HAITI: Plan to rebuild universities

The French-speaking university association, Agence universitaire de la Francophonie or AUF, has unveiled an action plan to rebuild Haiti's universities. It will require raising millions of dollars of capital but its wide-ranging initiatives will depend on goodwill and energy from the university sector.

The plan was discussed at a two-day meeting of 115 delegates in Montreal last week, among them senior administrators of the eight Haitian member universities of the AUF. Discussion covered a wide range of academic and governance improvements to the Caribbean country that suffered massive destruction in the January earthquake.

According to AUF figures, Haiti's nine universities that are members of the regional Caribbean association, CORPUCA, lost 80% of their infrastructure. The quake killed 391 students, 40 professors and 20 non-academic staff.

One of the plan's most concrete and short-term actions will involve a $1.2 million digital campus project that is hoped to be built by this autumn. Ten offices, equipped with internet service and banks of computers, where teaching staff can record and disseminate courses, will be set up throughout Haiti, to offer distance education.

The AUF has successfully established the digital campuses in other developing countries and hopes the initiative will help staunch the flow of students to other nations because those who study abroad are at a high risk of not returning.

Another initiative, which does not yet have a price tag, will be funding scholarships for students to finish their current studies and for more professors to be trained. Other aspects of the plan include establishing a ministry of higher education and innovation as well as a research-funding agency.

The plan also calls for a $305,000 initiative to bring in volunteer teaching staff, mostly retired professors who could offer their services to Haitian universities. There are also several innovative ideas such as creating clusters of specialisations, subsidising transport, erecting more 'green' buildings and bringing university classes to relief camps.

The AUF says it will act as a go-between and try to match the needs of the Haitian university community with donors. Universities have told the AUF it will cost $600 million over the next 10 years to rebuild the system and make it better than it had been.

The AUF is asking the universities to identify disciplines most in need of scholarships and are pushing the often-fractious group to speak with one voice.

AUF Rector Bernard Cerquiglini (pictured above) told University World News that while rebuilding Haiti's universities would require a lot of money, more important was the 'intellectual capital' [matière grise] his association would need to draw on.

Jean-Vernet Henry, Rector of the Université d'État d'Haïti, the country's largest university, said many of his students had returned to classes, albeit under simple plywood shelters.

The AUF is planning in the next few weeks to set out a schedule for its initiatives and will be convening a committee that, among its tasks, will identify donors.


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