Mérida, 21st November 2013 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Thousands of Venezuelan higher education students marched through central Caracas to Miraflores Palace today to commemorate the national Day of the University Student.
“Venezuela celebrates the Day of the University Student by guaranteeing public education as a human right,” President Nicolas Maduro said during an address to the march at Miraflores. The students arrived at the presidential palace after marching through four streets of the capital, chanting slogans in support of the Bolivarian government's overhaul of public education over the last decade.
Under former president Hugo Chavez, Venezuelan state expenditure on education rose from 3.9% of GDP in 1998 to around 7%, according to government figures. Between 1999 and 2011 funding for universities increased from under US$300 million to US$2.6 billion, and from 1998 to 2009 university enrolment numbers rose by 170%.
The administration of Hugo Chavez also founded new educational institutions, such as the Bolivarian University of Venezuela.
“Young people have the right to education and life is guaranteed in the revolution, as never before in the history of our country,” Maduro stated.
This afternoon, Maduro also announced that next year his government will boost the number of national student scholarships to 200,000. Currently, 164,000 students in Venezuela have government grants.
“We will bring scholarships up to 2000 to support students who are being educated and are part of the future of this country,” Maduro said in a televised announcement. The president also stated that he would restart an international scholarship initiative, under which 10,000 grants will be available to Venezuelan students “to study abroad at the best universities”.
“From 1998 to 2013 we have increased scholarships by 275%, and this will continue growing. Nobody will stop us,” Maduro said.
Venezuela's Day of the University Student marks the student strikes that took place on 21 November, 1957. The striking students were protesting against the political repression, torture and imprisonment of political dissidents under the dictatorship of Marcos Perez Jimenez.
Today, the strikes are widely viewed by Venezuelans as a playing a significant role in the eventual toppling of the Perez Jimenez regime.
Maduro told student marchers that under the Perez Jimenez dictatorship, the “persecution and disappearance” of leaders of the student movement was commonplace, though he emphasised that today the student movement plays a prominent role in Venezuela's revolution.
“The young of the country have been the centre of political power in Venezuela,” Maduro told the marchers.
"I...had the fortune to be born in today's Venezuela, with a revolution – a socialist revolution that...gives opportunities,” Santiago Davila, a marching student told state news agency AVN.
However, Maduro also warned students to be “alert” to a “conspiracy” to roll back the gains made under the Chavez administration.
“The cconstitution guarantees the people the right to education...[but] the bourgeoisie wants to destroy the constitution ” he stated.
Other government ministers also took to Twitter to commemorate the day.
“Happy University Student Day! Although we have yet the great task of transforming the Venezuelan university,” Minister for Women and Gender Equality Andreína Tarazon tweeted.
Venezuela’s student movement is divided. Despite the advances made over the past decade, many students in the elite public and private universities are favourable to the conservative opposition, and argue the government has not given enough priority to the country’s more “traditional” universities.