How the copper is beaten in UCV-Maracay

The Amphitheater at UCV-Maracay

Gustavo’s post on German university professors’ salaries led to a great comments section debate, including some real gems from some lurkers, such as this one:

I’m a professor at the UCV’s Maracay Campus and can attest to at least some advances in the quality of the teaching staff. It’s now very hard for a person without graduate studies to enter a concurso (a public contest to secure a professorship). If one is not up to date with promotions the committee will not approve a cent for any project.

Unfortunately the miserable salaries, the almost non-existent research funding for projects not in line with the revolution, the failing infrastructure and the regime’s overall financial choke-hold make our autonomous public universities very bleak places to work.

Sure the students can be joy but even here the standards become progressively worse and the more recent freshmen seem to think they are still in high school and are quite content if they pass with the minimum grade. I have seen students take the same subjects three or more times. We joke  they will eventually qualify for a retirement pension from UCV.

Any measures that try to address such vices even in the most timid way are instantly denounced as “repressive” or whatever.The number of students in some graduate programs has fallen dramatically, many simply attend because they need the degree to get a promotion at work. They seem to have no real fire to ask questions and do research.

Many concursos now wind up empty, especially if it is for dedicacion exclusiva – a full time teaching post. A good number of professors, even well established ones who own their own flat, are leaving. Graduate programs are increasingly relying on emeritus staff or shutting down courses.

Administrative responsibilities for professors just add to the frustration as they force one to do what the secretaries, fleet services, purchase dept, and other things should do. When one take the head of a department, it’s vox populi that you just becomes the conserje. Research and teaching fade away.

The trade unions, not the human resources department, decide who gets hired for non-academic posts. It’s quite a racket. Fleet services and the cafeteria are black holes of graft. Spare parts, new tyres, and food just vanish. Clothing will be stuffed into drains to disrupt activities. They recently unilaterally shaved 1h from their daily work schedules. It’s easier to fire a professor than a worker. They are the most powerful force in the university. Trying to address any of these vices causes instant strikes and rows over “repression”.

For several years now any formal complaint lodged by the university before the local Labour Ministry office is simply shoved into some cabinet and forgotten. Impunity is 100%. Outsourcing gardening, fleet services, cafeterias, and general cleaning would be way cheaper for the UCV, but it would cause instant strife that would paralyse the institution. In the present political scenario, it’s unthinkable.

None of us ever thought about taking on a private pension fund as one retires with 100% salary and has the benefit of subsequent raises. But currentprospects make even this doubtful. I estimate having to rent out a room in my flat to make ends meet as a pensioner. In fact, I’m looking at editales for concursos in Brazil…and some of them look real good. Paperwork sucks. There is so much good work to be done here, so much to discover, but things seem to get more and more uphill as time goes by.

Notwithstanding all these gripes, the UCV still manages to deliver a decent education! Que maravilla. What a pity.

30 thoughts on “How the copper is beaten in UCV-Maracay

  1. These evils have existed for decades now, only that now they are worse.
    As that reader says, there is quite a racket and they will burn cars if people just start talking about modifying things.
    What to do?
    I think we need to describe things very publicly, demand – just demand – that every item is put forward: how many workers are employed for how many students, how that compares to other places in Venezuela, how much money goes for the canteen and what that means per meal and so on. Put that all on-line, a little bit like this
    http://wheredoesmymoneygo.org/
    but with easier graphs and then open up a debate and request those people to explain why so much money is going there. Then you create a mood for change…public pressure, or so I hope…

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    • I agree. To me, the way to start attacking those vices is opening info. Apertura y Transparencia. Perestroika and Glasnot. But it has to be for everyone. The leadership (we hope and work for a new one), will have to make a compromise to open info not only on universities but on the whole public administration.

      I know that a Petrostate is not the best case to do that, but there is no other way out

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  2. As it is in the UCV is in the rest of the universities. Look a figure like Professor Benjamin Scharifker who was chancellor of La Simón is now chancellor of UNIMET. I will guess the quality of life that a private university has to offer him is greater.

