Acronyms 3 Mission Context and Background 5



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Observations resulting from the interaction with local stakeholders

  1. MES views on strategic directions for Flemish university cooperation


In the preliminary meetings with the Team (see Error: Reference source not found), Directors from MES set out and reinforced the Ministry’s favoured strategic directions: these included

  • Reiterating the national development role of HEIs in Cuba and the particular developmental priority of institutions in the Eastern region (see paragraph 4.1.2 - ).

  • Emphasising the main thematic priorities of a) reducing food security risks and dependencies on importing food; and b) the environment, in particular introducing renewable energy sources, and biotechnology, with a particular local role for universities to address specific and locally relevant environmental issues, such as water.

  • Reinforcing the human resource development aspects of international cooperation and the need for a programme to make a significant impact on raising both capacity (numbers of doctorates in key fields - see Figure ) and capability (teaching and technical) in key areas. Mobility for academic staff is the priority, especially for those young academics with Master qualifications but few opportunities to study for their PhD.

  • Stressing the need for any programme of activities to take advantage of, and spread benefits through the national HE and research network infrastructure (see paragraph 4.1.4). It was acknowledged, however, that network connectivity (both intranet and internet access) is not evenly or equally distributed among HEIs, and that institutions in the Eastern half of the country face greater connectivity challenges than those in, for instance, Havana.

  • Improving skills, competences and facilities for the application of ICT within key thematic areas, such education, environmental sciences and medicine, is also a MES priority. It was suggested that this could be supported through a national programme of doctoral and / or masters scholarships in applied computer studies.



      1. The impact of budget deficiencies on infrastructure and facilities


MES provides HEIs with budget allocations for staff salaries, running costs (electricity, water etc) and maintenance of buildings. These budgets have been declining in real terms for a number of years at the same time as the number of university sites has been expanding (for example, the development of outreach campuses and sites within municipalities). Most of those HEIs visited by the Country Team face significant challenges, such as:

  • The maintenance and repair of campuses and buildings (many built during the 1970s): wear and tear from the weather is evident everywhere and aging furniture and facilities in constant use cannot be easily replaced or upgraded.

  • Reliance on outdated and/or inadequate equipment and materials, for instance, in technical workshops and science laboratories, in library books and other materials for students, in computing hardware for administration, study and research.

Capital or special project investment funding is rarely available for those HEIs controlled by MES (and almost certainly other ministries such as MINSAP), unless it comes in the form of international cooperation or through other international donor initiatives.

The inescapable conclusion is that Cuba has too many HEIs, more than the country needs considering its size, population and economic capacity. Available government funds for HE (under MES and other Ministries) and institutional allocations are now spread very thinly indeed across the range of institutions and campus locations. The creation of campuses in all the municipalities has exacerbated the situation, with inevitable and negative implications for quality in education and research.



      1. Overall assessment of strengths of HEIs visited


The HEIs visited (with the exception of UCLV) by the Country Team during the mission (see Annex 1 for full programme) were assessed by the International and National Experts against a number of criteria relevant to VLIR-UOS programming and strategic institutional development. In a subjective qualitative assessment (low/poor, fair, good or excellent) was assigned to each institution for each of the following criteria:

  • Contribution of university to national development

  • Contribution of university to local /regional development

  • Active engagement in collaboration within Cuban HE

  • Active engagement in international cooperation

  • Institutional management and policy-making

  • Existing collaboration with Flanders

  • Accreditation of postgraduate courses

  • Percentage of academic staff with Doctorates

  • ICT infrastructure and systems

Table shows the results of this assessment. It should be emphasised that this is a comparative and non scientific assessment intended as a tool to assist in future planning and not as a sole basis for decision-making.

UCLV was not included in this assessment as its potential in research and other cooperation with Flemish institutions under the new Country Strategy is assured and not open to question.



