Photo: AFP retrieved

Every college-educated Venezuelan knows two things: 1) Higher education in Venezuela used to be one of the best in Latin America, and 2) It came cheap.  Public universities are free, yet they used to offer one of the best educations of the region. Currently, Venezuelan higher education is steadily declining in quality. Many try to prevent the utter collapse, lack of funding and ridiculous wages that threaten these institutions. The situation is dire, and it’s assuredly induced by the government to gain control of higher education. What will happen after chavismo? How will universities, especially public ones, recover?

What will happen after chavismo? How will universities, especially public ones, recover?

This question haunts me. I’m a Venezuelan-educated scientist. I got my licenciatura paying next to nothing in tuition, which resulted in a scholarship based on my academic merits. Then, I got my master’s degree and paid nothing (instead, I got paid to teach as part of our training). Now I am finishing a Ph.D. in a top research-oriented university in the U.S. This has been possible because of my personal effort and my Venezuelan academic background. I feel a strong moral debt with my alma mater, and I worry about its future. I will center my discussion on public universities because they are the ones that produce research in STEM fields in Venezuela, a fundamental part of economic development.

The key to surviving is finance. Universities have been neglected by the current regime chiefly by financial choking. What can we do to prevent this after chavismo? Today, universities need revenue outside chavismo, but later they will need to achieve revenue outside the grip of the state funding. Diversifying university revenue is a current issue within discussions of university autonomy. European universities are looking at this closely, since they usually get 70% of theirs from the state, which results in a high level of dependance. Their American counterparts, though mostly private, also rely on grants from the state to fund research. Nevertheless, the private revenues of American universities come from tuition, businesses sprung out of their labs, huge endowment funds, and donations.

The dependence of Venezuelan universities towards state funding paves a grissom path: lack of autonomy of higher education.

The dependence of Venezuelan universities towards state funding paves a grissom path: lack of autonomy of higher education. Many attempts have been made by the government to change how Venezuelan universities are run, such as the LOE (Ley Orgánica de Educación), which tried to change how the autoridades were elected, how professors were selected/classified and how students are admitted. This law succeeded only in preventing internal administrative elections from taking place over the past several years.

You may think that they are only waiting for those autoridades to get tired and quit (or die on the job), but this is only a piece of the puzzle, because how can you control an institution if you replace the management without internal support? Replacing professors is easy if you pay them miserable wages of $5 or less per month and wait for them to quit as well.

How can we help overcome some of these deep obstacles? Endowments represent a pretty good way to start. Also, while donations can be done, Venezuelan universities have a culture of not asking for donations because they didn’t need to before chavismo. Therefore, they have no internal structure dedicated and trained to raise funds like their American counterparts do. Donations must also be made from overseas, in foreign currency. No interest rate can match the 1,000,000% inflation projected by the IMF.

You might think this sounds mighty unrealistic, but I can tell you that my alma mater (Universidad Simón Bolívar) has taken the first steps. We have created an international alumni network (AlumnUSB) which has been supporting such institution with hard currency since 2015, while the UCV and the UNIMET are starting to imitate this initiative. AlumnUSB believes there is no academia without professors, so we are fundraising to prevent resignations and offer professors dignity within their context.

We are fundraising to prevent resignations and offer professors dignity within their context.

We would be kind and subtle to say that Venezuelan higher education is on the verge of collapse. It’s currently experiencing, without a doubt, the worst crisis in academic history.

These institutions have the reputation of giants, and it will take a lot of work to recover what was lost. Professors used to have Ph.Ds, great publication records and solid teaching experience. They ran away looking for institutions that could offer what public Venezuelan universities used to. What do we have to do to get them back? If Venezuela can’t train or retain its professional workforce, who will run PDVSA, Polar, or any other productive institution (private or state-run) during the post-chavismo era?

As a trained scientist, I don’t expect that my thoughts and answers become dogmas to follow in the Herculean task of rebuilding higher education in Venezuela. I just want to ignite the conversation. Just like modern scientific knowledge is created in academic institutions all over the world through discussion between peers, this conversation will provide the answers we desperately need.

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12 COMMENTS

  1. Gabriel; While you may feel a moral debt to your alma mater, don’t forget that your alma mater got paid, even if you didn’t pay a farthing.

    I graduated from a US public college. The tuition was basically 1/3 of the cost of a private college (where my future wife attended). While I am grateful for the education I received, I feel no obligation to them, as they offered a service for a fee. I paid, they offered me an education. Commerce.

    Believe me when I say that had you NOT gone to university, your alma mater would have gotten paid.

    All that being said, I think it is very admirable that you want to give back. There are fewer and fewer people on this planet who have lost connection with what is going on around them. None of us live in a vacuum.