    I have wanted for a long time to work in academia, I am not sure yet if that is the path I will follow but definitely I cannot do it in Venezuela. I am pursuing a MSc in Computer Science in Uppsala University in Sweden and thinking about going for the PhD. As we know, Scandinavian countries have a huge welfare state funded by also huge taxes, all Universities in Sweden are funded by the State. Here in Sweden a PhD position is a job. They pay a wage that goes between 22000 kronor until 26000 kronor (3300 USD – 4000 USD) of course before the 30% that will monthly deducted in taxes (only 30% because it is a “low wage”, in the upper brackets could go easily to 65%). I would say that you can live in Sweden with something around 12000 kronor per month to take care of rent, food, clothes and some nights out. Health care is almost entirely cover by the state so… Furthermore, PhD students are treated with respect and are consider part of the staff as in Sweden they do not like pyramid structures so much. So is it attractive to pursue a PhD in Sweden? Do you think that companies like Electrolux, Sony Ericcson, Volvo, among other ones won’t take advantage of the amount of knowledge that is being created in Swedish universities offering jobs to PhDs or funding research in the Universities? If these are the work conditions for a 5 year PhD student, how are for a tenure professor? I think we can answer those question ourselves.

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    • “As it is in the UCV is in the rest of the universities. Look a figure like Professor Benjamin Scharifker who was chancellor of La Simón is now chancellor of UNIMET. I will guess the quality of life that a private university has to offer him is greater.”

      I don’t think so. I teach in a private university. Some of my fellow professors also work in a public university and they have better salaries and perks. They have told me that if they can have more teaching hours in the public one, they will left the private.

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    • You do not have to go as far as Sweden. In Mexico, scholarships for PhD students are about 4-5x more than the minimum wage. A grad student there can actually rent a flat and still put away some reales into her saving account. Try doing that here as a Professor!

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  3. Reform is long overdue, but to getting it done is like trying to change the tire of a bike while you’re riding it. The first step, as Kepler pointed out is accountability. However, I’m not sure if you can simply estimate the cost per student as Mr. Linares suggested in the previous post, because the university is not only about teaching. There’s also scientific research, external service to companies and the government and whatnot. Faculty is supposed to create knowledge. Unfortunately, as Nebelwald pointed out, there’s hardly time for that. Teaching, bureaucracy and the occasional odd-job required to make ends meet eat time and motivation away.
    How to measure productivity in higher education institutions is a difficult problem not only in Venezuela but in many other countries.
    There are some things that are easy to measure: public service cafeteria (cost per meal), research output (number of papers, books, etc.), how many cleaning/maintenance guys are required (employees per square meter) and so forth. However, how can you measure the impact of a research project, the quality of teaching/education, students’ performance? It’s obviious that a student should not be allowed to fail calculus 10 times, but where do you draw the line? 1, 2, 3 times? What about professors? What should we do with a star researcher who is completely unable to teach even the simplest things. What should have more weight? Research output or teaching? Engineering, Economy and Medicine could perhaps get some private funding, but what about Philosophy and Arts?
    There’s room for improvement in higher education, no doubt about it. It would be great if the university were able to promote reform itself, but it’s a long shot. Professors are just on survival mode, preparing their Plan B or waiting for retirement. Students just wanna get their degree and get out. Staff are cynical and just concerned about the daily struggles to make ends meet and protecting their privileges.
    Being honest, I do not expect any improvement regardless of who wins in October. It does not matter what political affiliation the ruling have, the universities always get the short end of the stick. And like Mr. Nagel clearly stated, nobody considers our universities a priority. Simply put, la universidad es un muerto sin dolientes.

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    • Barreda,

      Yes, universities are much more than education. But the accounting and productivity measures are not that complex.

      Modern universities will have professors, researchers and people that do both. You have to know the cost of a student because otherwise how much do you charge per matricula? More importantly, research shouldn’t be finance out of the student’s pocket or the student’s scholarship. Research is funded by grants that are either provided by government or by industry.

      Professor get paid modestly (even at schools like MIT) for teaching, but the get big bucks for the amount of cash the bring to the school for funding their research projects. They get funding by appealing to either public or private investors with interesting AND useful questions. Universities could have some funds to award grants to their researchers, but that’s it. The fact that resources come from government or companies guarantees that research is down to earth and useful in the near future. Also creates a technology and company incubator.

      Then if you have education and research being 2 separate cost centers accounting should be easy. In education you measure your efficiency by calculating cost per student, time to graduation, etc. In the other you can measured by number of publications, cost per publication, number of patents, and more importantly number of licensed technologies. Each cost center has to be sustainable on its own.

