Island state’s universities are raising its education profile

Cape Verdean public universities are competing to raise their country’s profile as an international higher education centre – launching new modern facilities, degree courses taught entirely in English and engaging in multiple international agreements.

Being a tourism-dependent archipelago highly affected by the COVID-19 outbreak, Cape Verde’s GDP dropped 14.8% last year, the worst economic performance in its history. Thus, the role played by universities to support the economy is more important than ever.

As a result, the government is happy that the new campus of the University of Cape Verde (Uni-CV), which cost almost US$60 million, is now ready to welcome students and researchers from October in the capital city of Praia, on Santiago Island.

That launch followed the postponement of the opening, however, with the government blaming the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The project was funded by the Chinese government, and it is the largest infrastructure of higher education in this country with its more than 540,000 inhabitants.

For the next academic year, the Uni-CV is working to add seven graduate and five post-graduate courses, augmenting 36 bachelor and 19 postgraduate courses for its 4,600 students.

With the new campus, information requests have been flowing in alongside “messages requesting vacancies for academic mobility, from professors and students from universities from various countries”, Judite Nascimento, the rector, told University World News.

Agriculture, maritime and tourism

But this is not the only higher education expansion project in Cape Verde. The government has created the Atlantic Technical University (UTA) from the Institute of Engineering and Marine Sciences, previously under Uni-CV, to serve the country’s needs in the agricultural, maritime and tourism sectors.

As well as teaching students (the institute already teaches 450, with that number set to rise sharply), the new university will undertake research work for companies and do research for a planned free trade zone on São Vicente, the second-most populated island. Classes have been running since October under the UTA name.

There are also plans to open an Institute of Agricultural Sciences and Technologies on Santo Antão Island, by 2022; and an Institute of Tourism and Aeronautics, on the Sal Island, in maybe “a couple of years”, which would be part of the UTA, according to its first dean Raffaella Gozzelino, who started to work recently.

There are also negotiations to integrate the private University Institute of Art, Technology and Culture, and the private Higher Institute of Economic and Business Sciences, both in São Vicente, into the UTA.

Gozzelino also does not exclude further expansion, including to the capital. She said her team is consulting local communities and businesses about what UTA services would be popular and useful.

Considering Portuguese-speaking Cape Verde’s need “to deal with foreign investors and states”, the UTA will start to offer subjects in English, in 2021-22, encouraging and helping professors to teach fully in English if they wished, Gozzelino underlined.

The dean wants UTA research “to influence decision-making” in politics and economics within Cape Verde. And to boost its national and international influence, the UTA plans to establish a research funding office, a service boosting students’ professional opportunities and employability and a social and community service.

She wants university managers to bring scientific knowledge to the “most-needy communities” about scientific topics of interest.

Entrepreneurship and technology

Such outreach is a priority shared by Uni-CV and UTA, which both want to work with companies based at Cape Verde technology-based business parks in the capital and in Mindelo, São Vicente.

Gozzelino said: “The private sector benefits from students’ training.”

Uni-CV rector Nascimento stressed that “strong connections with companies and the market” are needed from the first years of study to offer “the best training” and source feedback about academic research orientation.

One, the Cabo Verde Technology Park, was supposed to open in mid-2020 but, due to the pandemic, it will be functional “soon”, Aquilino Varela, the Cape Verde government director-general of higher education, said.

The project, funded by the African Development Bank and the government, and involving an investment of US$38.6 million, will have “business, incubation, certification, training and data centres,” he explained.

“The park will provide universities with a multivariate space for training and insertion of their interns and graduates,” Varela told University World News.

This work will dovetail with several government programmes helping young people working in technology, including paid internships and tax deductions for new businesses.

Through the Cape Verde Digital programme, each year 100 entrepreneurs get financial help, besides offers of business monitoring and pre-incubation of projects in national organisations, such as telecommunications operators and universities, he noted.

Four universities, Uni-CV, the Jean Piaget University of Cape Verde (private, in Praia); the University of Santiago (also private, based at Assomada, Santiago Island); and the University of Mindelo, on São Vicente, participate in these programmes “frequently”, said Varela.

The director-general said proposals had been developed to create a Cape Verde Science and Technology Foundation to organise financing for research and science, and would soon be proposed for political approval.

Boosting graduate employment

One goal of these reforms is to persuade Cape Verde students to study in the country, given recent emigration – with 4,846 studying abroad.

One aim is to boost local graduate employment – in 2018, 30% of the population aged 15-24 were unemployed, according to the National Statistics Institute (Instituto Nacional de Estatística).

And this would be welcome, said the vice-president of the Cape Verdean Teachers’ Federation (Federaçao Caboverdiana dos Professores) António Teixeira, who stressed that “most of the university’s training offerings are in the humanities, as they require less investment from universities and there is a greater demand”, but many do not answer to the “real needs of the country”.

Teixeira, the professor of communication and Portuguese languages, linguistics and literature at the Uni-CV noticed “a growing tendency to drop out” due to financial hardship: “Many families send their children to study but can’t afford to pay for all the expenses for four or five years.

“With the pandemic, the situation worsened,” he added, since more families cannot afford to fund education and social charity institutions have shifted their priorities. Also, students working to pay for their studies lost their jobs because of lockdowns.

Teixeira hopes the new UNI-CV campus will “bring a new university concept to Cape Verde”, and the UTA, as “an institution more focused on the natural and economic potential of the country”, will be “capable of leveraging the economy”.

International agreements

Both public universities have signed international partnership agreements. For instance, thanks to an agreement established last January with the Portuguese Higher Institute of Education and Sciences, Uni-CV will offer a bachelor degree in aeronautics and civil aviation from 2021-22.

The Uni-CV and the UTA are also cooperating in exchanging students, professors and projects.

They are participating, for example, in a partnership of 13 local and international organisations for the long-term conservation of seabirds.

The first three years of this project, coordinated by BirdLife International and funded by the MAVA Foundation (a conservation group), focused on researching bird colonies, threats to them and community engagement.

The second phase, launched last year with a budget of US$1.8 million, involves an action plan to manage and preserve the seabirds within Cape Verde being released in June.

“All the NGOs working with seabirds should be involved in the plan, as well as national authorities,” said BirdLife’s Cabo Verde project leader Ana Veiga.

The project offers Cape Verde students internships and research opportunities, with some students studying in Spain and Portugal as a result.

The project is one of a wide range of higher education projects in Cape Verde that is substantially expanding its tertiary sector.

This news feature was updated on 8 June 2021.