Venezuela’s revolution in higher education – ‘Mission Alma Mater’

Several researchers associated with the GlobalHigherEd network have been looking at President Chavez’ recent initiative – ‘Mission Alma Mater’ – to reform the higher education sector in Venezuela over the next five years. This initiative is part of Chavez’s wider social and political project – ‘Bolivarian Revolution’; it also builds upon the state-funded Bolivarian University of Venezuela (Universidad Bolivariana de Venezuela) (UBV) program established in 2003.


For the record, UVB’s are an important component of the Chavez government’s ‘Mission Sucre’ – social programs to provide free higher education to all Venezuelan’s, particularly the poor. The crux of the Bolivarian system’s principle of ‘egalitarian meritocracy’ is that everybody is actively supported to study – through studentships, free transport, an ‘initial’ semester as a bridge to university studies, evening and weekend classes, and so on. Prospective students only require a high school diploma (the ‘bachillerato’ – which is equivalent to an upper secondary school qualification) in order to enter the university. What is being abolished are the entry exams, or aptitude tests, that each university set for itself. These entry exams tended to work as a mechanism of exclusion for the poor.

So, what is Mission Alma Mater? Building upon the Bolivarian principles, Mission Alma Mater is an initiative intended to dramatically increase the capacity of the country’s higher education system. In launching the initiative in May of this year, Chavez was reported as saying:

There will be 11 new national universities, in addition to 13 regional ones and 4 new technical institutions.

These new universities would specialize in basic sciences, health sciences, art, hydrocarbons, economy and fiscal sciences, security and agricultural sciences. In addition, 29 existing technological institutes and schools would be converted to technical universities.

University staff also expect to benefit from the ‘Mission Almer Mater’ initiative – with all workers receiving between 28 % and 34% pay rises depending on their position in the public universities.

GlobalHigherEd intends to follow these initiatives in Venezuela over the next year for whatever else it does, it offers an interesting alternative to the model we have come to be more familiar with, the ‘entrepreneurial university’. Indeed, it could be argued that Chavez’s project is in its own way politically entrepreneurial. Mike Ceaser, in a report carried by the Chronicle of Higher Education, points out that Chavez’s recent threats to nationalize universities if they did not comply with recent curriculum reforms is driven by the fact that the public university system is one of the last government institutions still dominated by opponents of Chavez. Most analyses, however, have been thin on grounded knowledge about the transformations taking place in the Venezuelan higher ed system.

Susan Robertson and Thomas Muhr

3 thoughts on “Venezuela’s revolution in higher education – ‘Mission Alma Mater’

  1. Just a few questions…
    Have you actually lived in Venezuela? Or are you basing your analysis on beautiful propaganda? Do you know that actually (and for many years, about 40 – admitting its problems) education has been free in Venezuela from kindergarten to post graduate degree? Have you wondered how Chavez got his education? Do you know (I do, and for a fact) that to access the Bolivarian University you have to be “ROJO< ROJITO” as the president himself said (not only for this education, but as the president himself also said …to work in PDVSA, the military, etc? Wouldn’t you agree that a real revolution cannot be based on hate and exclusion, but inclusion? Would not a real revolution better schools (which are falling down in the last 10 years – there are pictures to prove it – when Venezuela has received the most enormeous almost incredible revenue from oil prices and children have to attend schools with rats, no bathrooms, no walls, etc. (I can send you endelss picture to testify to what I say), improve teachers salaries without first ensuring that they pledge their life to the supreme president or you’re out? Would not a real revolution looking to improve its citizen’s lives and future not offer better teachers, more schools, more opportunity for all…real opportunity? Specially when money has been abundant? Or do you think a real educational revolution is based on the cult of one person and the spending of moneys mainly for that reason? It is quite easy to write and pontificate about others problem from the confort of your cozy home…I invite you to do more research, come to Venezuela, check all realities, do not take my word or Chavez’s as the truth…you come, live it truthfully, analyze it from all sides and then dare talk about us, our future, and Chavez’s disguise for a revolution. To finalize…let us even accept that the idea (no entrance exams – which by the way MANY hard working less priviledge oppose as condesending, enciting to laziness, unrealistic, unmeritory), but lets accept it as a possible way (among others) and debate. But lets do that only when it has been stripped of the political tinge, of the mandatory adulation to one man required to access any Bolivarian school or university. Ot more more chances, not charity nor paternalism. And, remember, no revolution (real, uplifting, for the good of all) can be based on hate. No country will prosper when forced to render cult to the ego of just one man and a requierment to access these universities, as before (h its problems possible unfairness) is not good grades during high school nor a good placement in the entrance exams, but a surrendering of all individual thought and a complete surrender to being “ROJO, ROJITO”

  2. Dear Malula

    The answer to your question of whether ‘we have ever lived in the country’ is ‘yes’; one of us (Thomas Muhr) has lived and researched in Venezuela over the past four years, working specifically on the higher education reforms there. Thomas has also worked in the region more generally working as an educator and researcher. Your point about armchair academics is well taken, however, in this case, it is not applicable. While there are clearly many problems and issues to be addressed in Venezuela, it seems to us interesting and important to highlight it as an alternative model for development and as a contrast to the neo-liberal/market-based model that has now assumed almost hegemonic status around the world now.

    Susan Robertson

  3. I am glad to know you have visited my country in the last four years, maybe it would have been helpful to visit us farther back. Maybe the comparison would have been more reliable as right now you can only compare what has happened in those 4 years and Chavez has been in power for almost 10 years now. A new model would be interesting and welcomed if it really meant development. The project might be attractive on paper, unfortunatly reality is not so attractive. When you justify anything (excessive controls, re-inventing history to your convenience, exclusion of those who may not think like you, a new national cry “patria, socialismo o muerte”, snitching on your neighbour, etc.) in the name of change…well, all validity of that change becomes null. The fact that neo-liberalism might be bad does not automatically make any alternative good. That a project might be good on paper doesn’t make it good. A project, even the best one can become a bad one when instead of helping people, becomes a self-serving tool to perpetuate the ego of one man because this man can become very dangerous believing he is allowed anything and everything.
    A little bit about me. I am a working 55 year old woman. I do not belong to any political party. I believe in improving the living conditions of ALL Venezuelans, I believe education should be available to ALL. I believe children, adolescents, students should be tought a broad variety of sciences, literature, political options, philosophy, trades. I beleive everybody should be given a real opportunity to have a future. I believe in a better Venezuela for all. I believe in free thought, I believe in freedom. I may not believe in neo-liberalism , but I certainly do not believe in Chavez’s project either…I’ve lived its lies, its hate.
    And finally…Chavez has been in power for almost 10 years with the most outrageous revenue ever seen by this country…not even half of the things mentioned in this article have been done yet. Maybe that is why he wants to be in power for at least 10 more.

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