"There are many questions to address and answer, and an important part of these answers will be found via innovation and knowledge, and that is why we must constantly turn to higher education," said Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, President of the Councils of State and Ministers, at the close of the Ministry of Education’s (MES) annual review.
The President expressed his conviction that, given the commitment existing at this level of education, answers to many of problems will be found, and in the case of the more difficult ones, efforts will not cease, a comment that was met with prolonged applause from the audience .
The meeting had begun two hours before, with a presentation by Dr. José Ramón Saborido, head of the MES, addressing the most important aspects of results, strengths, and weaknesses of the Ministry’s work, as well as goals, especially in the short term. Also participating were Roberto Morales Ojeda, vice president of the Councils of State and Ministers, and Olga Lidia Tapia, member of the Secretariat of the Central Committee of the Party, among other leaders.
A total of 13 commentaries, most from university rectors, confirmed that apathy and inertia have no place in these institutions, and that government strategies are paving the way to support higher education’s involvement in meeting the demands of the economy, mainly in the export, agricultural, and industrial sectors, with the identification and development of new product lines.
Discussed was the alliance between the Agrarian University of Havana, the Ministry of Agriculture, and the Azcuba Enterprise Group, for under-graduate and postgraduate training of professionals in agricultural sciences and Veterinary Medicine,; as well as the University of Pinar del Río’s experience in supporting local development.
There was consensus that work must advance not only in vocational training, but also in advising agencies and entities to identify their needs for specialists; in professional development of cadres; the expansion of inter-institutional relations; and in the teaching and development of English language skills.Walter Baluja, rector of the University of Computer Science, said that the first cohort of students in Network Administration and Computer Security will soon graduate, and are ready to serve those interested in learning about this high-demand topic in short-term courses, adding that distance learning options are also being developed.
The integral training of students was one of the issues addressed by Dr. Alicia Alonso Becerra, rector of the José Antonio Echeverría University of Computer Sciences (Cujae), who emphasized the importance of students’ participation in tasks of social impact, figuratively saying that she prefers them on the playing field, not in the stands.
She described as magnificent the rapid, enthusiastic response of university students, especially those at the center she directs, in efforts to recover from damage caused by the tornado that recently struck several Havana municipalities, which was also emphasized by Díaz-Canel in his closing remarks, highlighting this "intense experience" shared by young people committed to the future.
The Cuban President acknowledged, from the very beginning of his comments, that the issues and methods now being promoted to achieve more efficient public administration, are those he learned as Minister of Higher Education, since they were key to projects underway at that time, mentioning digital television, computerization, R&D, the role of the social sciences, local development, administrative and enterprise management, strategic planning, university-enterprise relations, technology parks, and the teaching of English.
He reflected on the current situation which demands much comprehensive political and ideological training of professors and students, which should be accomplished through debate of all important issues, seeking arguments in history and science, to combat the alienating thought patterns, vulgarity, and banality that neoliberal capitalist platforms attempt to impose.
He stressed that among priorities in the economic battle and in developing ties with higher education, cadre policy is also decisive, since younger faculties are emerging given the natural generational change, although ethical and revolutionary values must be maintained, expressed in consistent efforts to do more in developing a culture of detail.
When referring to the demographic issue, especially the deficit of skilled workers, he called for new ways of thinking about training. In this sense, he stressed that we are not here to limit the training of human resources, or research, or university extension, but to facilitate these and find ways to do better.
Regarding relations between central state administration bodies and higher education, the President referred to another issue discussed, that of short cycle courses to train certified technicians.
“Those who graduate from these courses can do more that a vocational high school technician, emerging with three years of basic university education and a specialty, which offers possibilities for entities which must continue to propose and begin to establish demand over and beyond current capacity. Therefore universities must look to interrelations and strengthen themselves in certain areas.”
He expressed satisfaction with policies focused on the country’s scientific development, which are designed to be implemented by universities, stressing that institutions of higher learning should be proactive.
He likewise emphasized that this is a responsibility, established in approved Policy Guidelines regarding the training of cadres for enterprises and public administration.
Public communication, the computerization of society, and the use of research findings, the President noted, are work tools that must be employed, which originate and are developed in universities. Linked to the second is our participation in social media, on which knowledge and ideology are shared, and the defense of the Revolution takes place. All of our institutions of higher learning are active in this arena, although the University of Guantánamo, those of Computer Sciences, and Havana’s José Antonio Echeverría University stand out.
The President highlighted the role played by higher education in solving national and local problems, saying he was proud to see, on the Council of Ministers’ six trips to provinces, that universities have proposed advanced ideas, showing that their research is valuable, that they can provide solutions in many areas in which local governments are immersed.
CHALLENGES FOR 2019
- Increase university enrollment with emphasis on pedagogical, agricultural, and basic sciences.
- Design and provide short cycle training programs that meet the demands of economic and social development.
- Promote the training of PhDs in all universities, and science, technology and innovation centers.
- Meet the needs of professionals in the non-state sector for postgraduate development.
- Implement policies related to the integration of universities within the Science, Technology and Innovation system, in close connection with the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment.
- Prioritize the application of the research findings in economic and social development, including those that may lead to expanding exports and replacing imports with domestic products.
- Strengthen the role of municipal university branches, taking into consideration the role assigned to them in the new Constitution.
- Increase income from exports of academic and scientific goods and services.