Caracas September 1, 2007 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan authorities announced on Thursday to a community assembly in the old penitentiary El Junquito in Catia—a sprawling working class suburb in western Caracas—that the jail will be converted into what will potentially be Venezuela’s first “socialist” university. The project is part of the Mission Alma Mater, a plan to develop twenty-eight new universities across Venezuela.
Two architects, Alejandra Castillo and Facundo Baudoin, have been charged with developing the project, in which the government will invest 126 billion bolivars ($57 million), Castillo introduced the project to the assembly saying, “We are in the construction of a new way of life, a new social model. In this process of construction everyone who can contribute in knowledge and experience will have their impact in the creation of what is called the Socialism of the 21st Century.”
Baudoin continued, “This is the first time that a university will be constructed with the real participation of the people, not only because they will help build it, but rather because the university will address the necessities of the community.”
The development of the 28 new universities through Mission Alma Mater was first announced by President Hugo Chavez in May and involves the creation of three different types of universities; state universities, specialist universities, and socialist universities.
According to the Minister of Higher Education, Luis Acuña, state universities will correspond to the necessities of specific zones throughout the country, for example in Los Llanos a state university would focus on courses in agriculture and another in Guyana would prioritize courses related to the mining industry. Specialist universities would focus on particular vocational fields such as Tourism, Hydrocarbons, and Basic Sciences.
The vice-Minister of Higher Education, Enry Gomez, said the “socialist” universities, like the Bolivarian universities, involves the “municipalization” of universities (the aim to have a university in every municipality), where the state provides the infrastructure and resources. However, in the socialist universities the capacities, social function, and educational priorities will be decided through the participation of the local communities.
Gomez explained to the assembly that the fundamental characteristics of the new socialist universities would consist of “the coexistence and active participation of the university with the community, but principally of the community with the university, it will be the neighborhood, the organized communities that have the commitment to make the university a place of knowledge and preparation for the people.”
“Within these [socialist universities], we will work with new values. We know that we are immersed in a capitalist culture and our challenge is to change this mentality,” Gomez added.
Potential courses on offer at the new university include Education, Health Sciences, Medicine, Administration, and Popular Power. However all of this, including the name of the university, is to be decided through a one-month period of community consultation before work on the project begins in October. The location of the university has also been agreed to through community consultation after an initial proposal to house the campus in Parque del Oeste was rejected by local residents.
Castillo explained to the crowd that once the first stage of development is finished, towards the end of 2008, it is expected that up to 6,000 students will attend the university.
The second stage of construction scheduled to commence in 2009 will involve the construction of a sports complex for the benefit of the community. A possible third stage could involve the construction of student housing within the university, but this is yet to be decided by popular consultation.