      Perhaps it is an oversimplification, but I honestly believe in taking complexity out of systems. Nagel is right by saying that the primary education is in more critical condition, that’s not to say that the next government shouldn’t look at a reform for the universities to make them more effective. There is no silver bullet to get us out of the hole we are at. It will require a lot of simultaneous efforts, chipping away small bits everywhere will probably get the ball going faster.

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      • You can quantify output and everything, no doubt about it, but it is not as straight-forward as you may think. How do you compare for instance Engineering, Medicine and Philosophy? Investment and performances in these fields cannot be compared, as you just can’t simply compare apples and oranges.
        Let me be clear: I’m not saying that we must accept the status quo. We should change things, but we need to be aware that it is not as simple as we imagine.
        I’m more or less familiar with American and German universities and how they work. Although they are in better shape than ours, both systems are not perfect. In Germany, there is not enough money to pay professors or teaching staff, and they are just talking about shutting entire faculties down. I recently read that most of the money in the American universities is spent mostly on administrative staff and PRs.
        Furthermore, I’m not sure none of them could be easily adapted to our case. For instance in USA or Germany there are several companies with state of the art technology working together with universities, which benefit both sides. In Venezuela you don’t have that, it’s mostly PDVSA and the government controlling over 90% of the economy.
        Universities could for a short while get fundings from private companies, but that got killed by the government, when they decided to take control of the R&D fund created when the Science and Technology Law was passed. Nowadays we can do some consulting on the side, but that it’s mostly stuff that will not get published in an international scientific journal.

        However, I have to agree with you and Kepler in one thing: we need to know what’s the current state of our universities. To me it’s obvious they’re underfunded, its staff is underpaid and it’s not a top priority for several reasons (insecurity, unemployment and primary/secondary education are bigger concerns).

        I guess it’s up to the university to get its act together before it’s too late. The question is, if there’s going to be someone left in there to do that. Brain drain and demoralization will soon turn our universities to an academic wasteland sooner than you think…

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  4. BTW, talking about brain dead students: we can discuss about how it has become more important to protect the price of an almost free meal than to guarantee the proper budget for research? In La Simón the students had a referendum early last year to rise the prices of the meals that are offered in the canteens from Bs. 0.5 to something around Bs. 2.5 (not sure about that number) I am sure that there are some students that are unable to pay the fee in a daily basis but instead of focusing on those students they prefer to subsidize a whole community that has a lot of member that comes from high and middle income families (Very much like gas prices). I would support a bigger rise in the canteen prices and a expansion of the scholarship program that actually give those meals for free for the low income students. It is good to notice that I have never heard about students making such big protests like the ones that they did about the meal prices to the fact that the university had to cancel a lot of subscription to scientific magazines that are one of the main source in research and how the library budget has been cut down to almost none. Anyways, all of this is founded in an invisible constitutional right to have free meals in the universities and supported by opposition students.

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  5. @ A. Barreda

    How many times must a student be allowed to fail a subject?

    The university where my (hopefully future) father in law went only allowed you to fail a maximum of 3 subjects in the entire program, you failed the third one = you’re out

    I can’t remember where I read a proposal for public universities in which the student takes the subject the first time for free but if he fails he has to pay for the subject in order to take it again

    The ReRe at LUZ is just a plain joke, you got ReRe -> write a “please oh please” letter and you get a pardon… if the ReRe was actually carried on, LUZ would easily get rid of 10-20% of it’s total students number

    Also, universities should have a minimum number of subjects per period, many people just take two subjects and it’s enough to just pass one to not get any penalty, taking 10 years to complete their studies, living gratis off comedores y tarjeta estudiantil…

    And if Capriles wins, possibly maybe (and it’s a big, long MAAAAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYYBEEEEEEEE) las universidades will be part of his whole “get education -> get a job -> build your future” program

    On a side note, yes, la industria SHOULD come closer to la universidad, let’s not say that for “developing new technology”, but at least for the bare minimum: solve their problems with a tesista FOR FREE (salary-wise) and in such a way that the university gets some equipment or funding or anything

    For instance, woodgroup had a gas turbine testbench installed at LUZ to test their equipment once it had got out of repair shop and supposedly it would also be used to teach students about turbomachinery and power generation, heck they didn’t even had to let students use the freaking stuff, just watch and be thaught how things work while looking at it… but nooooooooo, la turbina was entrenched in a building inside a building with only woodgroup personel, very few professors and only MsC/PhDs actually got access to the damn thing

