HAITI: New university to avoid quake devastation

A completion date of January 2012 for a new university in Haiti has been announced by the Dominican Republic's President Leonel Fernández (pictured). It will be built in the northern city of Cap Haïtien at a cost of $30 million, and will be fully funded by the neighbouring Dominican Republic government and business community.

Dominican and Haitian officials said the new university will accommodate 10,000 students. It will consist of several three-storey buildings, 78 classrooms, a library, meeting rooms, state-of-the art computing facilities including provision for virtual teaching, and scientific research laboratories - totalling 300,000 square metres of development.

The institution will be a public university, in a country where private universities were proliferating before the earthquake. The aim is to open the new university by the second anniversary of last year's 12 January earthquake.

By building the new university outside the capital Port-au-Prince, which was devastated by the earthquake, the project dovetails with new Association of Francophone Universities (AUF) proposals for Haiti, which have been obtained by University World News.

"Higher education needs to be decentralised along with other social services and economic development," said the AUF proposal.

According to the AUF, more than half the country's universities or professional schools are concentrated in Port-au-Prince and that presents two fundamental problems: it favours the development of the country's western region to the detriment of the others; and it increases the vulnerability of the system to natural calamities, such as the earthquake and hurricanes that often hit the Caribbean state.

The plan also suggests creating a national conference of university rectors as well as inter-university doctoral programmes. More professors with doctoral degrees should be recruited to strengthen university teaching across the country, under the AUF plan.

Indeed, according to an AUF report, Haiti's higher education system is in dire need of administrative and systemic reform. The report concluded that the country's university system has been functioning without a legal framework defining how both the State University of Haiti (until now the only major public higher education body) and private higher education institutions should be regulated and supervised.

It added that Haitian higher education institutions also needed to budget money to fund research. In recent years, most institutions have had very small research programmes.

"Higher education institutions need to be endowed with well-equipped laboratories and equivalent university libraries to support research work," according to the report. "One of the most valuable forms of assistance that the international community could provide towards supporting Haitian higher education institutions would be access to electronic libraries and other scholarly resources to facilitate research."

Meanwhile, as students await the physical reconstruction of schools and universities, courses are being offered remotely by the Salesian University Network, via 13 computer centres established across the country in communities of the Salesian Catholic order. These are currently allowing students to improve their skills in computer science, English and Spanish.

"Taking part in the Salesian University Network is an important step for these youth," said Father Mark Hyde, the Salesian Missions director.