The Country Team was given the strong steer from government (MINCEX and MES) that the priority for development through future international cooperation should be among HEIs in the Eastern provinces of the country – that is, Camagüey, Las Tunas, Holguin, Granma, Santiago de Cuba, Guantanamo. Given also the highly collaborative nature of HE within Cuba, however, this regional focus on the East does not rule out the inclusion of strong specialist partners from among HEIs and research centres in other parts of Cuba in projects and cross-cutting programmes of cooperation with Flemish institutions.
The needs of HEIs in the Eastern region for greater internationalisation and human resource development through international cooperation programmes are evident even without the strong governmental steer. HEIs in Havana City and the (former) province of Havana are disproportionately advantaged in comparison with more distant institutions, in terms of many of the factors that attract international interest and engagement; for instance, transport and telecommunications infrastructure, links with Ministries and other government agencies in the capital.
As HEIs in Cuba are required to focus their activities on the national development priorities (see Error: Reference source not found) the Country Team noted broad similarities in research and development priorities among the individual institutions visited, tempered by their specialist capacities and provincial location. Five themes for international cooperation in research and human resource capacity development were identified and validated during the visits to HEIs:
Food security and agricultural production
Socio-cultural and tourism development
ICT and applications
There is considerable scope for multidisciplinary research approaches to these themes: Figure shows potential synergies between the themes and sub-themes identified by the Country Team.
Figure : Identified research themes and sub-themes prioritised by Cuban HEIs
Figure (below) summarises the thematic priorities and research interests (and potential synergies between these) of those Flemish academics who expressed interest in working with Cuba and communicated with the Expert Team through interviews or correspondence. These interests were either based upon
existing or past OI projects with Cuba,
experience of working in the UCLV IUC programme,
contacts or collaboration with Cuban institutions outside of a VLIR-UOS context, or
no specific contacts with Cuba but interest in developing these based on research collaboration experience in other countries.
As can be seen there is a good match between the identified strategic priorities of Cuban HEIs (Figure ) and the interests of Flemish academics as expressed thus far (Figure ).
Urban architecture, city planning and conservation
Cultural identity in the humanities and social sciences
Preventive conservation of built environment, community-based conservation models
Rural, urban and regional development; food security and agroeconomics
Culture and development
The Country Team also confirmed among the Cuban HEIs significant interest and need for action in three cross-cutting or transversal themes, in which the priority would be institutional capacity development rather than research, in transversal actions open to any Cuban HEI in the national network. Three themes were first identified through the activities and results of the UCLV IUC programme and validated during the mission:
ICT and applications
ICT Systems and administration
Statistics and bio-statistics
Learning platforms development
Language and communications
English language learning and communication
Writing & presentation for academic purposes
Library & information services management
Access to research information and resources
ICT and applications
VLIR-UOS and the Flemish universities and university colleges have built up significant experience and capacity to deliver transversal training programmes in ICT systems and administration aimed at institutional management and administrative personnel, both in Cuba, drawing on the experience of UCLV (see below), and in Flanders. Several Cuban HEIs have already benefited from training courses and advice delivered under the UCLV IUC programme.
Statistics and biostatistics capacity is an essential part of basic and advanced research knowledge among postgraduate students, independent of their scientific field. Capacity development in this area would build on existing experience among Flemish universities (particularly UHasselt) to provide training and independent learning opportunities for academic staff and teachers by students (building on the CROSS_STAT project) in a transversal action, as well as supporting the establishment of masters level courses within specific HEIs (possibly as part of an IUC partnership or departmental OI).
Most Cuban HEIs are developing administrative and academic services using institutional learning platforms (sometimes called virtual learning environments), mainly using open source applications such as Moodle. The extension and growth of distance education makes this a priority area for capacity development both in the development of customised learning platform applications and services and materials development. Transversal capacity development projects would ideally be aimed at systems developers as well as academic staff using the platforms for course delivery.
Language and communications
The UCLV IUC project 4A - Capacity building for communication in English for academic purposes in international collaboration – established the highly transferable model of CAELTIC. This could form the basis of both transversal actions such as training courses and independent learning opportunities open to all Cuban HEIs (in for example, writing and presentation for academic purposes), as well as institutional actions to develop English language and communication in-house capacity in modified versions of the UCLV CAELTIC (as part of an IUC programme or OI).
Cuban HEIs face many challenges in the maintenance and development of library services to their undergraduate and postgraduate communities. While VLIR-UOS support could not prioritise support to university library per se, Flemish universities have built up considerable expertise and experience in supporting improvement of library and information services through transversal initiatives (such as STIMIUC Training at VUB). In Cuba such actions should focus on training staff in library and information services management related to information and services for postgraduate and research students and staff, which might include (for example) ICT applications, information retrieval and database searching, information architecture and the development of digital libraries, information resource sharing within the HEI network, and the development and management of institutional repositories.
Access to research information and resources is also a great challenge for Cuban HEIs due to the low connectivity speeds experienced by most institutions, and the high subscription cost of key international journals and information databases, and exacerbated in the case of some publications by the restrictions of the US embargo. Transversal activities in this area could include supporting library and information staff to improve their own knowledge and understanding of the range of potential sources (both subscription-based and toll-free or open access) in key scientific and technical areas, and in improving their support to academic staff and research students to become more efficient and effective in information search and retrieval using internet and database sources.