Table : Overall assessment of strengths of HEIs visited by Country Team




Contribution of university to national development

Contribution of university to local /regional development

Active engagement in collaboration within Cuban HE

Active engagement in international cooperation

Institutional management and policy-making

Existing collaboration with Flanders

Accreditation of postgraduate courses

% of academics with Doctorates

ICT infrastructure and systems

UH

Excellent

Excellent

Excellent

Good

Good

Good

Excellent

Good

Fair

ISPJAE

Excellent

Excellent

Excellent

Fair

Good

Fair

Good

Fair

Fair

UNAH

Excellent

Excellent

Excellent

Fair

Good

Fair

Fair

Fair

Fair

UO

Good

Excellent

Good

Fair

Excellent

Poor

Fair

Fair

Fair

UCF

Fair

Good

Fair

Fair

Good

Fair

Fair

Poor

Fair

UC

Fair

Good

Fair

Low

Fair

Low

Fair

Low

Fair

UMCC

Low

Fair

Fair

Low

Fair

Low

Fair

Low

Poor

UDG

Low

Fair

Fair

Low

Poor

Low

Low

Low

Poor

UCI

Low

Low

Low

Low

Fair




Low

Low

Excellent


      1. Internal and external ICT network access


The MES HEIs (and other research centres) are connected to a HE intranet, which facilitates communication and sharing of research information and resources between institutions, and offers access to the various thematic and research portals and networks, maintained by MES and other specialist institutions. While the intranet connectivity appears to be relatively robust in most of the HEIs visited, it is not clear whether the internal networking infrastructure is the same standard in all institutions and on all campuses of individual institutions including outreach campuses within municipalities. Those far from Havana are likely to face particular infrastructure challenges.4

Local management of the intranet, and of individual institutional resources available on it, appear to vary considerably between institutions (for example, some HEIs such as UO have developed comprehensive institutional portals on the intranet through which a range of resources and sites can be accessed; others are less well-developed). It was not possible in the time available for the Team to make a proper assessment of research information and resource sharing policies and practice.

National limitations on the existing telecommunications network and infrastructure (progress on establishing the Venezuela/Cuba undersea cable link appears to have stalled for technical and funding reasons) have a severe impact on internet access for all HEIs. Bandwidth capacity for an individual institution rarely exceeds 3GB (UCLV) and very often capacity is considerably lower than this and unreliable. Systems management practices, which differ from institution to institution, have an impact on internet access for staff and students. UCLV, benefiting from the VLIR-UOS IUC work done on systems administration, probably represents the optimal standard for effective management among the MES HEIs.

UCI is the exception in bandwidth capacity among HEIs, benefiting from significant government investment in connectivity and infrastructure on its central campus, which allow up to 10GB capacity.



      1. Staff mobility


There are many limitations on international mobility for academic staff in Cuban HEIs. Financial constraints and lack of access to hard currency mean that staff cannot attend conferences or engage in academic exchange visits. Except in the context of an international cooperation project or through foreign funding grants few HEIs have the ability to pay the costs of this kind of academic mobility. This is the reason for the MES emphasis on using international cooperation as principally a channel for opening up opportunities for staff mobility (see ).

The Country Team also noted the general lack of national mobility among academic staff: very few staff members, on gaining on gaining Masters or PhDs, move from their home university to take up vacant or new posts in other Cuban HEIs. Four factors inhibit this kind of transfer of skills and expertise around the national HEI network:



  • Cuban society is characterised by a strong sense of community and institutional loyalties and strong family ties to one’s place of birth, implicitly encouraged by government policies. Nonetheless, this has not prevented the drift of population from the provinces to the capital city, Havana;

  • Until very recently there has been little or no possibility for people to sell or buy houses, thus facilitating movement within Cuba, though this may be set to change 5;

  • Mobility within the academic hierarchy – from junior positions up through the ranks to more senior posts – is constrained across all HEIs under these circumstances; aging professors do not opt for retirement, so posts rarely become vacant;

  • Under existing governance structures and regulations it would be very hard for a Rector of a university to deliberately seek or identify a particular academic from another institution in a different province to take up a new or vacant post; something which is extremely common in most countries’ HE systems and which contributes to the renewal and refreshment of academic study and research within the system.



      1. Potential for HEIs to develop income-generating initiatives/partnerships


HEIs in Cuba are financed entirely by the government and at present universities do not have any institutional mechanisms for fostering research or training associations with industries/enterprises for commercial or revenue-generating purposes, in the way that these kinds of links are encouraged in other countries. UCI, under the Ministry of Communications, is the exception in this case, as the university has been developing products and services for Cuban and Venezuelan clients (including for instance hospitals, government agencies etc). Though the UCI model of remuneration is not clear the university has in some way been receiving benefits from the services they have been offering. The model will undoubtedly be modified within the MES structure.

