Diaspora feel powerless to improve HE in their home country

Academics from the diaspora of Cape Verde, which number an estimated 1.5 million people compared to 587,925 inhabitants of this Atlantic archipelago, are complaining that their talents and expertise are being overlooked by local political and academic leaders.

Indeed, many claim they struggle to see their overseas qualifications recognised in Cape Verde, which they say would enable them to improve higher education (HE) and academic research in the country.

Dr Raffaella Gozzelino, who has a PhD in neurobiology from the faculty of medicine at the University of Lerida, Spain, is a senior academic Cape Verdean diaspora dissident. She was hired by the Cape Verde government as a rector to establish a new and second public university, the Atlantic Technical University (UTA), in 2020, to raise the country’s higher education profile, University World News reported in 2021.

However, in April 2022, she was discharged from her post, with the Minister of Education and Higher Education, Amadeu Cruz, claiming in a report in the local newspaper A Nação that she had failed to implement the UTA development plan.

Political and academic agendas do not match

Talking to University World News, the former rector said this decision was “absurd” because she was given five years to fully establish the university, according to the plan. This has yet to happen, even after her departure.

The UTA has, nonetheless, started operating, running the Cape Verde Institute of Engineering and Marine Sciences, which was previously part of the longer-established University of Cape Verde, on São Vicente, the archipelago’s second-most populated island. Another wing of the university – the Institute of Agricultural Sciences and Technologies on Santo Antão Island, was established in October 2022.

Gozzelino said that was thanks to the collaboration protocols that were set up throughout her mandate and used by her successor, João do Monte Duarte. There are now plans to set up an Institute of Tourism and Aeronautics under the UTA on the Sal Island.

But this progress was not enough to save Gozzelino: “Clearly the political agenda is not the same as the academic one,” she said, adding: “My ideas, although routine here [in Europe – Portugal], can seem very innovative [in Africa], which created some embarrassment.”

Gozzelino complained about what she regarded as a lack of financial investment in quality and excellence, and a lack of accountability and competitiveness in Cape Verde higher education. In developed countries, competitiveness “obliges us to continuously improve our curriculum”, which she claimed does not happen in Cape Verde.

Self-interest dominates

She argued that, generally, in the archipelago’s public higher education sector “the critical mass is an internal critical mass” – local Cape Verde ideas predominate.

She also claimed that lecturers see their wages double or triple when there is a budget for a scientific project and get extra pay when they are asked to teach more than they usually do, even if the total number of hours is below what is required in their employment contract. With such self-interest dominating, Cape Verde’s “academic courses are not innovative” and new graduates lack the skills needed to apply for many jobs.

To Gozzelino, there are too many public and private universities in Cape Verde, namely eight, given the country’s small population. The result is no selection system because “the only thing they want is the students’ tuition fees to maintain that machinery which is so heavy”, which leads to a lack of quality. That is why, she noted, politicians usually send their children abroad to study.

Diaspora academics could reform the Cape Verde higher education system, Gozzelino said, and should “be treated with kid gloves and not with slaps because it can really help the development of Cape Verde”.

She noted that the Cape Verdean diaspora helps Cape Verde financially but gets little in return as regards influence in the country: “I am starting to find that a little disrespectful because, in fact, we cannot always ask the diaspora for financial help. Cape Verde also has to give,” Gozzelino said.

She argued the Cape Verdean diaspora should be better organised: “There are many associations, and they all want to play a lead" in diaspora politics – a united front would be far more effective when dealing with the Cape Verde government.

Old model holds HE back

João Resende Santos, associate professor of international studies at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts, in the US, with a PhD in political science and governance from Harvard University, is convinced that, until Cape Verde radically changes the model of tertiary education, the diaspora will play a limited role in the country’s higher education sector.

He was the dean of the School of Business and Governance of the public University of Cape Verde between 2009 and 2011. “I was one of five diaspora professionals who went back at the same time to work in the public university. At the end of three years, none of us were at the university nor [were we] in the country,” he recalled.

“The biggest obstacle was the lack of any decision-making authority, even though I was a dean of an entire school. I did not even have the authority to buy toilet paper. Everything was dictated from the rectory,” Santos told University World News, adding: “I did not realise the rectory and university wanted to keep things as they were. Even if the diaspora professional becomes the rector, as in the case of UTA, the old model of governance, the political interference, and the lack of internal controls means no real change can take place.”