    And so on and so forth there are endless sad stories, but you know what? I won a concurso last year I know what I’m getting into and I’m H-A-P-P-Y and I know I wont change the system, but at least I’ll do my part, as I’m already doing with some students (be them tesistas or not), and bear in mind that this comes from a guy who refused a job at a foreign company in venezuela, which pays in dollars, because he has HAD IT with the petroleum industry and just plain luvz learning, sharing and R+D (just not freaking oil related, as it’s 99% of all things in venezuela :@ >:( )

    BTW: not angry or mad at you, have a nice day! :)

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    • I totally agree with you on RR. I believe the students should be held accountable for their performance, just as faculty and staff. But any attempt to change status quo will find strong resistance. Therefore the authorities prefer to let sleeping dogs lie. We should be discussing about, perhaps working on a quid pro quo basis. We will have to offer things in exchange, because although some guys are just beating the system, some others have a hard time because of medical or financial issues. It’s the classical free rider problem. How do you get rid of them?
      On the other hand, I don’t agree with your “I won’t change the system” stand. If we, as professors, are not willing to change things that simply are not working, who’s gonna do that?
      I congratulate you for getting a position at the U. I’m glad you’re having fun and I hope your enthusiasm will not fade. I have to tell you that it gets harder every year, especially when you’re expecting a salary raise for 2, 3 or 4 years while inflation eats your income away… When I was working a few years ago on my master degree, I worked 8 hours/week and got $300 a month plus college fees. Nowadays I am full-time professor (6 years) and I get the same $300. It’s true that we have some crazy perks (8 weeks vacation/year, inflation-adjusted salary when we retire, etc), but we’re not doing this to get rich, are we?

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  6. This is interesting material, similar problems in all of latin America. But getting back on the campaign trail, on this subject as on many others, I sense an “assumption” that HCR, the new anyone-but-Chavez will automatically improve this.

    What if he gets elected, and his Minister of Popular Power for Education sucks? What if other priorities prevent this from being addressed, for fear of creating too much social tension and protests in the first years?

    This is the problem with a unity platform, as necessary as it has become for Chavez to go- what guarantees that the future will be better? I think many of the commenters here are more progressive- independent of left/right- than any of the public opposition members or HCR himself. No vaya ser que..

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  7. Is it bad I wish to teach after graduating from career? I mean, I have become friends of several of the teaching staff at the UBA and yes, I know the reputation the UBA has but believe me, the people who care about it suffer due to the ever-reducing little benefits college professors have pretty much hiring people with improrer or full-on shady backgrounds or putting professors who don’t know well a subject just because they truly don’t have anyone to teach those subjects.

    My grandfather was professor of agronomy on the UCV-Maracay for over 30 years. Heck, there’s even a tractor named after him there. I don’t have the heart to tell him about this, but his brother, who teaches Physics at the UCV-Caracas gives him an idea how bad things are.

    ¡Saludos desde Maracay!

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  8. Guys, I am repeating myself, but I have seen how things work there: if we first try to even propose changes, they will burn tyres and close roads everywhere.
    Why? Because they count on most people outside universities not knowing the situation and they also want to stop any thinking within the honest part of the university community.

    That is why we firstly need a strictly descriptive – not prescriptive or confrontational –
    campaign before anyone even thinks of proposing concrete changes, a whole group of people need to just show how naked the king is: just describe the whole situation, just show the whole cash flow, the structures, the quotas, the privileges, the amount of people working in every part…
    and don’t show it to universities, for they know it…show it to the general public…and then people everywhere will start to ask interesting questions and then vested interests will have a harder time calling for blind protests without open debate.

    Que María Rodríguez se entere.

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    • We could do video spots or even a character in a soap opera with a professional student. Guy in his late thirties, failing subject after subject, eating for free, getting free housing, best buddy of the Union bosses, always ready to burn tires, getting elected to a place in the student council, so he cannot be removed, inciting other guys to riot, playing poker in the halls, and making noise that disturb others. Compare with the poor old grannie that barely has any money and cannot get free meals and free housing, her granddaughter has good grades, but she went to the public school, so her education is not great, even if she is smart. She gets good grades, but not good enough to get in, “no hay cupo”.

