OFFICIAL VOICE OF THE COMMUNIST PARTY OF CUBA CENTRAL COMMITTEE
Eighty percent of the José Antonio Echeverría Technological University’s (CUJAE) courses are rated “excellent.” Photo: Yander Zamora

Cuba has three higher education institutions certified for their excellence: the University of Havana (UH), the Marta Abreu de Las Villas Central University (UCV), and most recently the José Antonio Echeverría Technological University (CUJAE).

The motivation behind conducting these periodic assessments is linked not only to the facilities’ prestige and efforts by its faculty and students; but also the rigorous work of the National Accreditation Board (JAN), an entity founded in 2000 and responsible for evaluating universities and the courses they offer.

The JAN is composed of a president, executive secretary and a nine-member executive secretariat. It also includes a technical committee dedicated to Masters Degrees, one for undergraduate courses, and another for PhDs, each led by a chairperson.

There is also the JAN plenary composed of 48 individuals, members of which are elected every four years. The group meets twice-yearly to openly vote for any category. Once a course or institution receives its final evaluation, this result cannot be changed.

Given their enormous responsibility, JAN members must be professionals of proven academic and professional prestige, and as such must have a PhD and be either a senior or associate lecturer.

Medical doctors, meanwhile, must be grade two specialists and well regarded in their research fields.

Only members of the JAN executive secretariat are appointed, while the remainder are nominated by their universities or entities with which they are affiliated.

THE BEGINNING

The evaluation of Masters Degrees began in 1999, followed by the creation of a postgraduate specialties assessment system in 2013. However, it wasn’t until 2015 that mechanisms to evaluate higher education institutions, Masters and postgraduate programs, as well as PhD and undergraduate courses, were created.

In order to ensure quality evaluations across all fields, the University System of Course Accreditation was created, which provides a theoretic framework for all evaluation processes. Meanwhile, JAN is responsible for conducting assessments and implementing established provisions.

“We hope to have a new system based on the Cuban experience perfected in 2018,” stated Dr. Marcia Noda Hernández, JAN executive secretary.

Regarding models used to measure the educational quality of universities, Noda Hernández noted that, “The quality of higher education in Cuba is structured around the aim of training skilled professionals, with values, and altruistic qualities.”

SEVEN YEARS OF EXCELLENCE

Although the common denominator across all courses and institutions is rigor, the classification system varies; study programs can either be categorized as approved, certified or excellent, while higher education centers can receive the ranking: competent, certified, or excellent.

Noda Hernández went on to explain that “The first category in all the evaluation systems is authorized, a grade our institutions and courses receive when they are created. The “excellent” classification lasts seven years; certified, five; and competent, four.”

She also noted that “A request for an external examination must be submitted to JAN before the ranking time limit expires, after which a reevaluation is carried out.”

THE EVALUATION

The accreditation process represents a major commitment for those being evaluated. An institution can only be assessed if 60% of its courses are ranked in the top categories.

The opinions of affiliated bodies, employers, students and professors are taken into account during the process; while class assessments and control tests are also conducted.

As Noda Hernández explained, even if an institution does not meet the requirements to advance to the next category, it must still have shown improvements in order to maintain its current classification, otherwise it could be downgraded.

“A course can also request to be evaluated by an international body and we are pleased that those which we have certified as excellent have received international awards,” she emphasized.

GOING BACK TO THE BEGINNING

It is with good reason that the institutions mentioned at the beginning of the article (UH, UCV, CUJAE) enjoy recognition as centers of excellence. These universities underwent the assessment process and made concerted efforts to attain the highest classification.

But what does being ranked as “excellent” mean for an institution? “That the majority of its courses (over 60%) are excellent. That more than 30% of the faculty hold a PhD and over 40% are either senior or assistant lecturers. It also means that the center enjoys prestige both in and outside of Cuba. The other aspect is related to the visibility of its courses and publications which contribute toward its accreditation,” stated the JAN executive secretary.

“Being graded as excellent doesn’t mean that everything is perfect, but that the institution overall maintains high standards, which is why it is awarded the category of excellence.”

CUJAE: AN INSTITUTION PAR EXCELLENCE

On February 15, Havana’s Antonio Echeverría Technological University of Havana, or CUJAE as it is commonly known, was awarded the category of excellence by the National Accreditation Board.

During the award ceremony Dr. Alicia Alonso Becerra, rector of this higher education institution, highlighted the sense of belonging exhibited by students and professors during the evaluation process.

She likewise emphasized the quality of staff, as well as awards won by the university and the participation of its students in socially significant initiatives. (Information from the CUJAE website)