    • Elguapo don’t tell me you’re a mercenary? Even if you paid your tuition that’s about 40% of the total cost. And even if you’ve covered 100% of the college expenses, you still owe your alma matter the teachers and personnel dedication and works ethic. To your peers for pushing you up. Etc

      Coming back to the quality of Venezuela university in general. I have not been able to hire anyone that calls himself ”engineer” since 10 yrs ago. Their academic level is far too low.

      • I owe nobody anything. Everything I have done I have either paid for, or returned in services. I am fully aware of how public colleges are taxpayer subsidized in the United States. My economics teacher made it very simple for my naive mind back in 1983… when I asked him if he got paid worse than professors in private institutions. He said, “I don’t do this for free. Haven’t you learned a damn thing about economics in the last two years?”

        When I give, it isn’t giving back. When I build clinics and dorms and orphanages in Central America (my own time, my own dime), I do it out of love and honor for my fellow human beings. When I adopted abandoned children, it wasn’t out of duty.

        Regarding university education in Venezuela, it is what Chavismo wants it to be. If it is a shambles, it is because Chavismo wants it to be a shambles. Regarding alumni benevolence, throwing money down a rat hole is never good financial stewardship.

        • ElGuapo, in Venezuela you don`t pay anything, not 40% off, nothing, you pay nothing if you enroll in public universities, and there are no taxes like in the us, only iva. So you neither pay with taxes not cost of tuition. It all comes from the state money (which is 99.9% oil revenue)

          and professors don`t get paid well. They used to be paid well but in the 80s and 90s . and yet those professors choosed to be marxist and now they survive on charity if any. Those public universities, USB and UCV where for a while 2 of best universities in Latam. Now there are barely holding on together.

          If you graduated in the 80s, 90s or even early 00s you do owe big time, you received top level education for zero money, completely free, even the breakfast, lunch and dinner were subsidized and close to free, same as transport to the university, all free.

  2. Protesting is great, but it seems to be that Venezuelan Universities should be partnering with solid US universities that can develop joint operating plans and curricula by establishing small campuses in accepting countries that can bring Venezuelan and American professors together to exchange & teach and administrators to develop proper techniques for making this work over the long run. The Venezuelan socialist model (past and present) of free education for all is not working and will not work in the future. Think outside the bocks…

    • The Higher education system is not the US strongest point, sorry. Is not any surprise that US companies have to export so much talent from abroad.

      United States universities are the worst to partner with, they only seem to produce communist slobs who pay 50 k a semester (at rates that are increasing yearly) for inferior education than they have in Asia and Europe. You guys solve your issues first then propose stuff.

      Is also no surprise how many MUD politicians studied in the US…

  3. My first year at University at UCLA in 1976 cost me $260 per semester. A 9 month school year was about $1000 including books. Of course all Americans know this now runs $20,000 minimum for a 5 star university. (Yes today there are $100k a year and $3k community colleges).

    Point being, is that those times have changed. Even in the most liberal of US States.

    But comparing a California NON PROFIT Public University that takes all applicants, and subsidizes the low income to a once proud Venezuelan University is appropriate. How can Premier University be FREE for all?
    What the Hell?
    No wonder why Venezuela was once the jewel of Latin America.
    “Free” as in really Free, or so fucking cheap, it the same as Free.
    For at least the last 20 years, Venezuelans have received…….
    Free petrol aka gasoline
    Free Electricity
    Free Water
    Free Health
    Free K1 to Bachelors Degree
    Free Social Security.
    and subsidized prices on basic foods, supplies, public transit, airfares, internet, phone etc.
    WHAT THE HELL IS NOT TO LIKE?
    IT WAS AN ORGY OF GREED like the roman times!!
    damn, I missed out!!

    • when i was in Universidad Simon Bolivar i didn`t pay a dime, everyday i had breakfast and lunch at the university for close to free (the tickets weresooo close to free they might as well be) , i didnt pay bus fare, i went and came back in the university free transportation. I used to take books out of the public library of the university for free, even photocopies were almost free. I could take out a book and copy it completely for a couple dollars, no matter how long the book was.

      I spent nothing , not only that , i greatly reduced my home spending by studying there, after all, all that food i was eating at campus was food my parents didn`t need to buy at home. Same with all the books i was photocopyng.

      And ON TOP of that thre was beca ayacucho, at the time it was already devaluated but it was still enougn money a month to go to town and eat a few pizzas , even notebooks and pencils and all that stuff was super chep at campus, the only thing i had to buy on my own was a calculator…

  4. A friend of mine is staying in the US for the summer to get away from the madness. She still has two years left for her Chemistry degree at the Universidad Central de Venezuela. She is convinced she will be able to finish but that her university still hasn’t constructed a necessary lab for her to complete her degree. The fact that tuition is free is really important to her. How bad is it, from the student’s perspective? Will she really be able,to complete her degree?

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