Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Bolivarian University of Venezuela: Five Years of Alternative Education and Social Transformation

from Bolivarian News Agency (ABN), Caracas 2 August 2008 This institution has a student registration of 189,000 students in its main branches and the so-called municipal villages (satellite classrooms); 2,900 technicians have graduated between 2006 and 2007. At the end of the first semester of 2008, a further 1,900 students graduated. The Bolivarian University of Venezuela (UBV, Spanish acronym) has reached its fifth anniversary working for an alternative paradigm aimed at building new forms of social interaction. “We are a university playing a role in the current situation of society, where there are two development models in conflict: the neoliberal globalizing model and the socialist model. Our proposal during these first five years has been to build much more human social, socialist, relations - with more solidarity,” said the Vice-president of the UBV Luis Damiáni. Damiáni assures that the struggle between models is expressed in society and in the field of higher education; that’s the reason why he describes the work of this university as “strategic.” According to the UBV vice-president, “the university-society articulation has sought - among other things - the graduation of professionals that could individually develop and respect collective values; citizens that could contribute to the construction of collectivist social relations with less selfishness and individualism as they try to solve the big problems of the nation.” Damiani, who prefers to see this anniversary as a starting point, stresses that the UBV’s strategic objective is to work for breaking the model of exclusion that has marked the Venezuelan higher education sector. “We are heading towards a socialist university of the people. That’s the reason why we have insisted on activities directly related to participation, which is inherent in any socialist system,” explained Damiani. Five years, five achievements On the occasion of the commemoration of the UBV’s fifth anniversary, Yadira Cordoba, former minister of Science and Technology and president of this university, summarizes the advancements of this institution. First is the creation of a “university loyal to the ideals of the Bolivarian Revolution, conceived from a theoretical, methodological perspective shaping a new way of thinking about what a university should be and how education process should be tackled from a different perspective.” Second is the UBV’s fast expansion in the country. “Thanks to the municipalisation and Mission Sucre (a program providing free and ongoing higher college and graduate level education to adult Venezuelans), the UBV has branches in 276 municipalities of Venezuela, which is closely tied to the concept of inclusion. It does not only leave room for those people who were rejected by the Venezuelan university system, but it also reaches places Universities had not reached. University gets much closer to the people.” The former minister of Science and Technology said that some regions with low population density or not representing a political priority were ruled out by the higher education institutions, but they had become the target of the UBV. Third is the teaching process, which has been conceived and implemented to train and develop professionals with a new profile. “A professional committed to the transformation of society in the fields they have selected, with principles aiming at the people’s needs, the country’s strategic objectives and the Constitution. A professional educated with a high sense of solidarity and defense of the national sovereignty,” she explains. Fourth are the UBV relations with the communities through Community Councils. “This project allows our students to get together as a collective in different communities,” she said. Córdoba stressed that the constant academic preparation of the UBV’s teachers is the fifth achievement. She pointed out that the UBV has 2,600 teachers in its payroll, 1,600 out of whom are taking postgraduate courses. Growing Human Resources The higher education scenario when President Hugo Chávez took office was very different from the current situation. The figures provided by Damiani show an exponential growth from 1999 to the current date. “When President Chávez took office we found that 497,000 high school graduates did not have the opportunity to join higher education, a typical sign of social exclusion because the middle and upper class were the only ones that could access universities.” By 2006, the UBV graduated 1,948 higher technicians, 751 journalists, 623 in environmental management, and 574 in social management. In 2007, the number of graduates was 968 and higher technicians (175 journalists, 495 in environmental management and 298 in social management). In 2008, 159 people graduated in agro-ecology, 96 political and government studies, and 254 in computer science. Currently the UBV has a student registration of 189,674 students in its main branches and the so-called municipal villages (satellite classrooms). Conscious commitment Within the debate on the university autonomy, which is widely discussed by many higher education institutions, the Bolivarian University of Venezuela also assumes a critical position, raises its voice regarding its five years of experience and makes clear the way it will continue working. The UBV “does not consider itself as an isolated institution; like many other universities want to do. The UBV is really aware of its relation with society; with the sectors we committed with; they are the most vulnerable,” Damiani said. “Other universities accuse the UBV of being ideological; as if they work in connection with objectivity, science and autonomy, apart from their object of study and analysis,” Damiani added. He explains it is just there where some other fronts try to impose their ideology and mental formation process. “We just want interaction to be supportive and equal. It must move towards the development of the common interest. Our commitment is with people and that’s obvious. We will check our programs since we know the political fight is first held on the field of theory,” vice-rector pointed out. In this sense, UBV Rector Córdoba urges people to keep their commitment to their country: “We must be able to train professionals with the profile the revolution needs. An integral professional capable of understanding the challenges and committing with the people; a transformer who stands out no matter the role he/she has to play.” Nevertheless, Córdoba considers the top challenge is to make the UBV become an example to be followed by other Venezuelan universities. “The UBV must be a house that engenders knowledge linked to our reality; useful for transformation. In the next five years, we’ll have a university that graduates people with a high political commitment; a university with a high-level group of teachers; a university that will support communities and offer consultancy for their projects, dreams and collective wishes,” Córdoba stated.

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