UBV celebrates 5 years of “education revolution”

The Bolivarian University of Venezuela (UBV) – which refers to itself as the “House of Knowledges” – is celebrating its first five years, as the Bolivarian News Agency ABN reports. According to the report, the UBV is key to the revolutionary commitment of “constructing a Venezuela for all Venezuelans, in which social justice and equality rules”. The democratisation of higher education is envisaged as being achieved through the strategy of municipalisation, which means that the state-funded university is operating in all 335 municipalities, as well as in prisons and factories, to facilitate equal access opportunities.

A related article cites Education Minister, Héctor Navarro, stating the Venezuela has already achieved the Millennium Development Goals with respect to education, as well as Venezuela being one of the countries with the highest participation in higher education relative to its population. UBV’s teaching body is currently participating in an integral programme for the “education of educators”, which is centred around the politico-ethical education of the teacher in the construction of the new subjectivity, radical pedagogy, critical epistemology, and strategic planning. UBV’s director Yadira Córdova is quoted saying:

Making revolution in a university that takes pride in being revolutionary implies constructing the revolutionary subject, a political subject capable of taking up the project of this university as part of the national revolutionary project. As part of the Latin American transformation project, as part of the project of the liberation of the oppressed peoples of the world.

Indeed, there appears to be some reason to share the Venezuelan optimism. The graphs shown here, produced from data obtained from the World Bank and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), confirm that under Chávez, participation at all educational levels has substantially increased (including nursery, not displayed in the graphs).

Source: Produced from Education Trends and Comparisons, at http://go.worldbank.org/JVXVANWYY0 (accessed 20/05/2008).

Source: Produced from Social Indicators and Statistics (BADEINSO). Last accessed 20/05/2008, http://websie.eclac.cl/sisgen/ConsultaIntegrada.asp

Nevertheless, there is reason for concern with respect to justice and equality. While under the Bolivarian government all social strata have gained in access to higher education, the very large gap between the poorer and wealthier sectors remains wider than in the early 1980s. One conclusion, then, that we might draw is that the wealthy, in fact, remain the absolute winners of the past decades.

Thomas Muhr

ALBA Declaration of Higher Education

While Bolivian president Evo Morales was welcoming Fernando Lugo, who on 20 April won the presidential elections in Paraguay, within the ranks of progressive Latin American/Caribbean leaders (see report), a HE summit was taking place in Cochabamba (Bolivia, 20-22 April) under the heading “Workshop of Higher Education for the ALBA”. At the meeting, the five ALBA (higher) education ministers (Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Nicaragua, Venezuela) signed the “Cochabamba Declaration”. ALBA – as we previously noted – stands for the ‘Bolivarian Alternative for the peoples of Our America’, which is a regional integration project that counters the commoditisation of education.

According to Bolivia’s education ministry, over 50 delegates from the ALBA member countries, 300 delegates from public and private Bolivian universities, including HE institutions run by the Catholic Church and the armed forces, as well as social and educational movements and organizations, participated in the workshop.

The Cochabamba Declaration lays the foundation for the integration of the member countries’ education systems. In HE, stated fields of cooperation are: research and technology, education software and distance education, mutual recognition of titles, and academic and student mobility within the ALBA sub-region. Importantly, under ALBA’s logic of integral education and social development, the HE strategies include the provision of primary and secondary education, as it is at those levels where exclusion from HE originates in impoverished contexts, even if HE is nominally fee-free.

According to Venezuela’s vice-minister of academic policies, Tibisay Hung, the ALBA policies, curricula and teaching materials open up a range of rights :

This is not about imposing anything, but to collaborate and see to it that the others also can achieve a dignified life.

Outside the meeting, the local newspaper El Tiempo reported of private university students protesting for “freedom in education” and “democracy”, claiming that “ideological impositions by Cuba and Venezuela” would “violate national sovereignty” and “divide the Bolivian family” .

The “Bolivian family”, however, has for centuries been systematically divided along race and class lines. Put into context, these “student protests” form part of a larger destabilization strategy orchestrated by Washington in order to topple President Morales’ progressive government.

Similar to Venezuela last year, in the advent of the referendum on constitutional reform, it is possible to show that such “student protesters” represent a minority as they are recruited from the traditional economic and land-holding elites who, as these lines are being written, are holding an illegal referendum on the secession of the department of Santa Cruz (Bolivia), with the objective of crippling Bolivia’s economy to provoke political upheaval.

Thomas Muhr

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

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.

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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