HAITI: Francophone agency plans reconstruction

As French President Nicolas Sarkozy was visiting Haiti last Wednesday, five weeks after the devastating earthquake, the international Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie and Haiti's University of Quisqueya held an inaugural educational video-conference relayed from Paris. The 'distance lecture' was a first step in an AUF plan to reconstruct the Caribbean state's university system.

The AUF is an international association promoting higher education and research in French-speaking universities and centres. It brings together 728 institutions in 88 countries, where its initiatives include a network of open and distance education. It organises cooperation programmes and makes mobility grants to students, teachers and researchers.

The agency has eight Haitian member universities and its presence in the country consists of a regional office, digital campus, open and distance education facilities and an institute of advanced management training. It is preparing a Haitian teacher-training system in partnership with the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie.

After the earthquake, the AUF announced it would launch a major reconstruction plan for the Haitian university system. An immediate aim is rapidly to establish a complete distance education programme covering a number of essential courses, by drawing on the support and resources of French higher education institutions.

The AUF will finalise its plan at an international conference at the University of Montreal on 18 and 19 May. All its 728 member universities will be involved in the preparations, mostly through regional conferences of rectors and presidents.

Wednesday's distance education videoconference was organised by the AUF and Quisqueya University, with support of the French Ministry for Higher Education and Research. It was presented by Pascal Bernard, a seismologist at the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris, to an audience of Haitian science students on the subject of tectonic plates with a geophysical assessment of the earthquake.

Sarkozy, the first international head of state to visit Haiti since the earthquake, spent four hours in Port-au-Prince where he promised that France, the former colonial power, would help Haitians with their recovery. French aid to the country is expected to total EUR326 million (US$443.7 million).