Out of 94 representatives of universities and stakeholders approached, 23 were actually interviewed, the majority representing Flemish HE institutions. On the whole, the following 4 broad and inter-disciplinary subject areas surfaced: Biodiversity, Public Health, Computer Sciences and Social Sciences – Culture and Development.
There are clear synergies between these four thematic areas: in particular Biodiversity and Public Health. Computer Sciences could have applications in several different thematic fields, such as Public Health (acoustic tools for speech and voice disorders). Culture and Development could be closely aligned to rural development themes such as agroeconomics.
4.1. Four thematic areas
The Biodiversity and Public Health thematic areas are well-developed in terms of pre-existing contacts and collaboration with Cuban partners, dominated by UCLV and a number of national institutions, particularly IPK, and in terms of considerable synergies between the different interests of Flemish institutions and a close knowledge of what colleagues are doing in particular fields.
Biostatistics and bioinformatics emerges (led by UHasselt) as a potential cross-cutting theme with significance for all the medical and life sciences research interests, and which could draw on the previous experience of in setting up successful Masters course in other IUC programmes.
Equally Computer Sciences has potential to develop a number of different applied research areas, relating to life sciences, modelling, diagnostic and remedial tools. It was mentioned that there are important synergies between Computer science research and ICT systems development (institutional strengthening) within an IUC – obvious areas are education (setting up Masters Courses) and applied tools.
The social sciences/culture and development theme is a new one for Cuba and the interested Flemish academics lack significant experience in Cuba though they have a number of relevant contacts there in academic institutions and city councils. Nonetheless, there may be scope for developing this theme within a rural development context, particularly considering the recent investment priorities in Cuba of AECID and UNESCO (to be explored).
4.2. Cross-cutting themes
Language and Communication based on the UCLV IUC Project, and ICT systems set-up and support within an institution must be seen as institutional strengthening and cross-cutting themes. In the case of the former, UCLV could provide a model to roll out into any significant new partnership, perhaps coordinated and partly resourced by UCLV. In the case of ICT, it was agreed that significant support in both development and ongoing technical assistance would be almost impossible to resource solely from among Flemish partner institutions, and that other solutions would need to be sought. These could include
Using UCLV as a ‘hub’
Out-sourcing: internationally and in Cuba.
Prevailing themes, trends and issues
In terms of subject areas/themes, the following clusters of Flemish interest have been identified: (1) Biodiversity, (2) Public Health, (3) Computer Sciences, (4) Culture and Development. All of these themes can also be closely aligned with regional priorities (more attention for the East of Cuba) and to rural development. Language& communication, ICT and statistics come forward as clear transversal support areas where a more crosscutting approach, in some cases using UCLV or other institutions as a ‘hub’ could be an opportunity.
Among other, the following are issues that the identification mission is expected to clarify:
The impact of the embargo and limitations for certain research oriented projects;
Limitations in terms of student and staff mobility;
The policy in terms of postgraduate and doctoral programmes;
Governance and sustainability at public universities, also in view of the internal audit reports of the Cuban higher education institutes. Findings may guide VLIR-UOS in terms of working with higher education institutes in Cuba;
The interest and feasibility of UCLV and other institutions to act as a hub for certain research domains or transversal network initiatives;
The manner in which VLIR-UOS could/should complement its strategy with interventions of AECID and the EU;
The potential and feasibility of ICT, language and statistics as transversal support programme;
The portfolio composition that would be most suitable in view of the HE context and current linkages with Flemish HE institutes.
In addition, the Belgian Ambassador is providing his full support to the organisation of the mission and will be an important stakeholder during the local seminar. Finally, to the extent possible, other stakeholders (donors, civil society etc.) will be consulted.