Haiti Considers How to Rebuild an Entire Higher-Education System

The following report on the state of Haiti’s universities appeared today in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The first report to provide a comprehensive assessment of the damage done by a major January earthquake to Haiti’s already flailing universities paints a grim picture. The report, released this week, also makes an impassioned plea for international collaboration in rebuilding the country’s higher-education system, as an essential tool in transforming the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation. The quake killed an estimated 121 to 200 university professors and administrators and between 2,599 and 6,000 students, according to the report by the Interuniversity Institute for Research and Development, a respected Haitian think tank.

Of the 32 major universities surveyed in Port-au-Prince, 28 were destroyed and four were severely damaged, says the report, “The Challenge for Haitian Higher Education: A Post-Earthquake Assessment of Higher Education Institutions in the Port-au-Prince Metropolitan Area.” In all, the report estimates, 87 percent of the country’s universities—those concentrated in the capital and surrounding areas—were leveled or seriously damaged. “The nation has suffered an irreparable loss of heritage and human capital,” says the report. “It cannot be overemphasized that higher education be a priority for Haiti’s rebuilding strategy.”

The report is based on a study that was conducted in conjunction with the Haitian Education and Leadership Program, and the private Quisqueya University, in Port-au-Prince, as well as scholars from the University of Miami and two institutions in Brazil, the State University of Campinas and the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. It highlights the sad state of Haitian higher education prior to the quake—in particular, the severe lack of scholarly research, the overwhelming concentration of universities in the capital, a shortage of faculty members, and minimal training of professors, only 10 percent of whom held graduate degrees. In addition, 90 percent of universities are private, many of them of such questionable quality that “they are universities in name only,” the report said. It added that 67 percent of the Haiti’s 145 universities lacked government accreditation.

While recognizing that “many universities will likely never be rebuilt,” the report recommends a series of strategies for meeting the post-earthquake challenge. They include involving foreign universities in creating online classes for Haitian students, to enable them to graduate, and providing them with access to global electronic journals to make up for the lack of libraries in Haiti. In the intermediate term, the report argues, the Haitian government should create a regulatory body to oversee higher education. It should also invest in professionalizing the State University of Haiti, which with 15,000 students is by far the country’s largest institution of higher education.

Finally, the report says, the long-term rebuilding strategy should correct for the overconcentration of universities in the capital and create a new state university of international caliber, as a key engine for economic growth. 

The report can be found at http://chronicle.com/article/Haiti-Considers-How-to-Rebuild/64827/?sid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en

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