"As Victor Hugo says in Les Miserables, while a woman has to prostitute herself because of hunger, a child loses himself in darkness for lack of education and a worker is exploited by capitalism. Books like this, like Les Miserables, have not been [written] in vain," comments Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez on his five-hour weekly television show, which is riddled with literary quotes and a segment akin to Oprah's book club.
With his military roots, dark complexion, and direct manner, Chávez doesn't have to worry about being confused with Venezuela's elite. So when he speaks about education, Venezuelans don't appear to hear talk about a pass-time of the well off--as university study has been portrayed by some US politicians--but rather of a human right which had been poached by the upper classes.
And Chávez's pro-education banter isn’t just rhetoric. Higher education hasn’t been more within the reach of the majority of Venezuelans for decades. Between 2000 and 2003, according to the World Development Index, the number of Venezuelans enrolled in college as a percent of the college aged population jumped 11 percentage points to 39%—well exceeding the regional average (which, according to the most recent numbers, Venezuela still lags behind in primary and secondary education, despite recent improvements). This comes after a decade where the percentage of Venezuelans enrolled in tertiary education fell by one point.
According to officials, increased enrollment is due, in part, to the gradual growth in higher education institutions in Venezuela, and the creation of the Bolivarian University, a free college with a liberal admissions policy, similar to community colleges in the US.