Venezuela: National University Council Approves New Admissions Policy

Last week, the National University Council (CNU), approved the elimination of internal admissions tests in public universities, opening the way for the initiation of a universal access policy.

Merida, March 15, 2008
– The Venezuelan Higher Education Ministry and top officials of public
universities will meet privately to debate a new university admissions policy
the ministry says is aimed at ending exclusion and democratizing access to
higher education, various officials announced Friday.

Last week, the
National University Council (CNU), the government institution which controls
university policy, approved the elimination of internal admissions tests in
public universities, opening the way for the initiation of a universal access
policy, the details of which will be finalized this May and will apply to
students who begin their studies in September.

"We are going to
continue working on and discussing the new admissions system in order to show
the definitive results in a period of two months," Higher Education Minister
Luis Acuño told the press after the CNU meeting March 6th, emphasizing that
"all students have the right to enter into higher education".

In accordance with the
new system, all high school graduates who wish to study in the university will
sign up in a single national registry managed by the government, and students
will be granted university places based on their high school GPA.

The CNU will manage
university admissions by balancing national development plans with the current
reality of employment in the country, and weighing that against a broad profile
of the students, which includes socio-economic background and special talents
and abilities revealed by a diagnostic exam, ABN reported.

Out of the 90
chancellors who participated in the CNU session, a group of 11 chancellors from
different public universities across the country objected to the CNU initiative claiming it did not providing clear admissions guidelines to replace internal
admissions tests.

Chancellor Benjamín
Sharifker of the Simón Bolívar University announced this week that his
administration would proceed with the traditional internal tests scheduled for
next month in spite of the CNU decision.

Likewise, authorities
at the Central University of Venezuela (UCV) in Caracas decided to carry out
internal admissions procedures in their entirety because, they claimed, the new
admissions system has not yet been decreed as an official law.

In response, Minister
Acuño made clear this week that "if chancellors do not comply" with the CNU,
"there will be sanctions." Such a situation would be "quite a shame," Acuño
said, "because the law requires chancellors to obey the decision of the CNU."

Debates have arisen
over the federal law regarding universities, which states in Article 20 that
the CNU shall "recommend" admissions policies. Dissident chancellors claim this
leaves it to their discretion whether to follow the CNU recommendations.

However, Article 26
makes clear that university officials must obey the guidelines set forth by the
CNU or risk losing their jobs, according to a report by Aporrea.

Those who object to
the CNU plan also base their arguments on Article 109 of Venezuela`s Bolivarian
Constitution of 1999, which establishes that "the state will recognize
university autonomy" and respect "the inviolability of the university

Article 109 says
universities will make their own administration decisions and shape their own
curriculum, but does not specify whether admissions are included in that

Bernardo Ancidey, the
Student Affairs Director of the Higher Education Ministry, insists that changes
in the admissions system "do not affect, in any way" the autonomy of

He is backed up by
Antonio Castejón, the general director of the government University Planning
Office (OPSU), who said this week that the elimination of internal admissions
tests had a "democratic character" because such tests excluded the popular
sectors and favored the upper and upper middle classes.

Castejón cited the
1999 constitution as the reason it is necessary to alter admissions policy. "We have a constitutional mandate to
guarantee the right to education," he declared this week. "The internal
admissions tests of the universities violate constitutional principals and,
beyond the decision of the CNU… [the chancellors] should assume a more
constructive posture for guaranteeing this right for the students," he argued.

Article 103
of the 1999 constitution makes clear that it is the responsibility of the state
to guarantee universal access to free education through the undergraduate
level. Moreover, the state shall actively maintain the "equality of conditions
and opportunities," with the only limitations being student "aptitudes,
vocation, and aspirations," the article indicates.

Yadira Córdova of the Bolivarian University of Venezuela (UBV) is one of many
who agree that universities are obligated to construct mechanisms "that
guarantee social inclusion," which are the natural "next step" for
administrators who claim to support universal higher education.

chancellor of the UCV, Antonio París, in turn, claimed that he does not oppose
the idea of changing admissions. However, "technicians" from his administration
have determined that the CNU plan to admit high school graduates by GPA in
proportion to the number of private and public high schools will be "more
exclusive than the most exclusive."

assured that he and other public university chancellors would plan a
transitional admissions system that is "more adaptable" for the coming school

from the University of the Andes (ULA) in Mérida last week were reported in the
local press to have objected to the new admissions policy on the basis that it
is poverty which keeps the lower classes out of the universities, not the
internal exams. They speculated that poverty would continue prohibiting people
from studying even if admission is broadened by the new system.

student groups led by the UCV student federation President Ricardo Sánchez have
protested at the CNU and held forums in opposition to the reforms.

student groups have declared their support for the new measures and announced
this week that they plan to host forums in cities across the country starting
March 29th in order to gather opinions from "the People" as to how
the new admissions policy should be carried out.

"It is not
the same to get a 20 [the top grade] in a private high school with all the
comforts, as it is to get a 20 in a [rural] high school…where the student had
to get up extra early and travel long distances and make other sacrifices," was
the opinion of Robert Serra, a pro-Chávez student leader.

A regional
study in the western border state of Zulia revealed that out of the 44,000 high
school graduates this year, 27,960 would find a spot in the public universities
in the region.

remarked in a meeting Friday with the commission that will manage the national
registry that one of the purposes of having all high school graduates register
is to assess the real demand for higher studies.

registry shall also prioritize the regionalization of universities so that
students can study close to home in programs related to their local realities,
Castejón outlined.

an increase in university aspirants, the Higher Education Ministry augmented
its goal for construction of new universities by the year 2012 to 20 new
facilities and 30 conversions of facilities into university infrastructure,
according to announcements last week by Enry Gómez, the Vice Minister of
Student Policy.

addition, public universities have been asked to report the maximum number of
students their infrastructure can manage.