Reconstruction of higher education: Some progress

Four years after the earthquake that devastated Haiti, progress in rebuilding the Caribbean nation’s higher education and research system includes installation of a distance education network in 12 universities, a medical studies project and two doctoral colleges.

A report by the Caribbean office of the Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie, or AUF, which has played a major part in Haiti’s university reconstruction process, describes initiatives since the earthquake on 12 January 2010. The quake killed thousands of people and caused massive damage to the country’s infrastructure, including its higher education and research system.

The report says an immediate response was an emergency project financed by the Fondation de France under the Solidarité Haïti appeal, which organised intensive courses so students could complete their 2010-11 university year. A total of 4,275 students followed 57 such courses.

In March 2010, two months after the earthquake, the French scientific community and Haitian members of CORPUCA, the Conférence regionale des recteurs, presidents et directoeurs d’institutions d’enseignement universitaires dans la Caraïbe, adopted the ‘Declaration of Paris’ which laid the foundations of a reconstruction programme for Haiti’s higher education and research system.

The declaration fixed two urgent initiatives for the sector: a plan for digital distance education and research in Haiti, known by its French acronym PENDHA; and Haiti-Santé, a plan for medical and health education both in the classroom and digitally. Their aim was to increase provision of higher education in Haiti and retain students to avoid a brain drain.

The French agencies overseeing the two projects enlisted the help of the AUF, which runs a network of nearly 800 higher education institutions worldwide, has wide experience of innovatory distance education through its campus numériques francophones or digital campuses and already had a regional bureau in Haiti.

Under PENDHA, which ran from 2010 to 2012, a digital network was set up in the 12 Haitian universities that are members of CORPUCA; and a training and support programme in the use and production of digital distance education was established for lecturers and students.

Each university is equipped with about 30 work stations and a video-conference system. Teachers, researchers and students also have access to 781 online French-language courses through the AUF’s Formation Ouverte et à Distance,or FOAD, open distance education system, and can produce their own digital educational content. Some 400 users have received training to date, including 150 computer engineers.

Haiti-Santé is operating in partnership with the deans of Haiti’s medical faculties which, as well as teaching hospitals, were badly hit by the earthquake. The project involves four medical faculties – those of the Université d’Etat d’Haiti, Université Notre Dame d’Haiti, Université Quisqueya and Université Lumière, as well as the Hospital Justinien de Cap Haitien.

Priority was given to: setting up and equipping digital areas in each of the five sites; teacher training for use and production of digital content; providing an online course in health sciences for teachers and students; and introducing traditional classroom courses in disciplines such as rheumatology and genetics to fill gaps in the Haitian system.

The most recent initiative, which started in 2011, is the Collège Doctoral d‘Haiti, a partnership with the Université d’Etat d’Haiti and the Université Quisqueya, with the support of the AUF.

The aim of the multidisciplinary college is to support member institutions through scientific cooperation, with specific targets such as ensuring a ‘critical mass of high quality scientists’; strengthening universities’ research capacities; raising the status of Haitian academic and research staff; and adapting research to needs of the country and region. In 2013-14 the AUF is supporting 20 doctoral students.