Acronyms 3 Mission Context and Background 5

The Cuban higher education system

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The Cuban higher education system

The Cuban higher education (HE) system comprises 68 HEIs (not including military universities): these include 47 universities, 9 higher institutes, 8 schools/academies and 4 independent faculties. All HEIs are public. The Ministry of Higher Education (MES) is responsible for policy in matters of undergraduate and postgraduate education. It controls teaching, methodology, courses and programmes and the allocation of student places. MES is also responsible for the evaluation and accreditation of the whole university system but only 17 institutions are directly under the control of this Ministry.

Figure : Distribution of Cuban HEIs by Province

A significant number of HEIs are under the control of other state bodies, such as the pedagogical institutions that belong to the Ministry of Education (MINED), in charge of primary, secondary, technical and vocational education, or the medical sciences institutions belonging to the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP).


A University System Accreditation Programme (SUPRA) was established in 1999, implemented by a National Accreditation Board - Junta de Acreditación Nacional (JAN). The Board grants the different categories of accreditation to evaluated academic programmes and institutions.

SUPRA includes the Evaluation and Accreditation System for undergraduate programmes (SEA-CU), the Evaluation and Accreditation System for Master’s Degree programmes (SEA-M), the Evaluation and Accreditation System for Doctoral programmes (SEA-DR) and the System for the Evaluation of Institutions (SEI).

The accreditation categories granted to post-graduate programmes are as follows: authorised, ratified, certified and excellence for programmes at masters level; and authorised, certified and excellence for programmes at doctoral level.

Student and staff numbers

According to official figures from the MES, more than 150,000 professionals are involved in academic and /or research work in HEIs: 62,500 of these are full time professors. The same source indicates that since 1959 the Cuban HE system has graduated 1,081,815 professionals (91,902 during the academic year 2009-2010) of which 31,528 were foreign.

Figure : Total academic staff in MES HEIs in academic year 2010-2011
At the beginning of the academic year 2010-2011 a total of 473,309 students (286.761 women representing 60.5% of the total) were enrolled in some of the 94 undergraduate programmes offered by the Cuban HEIs. A percentage analysis of the number of undergraduate students by areas of science reflects that a significant number of the students were enrolled in the following areas: medical sciences (31.4%), social and human sciences (23.9%) and pedagogical sciences (14.2%).
Figure : Enrolled full-time students MES HEIs in academic year 2010-2011
With regard to postgraduate studies more than 150,000 students are enrolled in Masters and specialist courses and around 4,000 are registered on doctoral programmes. On average, about 500 PhD theses have been defended per year in the last few years and the total of PhD graduates since 1969 is about 10,000. Analysis of PhD theses defended until 2009 shows PhD studies in the following proportions: technical sciences (24%), natural sciences (21%), agricultural sciences (16%) and social and human sciences (14%).

Postgraduate studies

Postgraduate education include masters programmes (of two or three years), doctoral programmes (varying between three and five years), and short ‘diploma’ courses of between six to 18 months duration).

A total of 439 Master programmes are being developed with the approval of the JAN of the MES. The distribution by areas of sciences is as follows: technical sciences (84), pedagogical sciences (78), biomedical sciences (75), social and human sciences (61), economical sciences (60), agricultural sciences (41) and natural and exact sciences (40). Only 39 Master Programmes have been evaluated with the highest level category of accreditation (excellence) including the Universidad de La Habana (UH) with 14 excellency Master programmes, the Instituto Superior Politécnico José Antonio Echeverria (ISPJAE) with nine and the Universidad Central de Las Villas (UCLV) with four.

Figure : Total staff in MES HEIs with postgraduate qualifications: academic year 2010-2011

  1. Mission Objectives and Expected Results

    1. Objectives

Undertake an assessment of national priorities in terms of HE and poverty reduction, as also the possible strategic niches for cooperation between Cuban and Flemish higher education institutes;

Consult, through visits, interviews and the hosting of a local seminar, with a wide spectrum of local stakeholders in terms of strategically chosen areas where (1) ‘matching’ of needs and interests should be possible and (2) a VLIR-UOS intervention could yield an optimal result;

Undertake an assessment of pre-defined local academic institutions in terms of their IUC potential, per institution and overall;

Based on the above, formulate recommendations in terms of a VLIR-UOS strategy, including the relevance and appropriateness of the various VLIR-UOS intervention types.

    1. Expected results

Overview of strategic niche for cooperation taking into consideration the local needs and the Flemish supply;

Shortlist of potential in terms of IUC and other initiatives; strengths and weaknesses of each visited institute; link with national priorities, etc.

Recommendations formulated in terms of:

  • potential for transversal support initiatives;

  • the best possible portfolio (combination of intervention types) for VLIR-UOS cooperation in the country

  • generic opportunities and constraints for university cooperation for development with the country

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