Designing the ‘University of the Peoples of the South’ – a case of regionalising the ‘Venezuela Bolivarian University’ model

In times of increased global educational segregation under the so-called ‘knowledge-based economy’, the Chavez government has sought to democratize access to, and the contents of, higher education (see our earlier report on Venezuela).

About a week ago, Venezuela’s Bolivarian News Agency reported on the progress made in designing the University of the People’s of the South.

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According to Luis Quintana, Coordinator for International Relations in Venezuela’s Higher Education Ministry, the proposed ‘University of the People’s of the South’ is a new addition to the Bolivarian ‘Alternative for the People’s of Our America’ (ALBA) project which to date has tended to focus on the eradication of illiteracy in countries such as Bolivia and Nicaragua.

Representatives from Argentina, Puerto Rica and Colombia (amongst others) last week discussed the internal organization of the university, its relation to society, the nature of the research program, and its territorial organization.

The philosophical-politico conceptualization, however, appears to follow Venezuela’s Bolivarian University (UBV), founded in 2003, where those excluded from the global education market – ‘the South’ – can study free of charge.

Referring to the ‘University of the Peoples of the South’, Luis Quintana is reported as stating:

…popular and indigenous knowledges will be crucial to generate knowledges that would overcome the capitalist system of domination and the depredation of nature…the ‘South’ is a geopolitical rather than a geographical concept..the ‘South’ is where the exploited and the dominated are….

Luis Fernanda Sarango, Director of the Intercultural University of the Nationalities and Indigenous Peoples of Ecuador, adds that the idea of the University for the People’s of the South is historical and forms part of the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela.

Implicitly reiterating the Bolivarian principle of knowledge production for democratic, informed active citizenship, Sarango states:

It’s not about professionalization for the market, so that they keep using us for the market. It is about life.

The idea of a university anchored in a set of principles which explicitly rejects the global market model that is currently in vogue is important, if only as an alternative imaginary. It will be interesting, too, to follow the regionalising project as it unfolds amongst the ALBA partners over the next few years. GlobalHigherEd would welcome any insights and commentary on these projects.

Thomas Muhr