Photo: El Pitazo

In the last few years,  Venezuelan universities have had to overcome several obstacles. Public universities have become dangerous places to be (at all hours) and their budgets are insufficient, among many other problems. Our own Astrid Cantor wrote about students and professors emigrating here.

Right now, a very serious problem is the poor economic situation of professors, a difficulty that is getting worse on a daily basis as a consequence of hyperinflation. Our own José González Vargas also wrote an excellent piece about the critical situation of private universities. In fact, Prodavinci recently published  a very graphic and dramatic comics journalism piece about this. In it, a professor asks herself: When did the higher education crisis begin? In 1983 when the real worth of the salary began to lose value and never recovered? Or in 2001, when a systematic campaign against public universities was introduced in the State’s agenda? Or in 2014, when the salary became a symbolic gesture?

A very serious problem is the poor economic situation of professors, a difficulty that is getting worse on a daily basis as a consequence of hyperinflation.

It doesn’t come as a surprise that University professors have been protesting over the past few weeks. They have said that they will continue protesting until their salary demands are fulfilled, but I don’t think the government will cave in. It all seems like a waste of time.

After talking to a friend who is a Law professor at Central University of Venezuela (UCV) and Andrés Bello Catholic University (UCAB), I realize there’s something almost nobody is talking about: Professors are carrying the entire system of Venezuelan higher education on their shoulders.

My friend is a partner in a well-known law firm in Caracas, so he doesn´t need to teach to make a living. He loves to teach Law and he thinks that it’s a good way to contribute  to the country.

But the other day, as he was reviewing his bank balances, he discovered that he’s being paid Bs. 540.000 per month for 12 hours of class in UCV, plus a health insurance coverage of Bs. 100.000.000. For the same number of hours he receives Bs. 5.800.000 per month at UCAB. He also spends a lot of time preparing his classes, going to the university and correcting exams.

He could buy half a cup of coffee with the money he receives every month at UCV.

To put these numbers in perspective: He could buy half a cup of coffee with the money he receives every month at UCV and five cups of coffee with what he gets from UCAB.

I have another friend that goes the extra mile: 320 miles, to be exact, from Mérida to Caracas. He had to go back home to Mérida, because he couldn’t afford his life in Caracas. Nevertheless, he has been traveling back and forth to finish the course he had been teaching. As you might imagine, he’s been paying his travel expenses from his own pocket.

Hence, professors have to spend money to teach in Venezuelan universities.

For how long will this situation be sustainable? It’s difficult to tell, but I know all universities will continue to lose professors because it’s not easy to teach practically for free and having to spend money to do so.

We don’t know when the crisis began, and we can only hope for it to end soon, or the consequences we’ll pay as a society are incommensurable.

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