The following paragraphs summarise the main findings from meetings and discussions with Cuban and non-Cuban stakeholders during the mission. The full mission programme is provided in Annex 1 and the list of persons met in Annex 2.
Spanish Agency for International Cooperation for Development (AECID)
Historically the most active HEIs working with AECID have been UH, ISPJAE, UCLV, UNAH and UO. Other universities in the East such as UDG and UHOLM have increased their participation in AECID projects in the last few years.
In the last four years 175 projects have been approved with a financial value of more than €6,6 million. The objective of these projects has been to contribute to development of institutional and scientific capacity in Cuban HEIs.
Considering the geographical priorities defined by the government the 2011 call for project proposals was focused on the Eastern region: only HEIs from the East will be able to coordinate interuniversity cooperation projects funded by AECID. The main priorities in this cooperation are local development, environment, quality of water, food production, energy and the improvement of the hospital infrastructure. One of the most important assessment criteria is the prioritising of gender components in the implementation of the projects. Spanish cooperation has also given special attention to rehabilitating Cuban architectural heritage.
Joint cooperation projects between Cuba and other Latin American countries with joint funding from AECID and VLIR-UOS could be considered as a possibility and may be of interest to the Flemish institutions [projects 2x1 or 2x2].
Constraints on the implementation of AECID funded projects in the last two years include:
the lack of flexibility in Cuba to access funds from international cooperation projects if these external financial sources are not already included in the annual budget of the institution;
the lack of availability in the national market of products and services that may be required during the project implementation. As a consequence of this, in most of the AECID projects funds have been held only in Spain, with the Spanish partners assuming the role of buyers and suppliers to the Cuban institutions.
MES highlighted the special role of higher education (HE) in the implementation of the economic changes defined during the recent Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (2010). One of the main missions of the HEIs will be human resource development for properly implementing the new economic and social development policies until 2015. Another important mission in this period will be assistance to local governments in the management and implementation of their policies on local development.
The main thematic priorities indicated by the MES are: agro industry and food security, environment, water and soil management, natural and public health disaster prevention, industry and energy, biotechnology, pharmaceutical industry, local development and housing development.
Concerning a new potential IUC Programme, the officials of the MES defined their preferred programme on the Eastern region coordinated by the Universidad de Oriente (UO). In their vision, a new programme should have a similar impact to the IUC Programme implemented in the UCLV with more than 50% of the funds allocated to UO for improving its institutional capacity - essentially PhD and MSc programmes and the quality and dimension of its research capacity (see Figure above). From the MES viewpoint the remaining funds should be allocated to foster the development of the Eastern region through the implementation of national networks on priority scientific fields such as: food production and food security which should include participation by the Universidad Agraria de La Habana (UNAH), and the Centro Nacional de Sanidad Agropecuaria (CENSA), Instituto de Ciencia Animal (ICA), Instituto Nacional de Ciencias Agrícolas (INCA), as well as the Estación Experimental de Pastos y Forrajes "Indio Hatuey" (EEPFIH) in Matanzas, UCLV, Universidad de Camagüey (UC), Universidad de Granma (UDG) and UO. MES also envisages a network on applied computer sciences as well as telecommunications with the participation of UO, UCLV, Instituto Superior Politécnico José Antonio Echeverría (ISPJAE) and the Universidad de La Habana (UH) and the participation of other HEIs.
It was emphasised that HE is responsible for 50% of the scientific results and 20% of the innovation of the country. For the improvement of these indicators, the officials mentioned the necessity of prioritising PhD Programmes (with an MSc incorporated in the first phase) that reinforce the research activity in the universities as well as their innovation and technology transfer capacity.
The improvement of research Infrastructure and ICT in the HEI networks were also indicated as the main priorities for raising standards and quality in HE. These are considered as the major technological problems of Cuban HEIs and, in general, they are addressed by all international cooperation projects that include a budget line for equipment.
It was recognised that a major constraint on the sustainability of the HE system is the salaries of the teaching staff which are not competitive in the labour market. There is a significant age gap in the teaching staff of the Cuban HEIs, in which more than 55% of the staff are younger than 35 years old or older than 60.
Regarding international cooperation, VLIR-UOS was acknowledged to be the largest single international cooperation donor in HE, in terms of both funding and length of engagement with Cuban HEIs. The following countries/institutions were mentioned among the other donors to the Cuban HEIs: AECID (Spain), COSUDE (Switzerland), CIDA (Canada), CAPES and CNPq (Brazil) and bilateral cooperation with the higher education systems of Mexico and Venezuela as well as other member states of the Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (ALBA). In general, most of the international projects implemented by Cuban institutions have as main outputs the fostering of academic and scientist mobility.