials, then they stay in business. If they cannot, then they go out of business. Gerber is only one example. Here on CC and in articles in many publications in Spanish and in English, numerous people have stated that Venezuelans are unable to import needed raw materials and replacement parts. Replacement parts are not a major factor in production! An entire assembly line can be stopped for months for the lack of spare parts which amount to one-tenth of one day’s production value.

  8. thanks for answering my questons. it is very difficult to gain an understanding of a different culture; much easier just to dismiss different choices made under different circumstances. But my bedrock principle is that any country that truly wants freedom has to have a system that disperses power and that private business creates a separate power center that prevents the state from becoming a monopoly, dominating both political and economic matters. That consolidation of power makes it far easier for dictatorships to arise and economic stagnation to occur.

  9. […] The institution offers its almost 500 students housing, food, clothing, transport and even laundry, a tempting offer in times of sky-high inflation, and pretty much all the services autonomous universities have been forced to halt in different degrees, after their budgets got crippled, increasing the dropout rates around the country. […]

  10. […] The institution offers its almost 500 students housing, food, clothing, transport and even laundry, a tempting offer in times of sky-high inflation, and pretty much all the services autonomous universities have been forced to halt in different degrees, after their budgets got crippled, increasing the dropout rates around the country. […]

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