New multi-million dollar island campus a ‘significant’ expansion

The new campus of the University of Cape Verde (Uni-CV), which has cost almost US$60 million and should open in 2021, is expected to attract more national and international students and researchers to this island country, about 500km west of Senegal, in the Atlantic Ocean.

Its goal is to help this small Lusophone archipelago nation to face up to tough economic challenges – as is evident from the annual national income per head of US$3,630 in 2019, according to the World Bank.

The construction of the new campus has been funded by the Chinese government and built in the capital city of Praia on Santiago Island by China’s LongXin Construction Group. The investment has stirred grassroots concerns – and denials from the government – over the possibility of undue Chinese influence in the affairs of the island and the campus.

On the campus are 34 laboratories, five auditoriums, a convention centre with capacity for 654 people, and dormitories with 382 beds, in addition to classrooms, computer and reading rooms, a library, cafeterias and sport facilities. These facilities will open in March 2021 after the July 2020 launch was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A significant expansion

Founded in 2006, the Uni-CV (with the formal name Universidade de Cabo Verde) is the fourth best university in the Portuguese-speaking African countries (PALOP, in the Portuguese acronym), according to the Webometrics Ranking of World Universities. Already one in every three university students – about 5,000 – from this country with its 540,000 inhabitants study at Uni-CV, which also employs 280 full-time lecturers and professors.

It also already has the largest infrastructure of higher education in Cape Verde, with three campuses – two on Santiago Island and one on São Vicente Island. There are two public higher education institutions in Cape Verde (the other being the Technical University of the Atlantic, based in Mindelo, also on São Vicente Island), and eight private higher education institutions.

The new Uni-CV campus will replace existing premises scattered across Praia, with the government finding alternative uses for the old buildings, and it will significantly expand the university’s capacity.

It is expected to teach 4,890 students on the Praia campus alone, as well as to employ 475 full- and part-time lecturers.

A new faculty of health

The government is working with the Uni-CV to “restructure the training offer in public administration education” to attract national and international students, Education Secretary Amadeu Cruz told University World News.

He says the expansion of dormitory accommodation will enable Uni-CV to become a “centre of excellence for the training of teachers and public administration technicians” in Portuguese-speaking Africa and West Africa in general.

Uni-CV includes faculties of science and technology; social sciences, humanities and arts; and education and sports; along with schools of environmental and agricultural sciences; and business and governance. The new campus will also accommodate a new faculty of health, which will offer more than the current medical and nursing degrees.

According to the Uni-CV Pro-Rector Mário Lima, the new facilities will enable it to prioritise subjects within “modular courses and specialisations”.

Cruz says he hopes the “well-equipped labs in several areas” such as technology and engineering will help to boost academic and applied research, and “enable the integration of the university in international research networks”.

Stem the flow of students abroad

The new facilities will better equip academics to undertake scientific work and exploit technology transfers to solve the challenges facing Cape Verde, particularly in agriculture, maritime industries, technology, digital innovation, health, education, public administration and business, he concluded.

Uni-CV currently has 54 international students including from Italy, Greece, Russia, Brazil and Timor-Leste, and hopes the new facilities will increase that number.

Another goal will be stemming the flow of Cape Verde students leaving the country to study abroad, after which they may not return. The “level of quality [in Cape Verde higher education] is already quite acceptable”, but besides the new campus, the government needs to spend more to “retain students in Cape Verde”, through cheaper tuition fees, funds for research and improved teaching, which can be achieved with “international cooperation in teachers’ training”, added Cruz.

The President of the Praia branch of the Association of Catholic Teachers of Cabo Verde, Ricardino Rocha, feels that the new campus will aid internationalisation, attracting foreign students who may also be attracted by the “political stability” in Cape Verde, in contrast to some other African countries. The country has never had a coup since becoming independent from Portugal in 1975.

Current university culture has to change

Rocha says there is room for improvement in Cape Verde higher education. While academics have “the capacity” to produce quality research work, he accepts there has been concern over “unemployed graduates”, which means either “a university works in an inward direction” rather than looking to reflect the needs of the country’s economy, or the “fields of study are not the best”, he added.

According to Rocha, universities have “to work with companies”, otherwise their students will feel a “shock” when entering the business world. At present, “there are too many courses and too few students”, he said.

For Uni-CV Assistant Professor of Sociology Adilson Semedo, “a profound transformation in the current organisational culture” at the university is needed to make the new campus work well. He says debate is needed among academics, Uni-CV administrators and politicians on how to better inspire creativity in studies and pragmatism in research.

Cape Verde academia does not know how to take advantage of the country’s unique qualities, for instance, its literature and music, which could entice international students, he stressed.

Alector Timas, president of the Uni-CV student movement, believes “more science partnerships with other countries” will attract foreign students and academics, and more original research undertaken by lecturers and students will require “a paradigm shift of education in Cape Verde”.

Uni-CV needs to “empower its students” and “educate staff to contribute and fill the needs of the Cape Verdean market”, the Uni-CV student leader argued.

China’s role questioned

The state supports 33% of Uni-CV current expenses, but grants the university “a certain autonomy in management” as long as it complies with the national regulations, said Pro-Rector Mário Lima.

And while Rector Judite Nascimento is elected by teachers, non-teaching staff and students, giving it some institutional independence, Uni-CV's strategies are “aligned with the government's strategic options, aiming to contribute positively to the implementation of national development policies”, said Lima.

Lima denies China’s influence on the university’s management. Apart from financing the campus, China has also financed the building of is first dam (at Poilão, Santiago Island), the presidential and government palaces and the national stadium.

Minister Cruz says that there are “compensatory measures in the field of international cooperation and diplomacy” that cover this investment, although he would not specify them, noting diplomacy is not his department.

He says that China, like Portugal and other countries, has been cooperating with Cape Verde in developing teachers’ training. Mandarin, for instance, is an optional subject for high school learners in Cape Verde. The government will “develop other partnerships” with the Chinese government, he added. But given its strategic position in the Atlantic Ocean, Cape Verde also has cooperation agreements with the United States and the European Union, among others.

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