      1. Transferring research into policy and practice


The Country Team noted that HEIs all appear to have mechanisms to work with local stakeholders, in agriculture, energy and environmental conservation, for example, through provision of part-time distance and on site education and training in municipal campuses, and through full-time programmes of work-related social and community development.

However, what appeared to be missing in most of the HEIs visited (with the possible exception of CEEMA at UCF, UH and UNAH) was capacity and programmes to address the transfer of research findings, outputs and best practice to higher level policy-makers and planners within Cuban national and provincial government, enterprises and industry. Given that the main challenges in assuring food security are modernisation, diversification and increase of production, and the new national economic policy is to empower the private sector and decentralise the national economy, the need to improve human resource capacity and transfer management know-how at the highest levels would appear to a priority area for HEIs.



      1. International profile of Cuban HE


Despite quite a wide range of international donors and stakeholders in Cuban HE (see ), operating in the country for most of the last decade, the impact on human resource and research development in HEIs has not been great. The combined resources available for international cooperation projects in HE are not large (VLIR-UOS’s contribution through the IUC with UCLV and over a decade of OIs far outstrips that of any other single donor or country) and the scale of individual projects is normally quite small – between €20,000-€50,000. The impact has been weakened by the continued expansion of HE in numbers of institutions and campus locations.

Although Cuban HE and research are widely regarded as being of remarkably high quality considering the infrastructure and research facilities available in the country, Cuban HEIs do not score highly in terms of international published research outputs in the form of research articles and papers (see Table ). Constraints are recognised as being language barriers (considering that international research dissemination channels are dominated by English language publications) among Cuban academics, relative lack of opportunities to collaborate in international research projects and teams, and limitations on Cuban internet connectivity which constrain academic and research access to information and research resources.


Table : SCOPUS abstract and citation database 2004-2009: ranking (number published articles) of some Cuban HEIs among 1200 Latin American and Caribbean universities6

HEI

Ranking

HEI

Ranking

UH

55

UNAH

402

UCLV

137

UNHOLM

411

UO

183

UCI

422

UMCC

244

UCF

483

ISPJAE

248

UDG

514

UPR

369

UNISS

650

UNICA

387

UG

805

UC

401

ULT

810


      1. Existing links and contacts with Flemish universities


Flemish universities and individual academics have been engaged in collaboration and human resource development initiatives in Cuba since 1996. With the start of the UCLV IUC programme in 2003 the level of activity has significantly increased.

Table : Summary of existing Flemish cooperation in HE and research7




SUB-THEMES/AREAS

Regions

Partners

CONTENT BASED THEMES

Food security & agriculture

Rural development and soil systems

Western Cuba - Pinar del Rio, Havana and Matanzas Province, Eastern Cuba

UNAH, UDG

Food production and food chain

Plant and animal sciences



Vila Clara, Sancti Spiritus

UCLV, UNICA, CIMAGT

Environment

Clean Technologies, Biofuels, Renewable and efficient energy

Cienfuegos and Sancti Spiritus

UCF, UNISS, ISPJAE

Climate Change,

Water and basic sanitation



Pinar del Rio/Havana Province

UNAH

Environmental issues

Cienfuegos and Vila Clara

UCF, UCLV

Economic and social development, cultural issues

Cultural heritage - revitalization of botanical garden

Vila Clara

UCLV

Health

HIV/Aids

Havana and Cuba

IPK

Pharmacology, drug testing , medicinal plants

Havana and Vila Clara

IFAL (UH), UCLV, CIDEM

Medical statistics

Havana

UH

SERVICE/SUPPORT BASED INSTITUTIONAL THEMES

Institutional strengthening

Research policy and culture (incl. statistics for research)

Havana and Vila Clara

UH, UCLV




Educational policies (QA, accreditation, language and communication)

Vila Clara

UCLV

Information culture and management

Library and information culture development

Santa Clara (+ national for library automation)

UCLV

ICT

ICT in education (E-learning & other)

Vila Clara (+ national for free software)

UCLV

Computer sciences & ICT infrastructure

Santa Clara

UCLV


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