For a decade, Venezuela’s higher academia has been suffering from an institutional dismantling plan orchestrated by Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro for not bowing to his authoritarianism, Tulio Ramírez, a tenured Venezuelan professor at the Andrés Bello Catholic University, told international research platform The Conversation.
“The essence of the plan of attack on Venezuelan universities lies in a single factor: to completely eliminate critical thinking and the development of the people,” Daniel Varnagy, a political science scholar at Venezuela’s Simón Bolívar University, told Diálogo on September 3rd. “Any kind of constructive dissent is totally disapproved of.”
Systematic budget cuts, paltry salaries, damaged facilities, closed laboratories, limited student benefits (dining hall, transportation, scholarships) and attacks on physical facilities are part of this plan in order to destroy the institutions, Ramírez said.
The deterioration causes a diaspora in the teaching staff. It is estimated that, in 2022, about 3,500 professors resigned from their positions to accept offers from universities in other countries.
The decrease in the number of faculty and the progressive fall in student enrollment are evident trends. There is an estimated 60 to 70 percent decline in enrollment. There are currently 71 university institutes, 61 of which are under the regime’s control, according to a report by international journalistic research platform Connectas.
Training and research programs in Venezuela are also influenced by government ideology. Since mid-2008 an attempt was made to reduce the productivity of researchers and universities and to weaken the programs that exhibited quality and academic excellence, German news agency DW reported.
According to Connectas, the Chavismo plan began in 2003, with the creation of the Sucre Mission and the Bolivarian University of Venezuela. This political project has distorted the educational purpose, at it conceives education as a tool for political and ideological confrontation, DW reported.
It also points out that following its plans, in 2009 Chavismo implemented the Education Law and introduced the concept of the teaching state, giving the regime control over regulations, elections of authorities, budgets, and university teacher training.
Two decades later, the substantial funds earmarked for alternative higher education were scattered in institutes where political militancy prevails and in universities that, for the most part, were never built and never came to operate, Connectas reported.
“In Venezuela, new educational institutions emerged with an ideological focus in favor of Chavism and Madurism, where quality scientific research is neither carried out nor of interest,” Varnagy said. “Everything dwindled; there are fewer professors and a reduced number of students. It’s a tragedy.”
The six autonomous universities, such as the Central University of Venezuela (UCV), and the four experimental ones not controlled by the pro-Maduro regime, closed laboratories, classrooms, and other spaces due to the scarce budget to maintain them and due to the large number of robberies they are victims of because they do not have enough security personnel, Connectas reported.
After nearly 15 years, UCV defied state interventionism and pressures, including from the Judiciary. In June, it held elections for 293 university government and co-government positions, despite the regime’s Organic Law of Education, which mandates universities to include workers and administrative personnel, which are not professors, students, or graduates, in the voting process for university authorities.
“The objective is to include non-academic personnel and workers in order to cede power over university governance to a bloc of mostly pro-Maduro voters and to force universities to be oriented toward Bolivarian socialism,” indicated the report, The Decline of the Venezuelan University, by Venezuelan nongovernmental organization Aula Abierta and the Human Rights Observatory of the University of the Andes.
Autonomous universities and their members have faced several obstacles. Examples include the opening of criminal and administrative proceedings against rectors of the Venezuelan Association of University Rectors, as well as interventions from public power institutions, Connectas said.
The arbitrary appointment of university authorities by the National Council of Universities and the Ministry of Education; political discrimination; criminalization of student protests; and the poor quality of life of professors, administrative staff, and students are other challenges that have been observed.
“Today university professors in Venezuela are not only the worst paid in Latin America, but on the planet,” at $18 a month, José Gregorio Afonso, president of the Association of University Professors of the UCV, told U.S. platform Voice of America on August 9.
“The damage inflicted on the universities is irreparable, similar to what happened with the dismissal of 20,000 people during the PDVSA [Venezuelan state-owned oil company] oil strike. When you throw people out, you also throw away their experience and knowledge,” Varnagy said. “Students are abandoning university education in search of jobs with limited future prospects and many emigrate from the country.”
If the political and thought system does not change, the authoritarian system will continue to reduce the influence and advancement of universities. “Leftist states tend to spend on handouts and political compromises instead of investing in education and research,” Varnagy concluded.