Table : Country Strategy Framework summarises the potential domains in which these themes and sub-themes could be pursued in a programme of VLIR-UOS supported cooperation. It also takes into account where the Flemish interests lie, as articulated in the North seminar on Cuba and subsequent interviews (see Annex 6 for the original country framework as proposed at the North seminar). There is potential for constructive and valuable cooperation at masters and PhD levels, though doctorate level should be considered the more important of these two, given the problems Cuban HEIs currently face in student mobility, the relative lack of professors with doctoral qualifications in many institutions.
There is also considerable potential for VLIR-UOS support to academic staff capacity development and updating – in relation, for example, to basic research methods using ICT such as statistical analysis, in laboratory methods and techniques, and in pedagogical approaches, particularly relating to distance education. This potential area of need could be addressed through either transversal and institutional programme or project interventions, such as training courses, opportunities for staff exchanges and placements in Flemish universities, etc.
The MES has strongly emphasised the importance of academic networks within Cuba through which the benefits of international cooperation are shared between HEIs and national collaboration in research is encouraged (see Error: Reference source not found). The Country Team also strongly advocate a network strategy for VLIR-UOS support and Flemish cooperation with Cuban HEIs, building in particular on the strengths and achievements of the UCLV IUC programme in developing capacity and skills at UCLV itself, and the Flemish contacts with other institutions that have resulted.
UCLV as coordinator of network cooperation
MES supports a ‘Network University Cooperation Project’ through UCLV, and has made particular reference to such a role in ICT, leadership training, English language training and possibly other national network support. MES also wishes to see a strong national network developed around the issues of food security (see paragraph ).
UCLV has itself proposed a number of network service areas in which it could take a leading role (see Error: Reference source not found) and the Country Team experts fully endorse these proposals. A greater research coordination and support role for UCLV could also exist in the area of food security, offering biotechnology laboratory facilities and expertise to institutions in the Central and Eastern regions.
Whatever options are chosen or taken up, the principles that underlie the network coordination role must include:
Avoiding unnecessary duplication of investment on the part of VLIR-UOS, for example, in laboratory equipment where possibilities exist to share facilities already established at UCLV;
Building on the existing expertise of UCLV academic and other staff that have benefited from capacity development under the IUC programme, to extend these benefits to other institutions in key skills areas, such as laboratory management and technicians, ICT systems and administration;
Ensuring that UCLV itself is remunerated in an appropriate way for developing and delivering its services and support to ensure that its own capacity and ability to develop does not suffer.
Partnership modalities (portfolio of intervention types)
Cuban HE offers Flemish partners an extremely wide and diverse range of research cooperation opportunities within the thematic priority areas (see Error: Reference source not found), and can ensure the availability of high quality and dedicated academic research staff and students in these areas, though research facilities and infrastructure are somewhat lacking. Cuban HE therefore has the potential to benefit from the fullest range of partnership and cooperation modalities.
Table : Summary of potential in various partnership modalities
Because of culture and practice of national HE networking and sharing of capacity development and achievements, transversal programmes have great potential, particularly in the areas defined by the mission (). There is a slight risk that the need for and practice of skills transfer could overwhelm the Flemish and Cuban resources and capacity to deliver at the expense of more mutually important research cooperation projects, and this should be monitored closely.
The potential UCLV support network (see ) could offer a ‘menu’ of services and support to individual HEIs (both those involved directly in VLIR-UOS projects and others in the national network), which could be drawn on and remunerated appropriately through VLIR-UOS and / or MES modalities.
Given the national priorities on regional development and subject focus, there is general consensus that only one institution among has the potential to develop and cooperate in a full IUC Programme.
Among the MES HEIs there are several with highly effective and expert Faculties and research Centres that have considerable potential to develop joint research proposals with Flemish partners (some building on existing OIs) (see section 3). VLIR-UOS might consider reflecting this potential by balancing the overall country allocation in favour of slightly reducing the anticipated IUC programme allocation and thus providing an expanded allocation for individual joint research project proposals in a regional or country-wide competitive application process.
The MES has expressed interest in a national programme of scholarships in some key fields, to directly address the lack of student mobility among young academics and postgraduate students (see 4.2). These key fields and standards for qualification for awards should be selected very carefully – the national need is great and far outstrips VLIR-UOS resources.
Non-academic partners and stakeholders
Within the thematic priority area of socio-cultural and tourism development (see Figure ) there is considerable potential to collaborate with several non-academic partners in research projects that would directly impact on the lives of communities and enterprises: these potential partners and stakeholders include:
the OHCH and the national network of Oficinas Historiadores in the cities that are World Heritage Sites in Cuba (Old Havana, Trinidad, Camaguey, Cienfuegos, Santiago de Cuba);
UNESCO Regional Office for Culture in Havana, which has expertise in human resource development programmes and leveraging external funding to support its core programme areas such as the World Heritage network and culture and development.
Potential IUC partners
Within the established government national development and geographical priorities, there is only one potential IUC partner in Cuba – the Universidad de Oriente in Santiago de Cuba (UO).
Contribution and opportunities for Flemish non-university HE institutions
Also within the thematic priority area of socio-cultural and tourism development (see Figure ) there is potential for contributions from Flemish non-university HE institutions (for example, the Koninklijke Academie voor Schone Kunsten, Artesis Hogeschool Antwerpen).