      These guys are not nice, I know them first hand. These people are leeches, milking the university. We could devote a lot of public anger to this kind of character, but we do need A1 PR in order to tackle them. Make people realize that they are working hard, paying IVA and giving oil money to guys like this, getting a free ride.

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      • I remembered going back to the University two years after I graduated and seeing many people who either started with me or even had came before me, still taking classes…

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  9. Entre bomberos no nos pisamos las mangueras.

    Venezuelan univ system is way too dysfunctional, it is rotten to the core.

    Let’s start wit this: In order to select authorities, the universities hold elections where students, professors, workers and retired professors vote. This is true for ULA, not sure for the rest of the autónomas. So, on election day, we see a lot of really old professors, sometimes, the professors of our current professors, going to vote to whoever they think is gonna give them the juiciest perks. These people hold a lot of power and affect the way things are run even after they die.

    Students and workers vote, but their vote is weighted, I think. Maybe the workers have full vote, but the students are worth a fraction of a professor’s vote. And, since many people get in the first semesters, but few remain a couple of years down the road, a bunch of naive young guys and gals have more weight than the few “old” and experienced students in the last semesters. So, you buy some beer and put some music and they’ll vote for you. As a result, not the most capable, but the most populist demagogue gets elected.

    Sure, the workers don’t do their work, but they vote to favor the professors when they get in trouble, and so the students. Favor con favor se paga.

    If you want to see part of my beef with university politics, read this:

    http://patriciava.blogspot.com/

    As a result of this, I was almost expelled, when I was about to get my degree.

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    • Its the same in the UCV. I think that the whole thing about electing authorities turns, what should be a decision based on merit and technical skills, into a popularity contest. There needs to be more accountability from both Professor and students. I’m a graduate from UCV Law School and I remember that when I got there Hector Rodriguez, flamante ex ministro, had already been a student there for several years and when I graduated, he still was a student.

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    • And don’t forget the “cupos reservados para la Federación de Estudiantes” (which are then sold to the best bidder or to the amigo), the student places for the children of workers (no matter how badly qualified they are), etc.

      Another thing is that the discussion goes around in circles: academic levels of those starting are so low, but students and teachers only want more money without accountability and that money is consumed in no time, student levels are not increased, they have no interest in student levels IN SCHOOLS going up because they fear competition.

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      • Yeap, the corruption with spots is awful, I know from a Professor in the Law School that held an important position in the admission process, that they were obliged to save a number of cupos for the Dean and the whole thing is so corrupt that no one found that strange or unethical.

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        • Interesting discussion. Problems in the system, but from the perspective of an outsider, places like UCV had some impressive faculty and students. What also impresses me is the number of first generation university graduates I meet (i.e. their parents often don’t have high school). Maybe I am talking about some lost Golden Age, and things may be going downhill fast- standards, accessibility, conditions of employment etc., but at one time at least, it seems to me the system had a solid foundation and was performing a key role in fostering social mobility and making venezuela a producer of ideas and professional skills (not just oil). UCV is also a beautiful campus. It is one of my favourite parts of Caracas. This war on the universities in venezuela is a tragedy.

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  10. The university system in Venezuela is clearly dysfunctional. I trust in Capriles to at least partially clean it up however he must be very careful not to talk about this in his campaign. It might anger some “career” students and possibly cost him some votes. Its one of many things that he will have to simply fix when he becomes president but should not talk about in the campaign. After all if he loses he can hardly fix our universities, can he?. With regards to these so called students taking class after class with no consequences something clearly has to be done about that. A few years ago I graduated from Florida International University in Miami. For those of you who haven’t heard of it its one of the 11 public universities in the state of Florida. Their way of dealing with these students (Since they’re a public state university I believe the other 10 similar universities in Florida have the same rules) is if a student fails to pass the same class on two attempts then the tuition for the third time will be triple. I like this because it gives mediocre students a chance to graduate and not be held back because of a few classes. It motivates them to pass the class on the first or second attempt, after all no one wants to pay that much for a class and the state at least breaks even with these cases so they’re not a burden to them. Just to themselves lol

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  11. Maybe if the government does not pay the university an “X” amount of money, and develops an individual payment for each student and the university only puts the price, as a “co-payment” as many countries in Europe.

    Thus trade unions, student council and others lose power, because the university will need to use resources wisely, unless the university set the price of the career too high, and the government may pressure the university because be public knowledge how college is being managed.

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