Fri, Jun 12, 2015 - Page 7 News List

Professors desert higher education in Venezuela

BRAIN DRAIN:More than 700 of 4,000 professors at Caracas’ respected Central University of Venezuela have quit due to salaries as meager as US30 per month

AP, CARACAS

Venezuela has already lost many of its brightest young professionals to better-paying jobs in more stable countries, and now the nation is also losing the professors who trained them.

College professors in the socialist country — plagued by a cash crunch, shortages and spiraling inflation — are abandoning their jobs in droves, unable or unwilling to survive on salaries worth as little as US$30 per month. Before, educators earned enough to buy homes and cars, and universities sponsored them to attend professional development courses abroad.

However, the past decade has seen only increases to the minimum wage for professors, meaning that the income gap between senior and junior instructors has disappeared and all are now left with a similar paltry wage.

Hundreds of professors have given up their posts in recent years, and the pace is accelerating, according to the teachers’ union.

More than 700 of the 4,000 professors who once taught at Caracas’ highly respected Central University of Venezuela have quit during the past four years, some taking better-paying jobs in other fields inside the country while others have been lured to more attractive academic posts at universities abroad.

Professors say that the exodus would have a multiplier effect as it lowers the quality of teaching and research at institutions once nurtured by Venezuelans who studied abroad and returned home to teach.

Now, those who leave the country to pursue advanced degrees rarely come back.

“We’re going to feel the consequences of this for generations to come,” said 52-year-old biology professor Pedro Rodriguez, who is working as a researcher at the University of Chicago while on sabbatical from his full-time job at Central University.

He is now weighing whether to retire and remain permanently in the US.

The Venezuelan Ministry of Higher Education did not respond to repeated requests for comment on the academic exodus.

Teachers said they cannot survive on the small salaries the government offers, and are tired of the official neglect that affects Central University and other autonomous public universities that were once the jewels in the crown of the nation’s educational system.

The 16-year-old socialist revolution launched by former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez has instead emphasized the government’s “revolutionary universities,” which offer free education to thousands of students who might otherwise not have attended college.

Meanwhile, the autonomous institutions get less attention and strangled budgets. The government provides funding for the autonomous institutions, but does not run them directly.

The autonomous institutions are free like the revolutionary universities, but they are also much more academically rigorous and selective, out of reach for all but the best students.

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