The rapid economic and population growth that Venezuela has experienced during the last 30 years has tremendously changed the educational needs of the country as a whole. In 1994 higher education accounted for 43.6 percent of the national educational budget, representing 15.3 percent of the national budget. This growth has created the need for an army of newly trained professionals such as engineers, doctors, dentists, technicians, and educators. The university system in Venezuela has played a significant role in training these professionals. Public and private universities, including private institutes, are in charge of higher education. There are 17 public universities and 18 private universities.
Some of these universities are very specialized while others are more diverse and traditional. Public universities are typically well endowed. However, recent instability in the Venezuelan economy has reduced the government's resources to keep up with the costs of higher education. This financial crisis has caused a high number of strikes and demonstrations in which both professors and students have participated.
The higher educational system offers bachelors, master's, and doctorate degrees. In 1972, there were 89 graduate programs. By 1994, there were 1,047. Seven percent of these programs were doctoral programs, 46 percent were master's, and 47 percent were programs in different areas of specialization. The Central University of Venezuela (Universidad Central de Venezuela [UCV]) accounts for 32 percent of all graduate programs.
Admission to higher education is done through a national exam known as prueba de aptitud académica. The student receives a score and goes on to applying to his or her program and university of preference. Students usually select up to three choices because each career requires different scores. The careers that are high in demand, such as engineering, law, medicine, administration, and computer science, require higher scores. If the student is admitted to a program of his or her second choice, he or she has the opportunity of transferring to the program of his or her first choice, provided that the student performs well during the first academic year.
The tuition for higher education is generally affordable in public universities. However, the costs of living plus educational supplies constitute a burden for those who lack family support since there are no extended loan or fellowship programs. There are some public and private institutions that offer some kind of financial assistance in forms of loans or scholarships. In addition, in the 1970s the government created a scholarship program called Fundayacucho, (Gran Mariscal de Ayacuho Foundation) that mainly supported foreign professional training in the sciences. For example, at the master's level, Spain was the country of preference, followed by the United States, and the United Kingdom. The drawback about the Fundayacucho scholarship program was that, although the government guaranteed payment of tuition for foreign study, it did not aid in anyway in securing domestic jobs for those sponsored. This resulted in a massive brain drain of much needed professional personnel in this Third World nation. In most recent times, the Fundayacucho scholarship program has stopped giving out scholarships and is now basically a loan institution for students who wish to study abroad or at home. Fundayacucho also has a forgiveness program for these loans, depending on the GPA of the student.
Some public universities have fellowship programs to aid their own academic staff to secure graduate degrees. Most departments would hire instructors with just the licenciatura, a degree much more specialized than the regular bachelor's degree, but for the tenure process a graduate degree, either a master's or a Ph.D. has become the norm. This type of fellowship is a valuable resource for professors who cannot attend school abroad. Admission into graduate programs is not as selective and rigorous as in the United States. From 1958 through 1996, the Central University of Venezuela granted 603 graduate fellowships; the largest number of them were awarded to faculty in the sciences (about 25 percent).
Role of Libraries: All institutions of higher learning have a main library for study and research. However, if compared to libraries in developing countries, all these libraries would be considered very poorly equipped. For example, the largest library in Venezuela is the National Library (Biblioteca Nacional), which holds only 300,000 books. International journals are rare as are any other foreign updated literature. The National Library specializes mainly in Venezuelan matters; since high school libraries are practically non-existent, this library is often used by area high school students, which over-burdens its resources. University libraries are not equipped with sufficient modern technologies such as computers, video rooms, or language labs. The emergence of the Internet as a research tool is slowly developing in this South American nation.
There are some specialized centers such as IVIC (Venezuelan Institute of Scientific Research) and CELARG (Center for Latin American Studies Romulo Gallegos) which have their own libraries. However, high quality research remains an extremely privileged activity and more often than not, researchers must travel abroad to complete their research.
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