He said that, to improve its higher education, Cape Verde needs, among other measures, to “adopt an open, international recruitment for university leaders” because, currently, rectors are elected internally, which “is the worst possible method, and only politicises a university”, to stop focusing on quantity instead of quality, and invest in “rigorous quality assurance systems” inside the universities. The private sector does not boost competition – “on the contrary, there are ‘diploma mills’ appearing on every corner”.

The academic thinks that “deep change can only come from outside pressure” because, in such a centralised system, no one from the inside will complain and risk losing their jobs. Therefore, besides taking part in symposiums, he and other expats are now working to create a high-level forum that can raise concerns and draw attention to neglected issues or policy failures, and offer solutions, and they will start soon by publishing a document about Cape Verde HE.

International programmes can help

Furthermore, Santos argued that a PhD fund could be created, since two-thirds of lecturers do not have a doctorate. With donor support, this fund could “send the best and brightest, under contract to return to give a minimum three years’ public service, to full-time, residential doctoral programmes at the top universities in Europe and the US”.

He added that some academics have emigrated to Portugal to get a doctorate with a view to returning to Cape Verde, but without full-time contracts and left “on their own”. Santos also suggested a diaspora fund to finance short-term “residencies of diaspora experts in public organisations like hospitals and public universities”.

Carlos Silva, vice-president of the Union of Cape Verdean Students of Lisbon (UECL), said that Cape Verdean politicians should “be closer to the academic community” abroad because they often visit the capital of Portugal – the archipelago’s former colonial ruler – but rarely meet the students “to encourage them to be back when they finish their studies”. According to data released by the Cape Verde ambassador in Lisbon, Eurico Correia Monteiro, in September 2022, there were 5,024 Cape Verdean higher education students in Portugal.

“Everyone wants to go back, but they find better job opportunities abroad, and the ones who come back feel depreciated because they think they deserve more after studying abroad and offer international experience but find local people afraid to open up to innovative ideas,” Silva said.

To him, the government should improve Cape Verdean academic programmes and teaching quality. Silva added that the government should launch exchanges and conferences to allow the diaspora and the local academics to exchange experiences, adding that the UECL would help such initiatives.

STI skills a government priority

Is the government listening? In the national assembly in May 2022, the Minister of Communities, Jorge Santos, stressed the need to better understand the diaspora since it is constitutive part of the nation.

“Our diaspora is one of the main social and economic stabilisers of our country. It should be noted that financial transfers from our diaspora are one of the most important assets and financing flows of Cape Verde’s economy,” he said, according to a news report in ASemana.

Romualdo Barros Correia, the country’s new director general of higher education, who started working late in 2022, said: “The government has established as a priority to give centrality to the Cape Verdean diaspora in its most varied domains, namely in the area of science, innovation and technology.”

He said government agencies and ministries were collating an “extensive inventory of the skills that are many and exist in the diaspora” to deliver a database of diaspora skills to later develop a programme of mobility and integration, so they can help bring local HE “to other levels”, adding that this will also involve financial investment.

Correia accepted that Cape Verde cannot compete financially with other countries that offer these experts better working conditions, but he hopes that cultural ties would play a role. Such experts can contribute in-person or even as remote mentors by, for instance, training the local staff in laboratories, or help as thesis advisers and consultants, he said.

Initiatives are under way

He explained that, since the Cape Verdean education system stays relatively undeveloped, the government has to offer scholarships for students to follow courses that do not exist in the country, which lies about 700km west of Dakar, Senegal. Apart from that, the priority is offering scholarships to study in the country to “boost our universities”, which are also welcoming foreign students, for example, from the Netherlands, he emphasised.

Correia said that he has been trying to reach Cabo Verdeans studying abroad, and the government is testing an online platform to “provide an interaction with these students to know where they are, and what difficulties they are facing and discuss solutions with them”. The platform would also stage discussions on higher education public policy and how to improve management processes.

He added that the government is planning to launch a programme to improve lecturers’ qualifications, offer more language training, improve the mobility of national and foreign students, and offer more specialised courses so students can better fit the job market.

He gave the example of the UTA’s Institute of Agricultural Sciences and Technologies. Correia said a new Foundation for Science and Technology Innovation, to organise financing for research and science, would be established this year, probably independent from Cape Verde universities.

Correia declined to comment on the specific case of Gozzelino because it happened before he took office but, given her and other diasporas’ comments, it is clear the government has work ahead if it wants to better tap the expertise of Cabo Verdean academics and researchers living overseas. That said, initiatives are clearly under way.

This feature was updated on 11 April.