Positive commitment and active cooperation of the MES in strategic planning, facilitating partnerships and problem-solving.
Centralised government systems of policy-making, planning and budgeting (including budget allocation) are bureaucratic and opaque.
Changes announced in the 2010 Communist Party Congress may open up the HE system to greater flexibility in budgeting and revenue-generation through service delivery and product development.
Change is a slow and relatively unpredictable process in Cuba.
Very poor national internet connectivity has and continues to constrain HE and research in many different ways.
As international research moves more and more to the digital and online modalities the gap between Cuban research capacity and knowledge base and that of other countries is widening
Cuban HE and research benefits from many decades of high basic education standards and the HEI intake of students have been well-educated and dedicated to achieving educational and research goals
Widening access to HE has weakened educational quality and put great strain on HE and research infrastructure, facilities and budgets.
A pool of expert and committed academics are currently available and enthusiastic to develop joint research activities.
Standards in basic education have slipped during the past decade and it may be difficult for Cuba to sustain educational quality throughout the system in the coming years.
The national HE and research networks coordinated by MES and individual HEIs, and the culture of collaboration; provide a strong framework for research and training cooperation and skills transfer.
The networks exist but actual operations and active sharing of capacity and resources is severely constrained by lack of connectivity, money and transport around the country. Outside of Havana these problems escalate.
VLIR-UOS can make a significant (but focused) contribution using these established networks.
There is a long history of effective research cooperation and scholarly exchange between HEIs in Cuba and Flemish institutions.
The success of the UCLV IU Programme and the extensive contacts and links already fostered with Cuban academics in the Eastern region of the country through the UCLV projects provide a good basis for new initiatives and collaborative networking.
From the Cuba mission a number of lessons emerged about the organisation and implementation of the VLIR-UOS Country Strategy Formulation process.
Strong national experts
The need for a strong and experienced national expert in the organisation and implementation of the country mission is evident from the Cuba experience. The Cuba mission benefited greatly from the knowledge and in-country contacts of the National Expert, particularly in establishing good links with government, deciding on priorities for the visits and providing informed local context and background to the rest of the Country Team.
In Cuba the MES provided excellent support to organisation and facilitation of the mission, but not all Country Strategy teams will be so well-supported by central government agencies, making the choice of National Expert even more important.
The VLIR-UOS requests the completion in English of a factsheet in advance of the country mission from every potential partner or collaborating HEI (see Annex 5). In Cuba none of these were completed in advance and most institutions found it a challenge to pull information together and summarise their institutional priorities and strategies in this format. Indeed, it became clear from several of the visits that strategic thinking and putting forward clear, relevant priorities for development are not generally strengths in the HEIs. Many VLIR-UOS IUC partnerships have encountered this shortcoming in other countries.
It is more realistic for VLIR-UOS to assume that few HEIs will provide satisfactorily completed factsheets in advance of the country mission, and that they are unlikely therefore to contribute greatly to the planning and execution of institutional visits. On the contrary, the completion of the factsheets is likely to be the subject of much negotiation and discussion between the National Expert and the HEIs during and after the mission has ended.
These factsheets are important summaries which will be valuable to Flemish institutions in planning and decision-making once the Country Strategy is agreed. It is more important that they are completed well and comprehensively than that the information is provided early to inform the mission visits.
The length of the mission
The Cuba mission allowed about eight days for institutional visits by the Country Team to HEIs and other potential programme stakeholders (not including protocol visits to Ministries and other government and international donor agencies). In Cuba, where there are many good universities, this was hardly enough. At least one full day should be dedicated to each HEI, if not more, where campuses and research institutions are widely separated. A one-day visit would allow Country Teams to assess infrastructure and facilities, and give a better opportunity to the HEI to put their own case more effectively. In some countries this may imply visiting fewer HEIs or being in country for longer than initially planned.