Coro, July 13th 2011 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – This week, the Bolivarian University of Venezuela (UBV) initiated a week of events in celebration of its 8th anniversary.
The UBV was established in 2003 as part of Mission Sucre, a government programme that provides free and universal access to university education. It offers tuition-free undergraduate and postgraduate courses nation-wide.
“The Bolivarian University is the child of the revolution, an enterprise in the process of transforming the training and education system for all of those professionals who, in their totality, will begin to transform the historical reality of the Venezuelan people,” said Yanis Araujo, Professor of Law at the University.
To date more than 144,000 students have been awarded degrees from the UBV and there are currently 235,000 students registered in the 330 campuses across the country.
“It is important to highlight that this university supports the revolution, it is at the forefront. President Chávez has high hopes for this educational institution and together with the community we are going to show him that we will not disappoint him,” said Larry Andrade, student of law and spokesperson for the Bolivarian Student’s Bicentenary Congress.
Some of the activities included in the celebrations are a medical welfare day, a mobile socialist cafe serving arepas (a Venezuelan snack made of stuffed corn flour cakes), softball, baseball, volleyball, and a musical concert.
Throughout the week citizens will also be given the opportunity to acquire important documents at the celebrations, such as identity cards and residence certificates.
Student Community to Advance Work Mission
Speaking to the students via telephone during the initial celebrations, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez also highlighted the student’s role in propelling the country’s transition to socialism through the government’s recently announced “work mission”.
On Tuesday the president asked UBV students, employees and authorities to contribute to the mission by taking charge of planning development projects in each of their communities.
“I want the UBV to spearhead (this project) through its knowledge and work. There shouldn’t be a single municipality where socio-economic development projects are not being planned... Either we do it, or nobody will,” said the Venezuelan president, who also added, “If God pleases, we will overcome these health problems and the only transition will be from the capitalist model to a socialist one”.
The government’s work mission hopes to bring “dignified” and “socialist” employment to more than 3.5 million people and dramatically decrease the country’s rate of unemployment – which stands at around 8.8%.
Education, a Human Right
The Bolivarian Constitution defines education as a “human right and a fundamental social obligation” that “is democratic, free and obligatory”. Since coming to power in 1999 the Bolivarian government has sought to transform the Venezuelan educational landscape through a combination of “qualitative and quantitative” changes within the national schooling system and adult educational missions.
According to the Venezuelan Ministry of Education, the goal of the Bolivarian Education System is to produce “men and women with an education corresponding to the needs of society, with social relevance, ambition, solidarity” and who are “active, ethical and committed to the socio-political and economic development of the country”.
Venezuelan education policy is directed toward increasing access to education for traditionally marginalised groups and changing traditional pedagogical methods.
“House of Knowledge”
University level education within the UBV – often referred to as the “house of knowledge,” is characterised by a combination of practical and academic learning experiences situated within the framework of "endogenous development," or development from within.
As part of their formal studies, students are required to participate in community projects. For instance, law students will offer legal support through a community legal centre, or students of medicine will volunteer in the government’s Barrio Adentro clinics. Students are expected to apply the theory they learn in the classroom to their own practical experiences.
“The UBV also signifies social inclusion and solidarity. Our students are committed, from the very first day, to work with love for their neighbour, for the community, for the most needy, all through socio-community action. This is an important aspect which differentiates us from other educational institutions. The UBV constitutes a pedagogical point of reference for social transformation,” states Angel Moros, Chancellor of the UBV.
Students are also provided with scholarships and food and transport vouchers in an attempt to address “social injustice” as a barrier to educational access.
So far the government’s efforts to create an inclusionary university education system can boast some significant achievements. Since 1998 the number of Venezuelan citizens possessing university level qualifications has risen from 785,000 to over 2,480,000. Venezuela also has the second highest university enrolment in Latin America and the fifth highest in the world after Cuba, South Korea, Finland and Greece, according to figures released by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2009.
“What Cuba and Venezuela clearly demonstrate is that with a fundamental shift in the political economy towards socialism, universal access to education, with a high degree of equity in terms of opportunity and outcomes, is something that can be achieved quite quickly,” affirmed Tom G. Griffiths and Jo Williams from the University of Australia in their study of the Venezuelan and Cuban school systems.