“The policy is to give equal opportunities for all. There’s no restriction on the non-state sector,” according to professor Ramón Martín. Photo: Anabel Díaz

One of the university degrees which has reduced the duration of its course program from five to four years as part of plan E, begun this past September, is Tourism, a program that was launched in 2003 and is currently available in six of the country’s provinces.

Although this degree is relatively new when compared to other specialties, its origins date back to the 1970s.

Initially the Tourism Economy degree was created at the University of Matanzas. Then the Hotel Management course emerged during the second half of the 1980s and finally a Bachelor’s degree in Tourism, with sector workers the first to enroll. The course is a certified degree meeting the quality standards established by the Cuban Ministry of Higher Education, with a yearly enrollment rate of almost 300 students across the entire country, given the sector’s high demand.

Nine graduation ceremonies have been held to date, while current first year students are following a study plan which responds to a new vision for undergraduate education. Regarding this issue Granma International spoke with Professor Ramón Martín Fernández, president of the National Tourism Degree Commission.

What’s the key feature of study plan E?

A reduction in the duration of the degree program with an increase in independent-study by students and complementary activities.

The reduction in the length of the coursework to four years doesn’t mean that content is being removed, but that it’s being organized in a different way.

Now, students have less teaching hours and class formats have been modified. We’ve changed the structure of the orientation and explication classes. This way, students work independently more and the fundamental emphasis shifts to the learning rather than the teaching process.

It is a core change which attempts to give students more control over their own development. This is the fundamental change to the education plan: the restructuring of the length of degree courses. Some modules were also moved to postgraduate studies.
Why was Tourism the only degree of those offered by the University of Havana that was able to implement Plan E?

We have been managing the progression of Plan E for over two years now. We were already thinking of reducing courses to four years, and two years later a national policy was approved into which we have quickly inserted ourselves.

There are additional changes to the way this program is being implemented. Now there exists our responsibility to the state, the study plan called the base curriculum which is common to all institutions which offer Tourism degrees in Cuba. Approximately 70% of the study plan is generalized (throughout the country).

What has changed in this process?

Before, we used to outline the degrees and modules included within them as part of the base curriculum. Now, Plan E only defines the course and suggests modules that could feature in the study plan, in order to provide greater flexibility in adapting the course to local issues. Meanwhile the organization of teaching staff now rests to greater extent in the hands of the universities.

While still providing the fundamental knowledge contained within the coursework, how the teaching is organized will be an issue for the university, representing a greater level of flexibility. These are the fundamental features which make Plan E different from past programs.

Tourism degrees are offered in Matanzas, Villa Clara, Ciego de Ávila, Holguín, Camagüey and Havana, have you thought about offering it in other provinces?

This is related to the development of tourism in the particular area. It was decided to close the course in Santiago and concentrate students from the country’s five eastern provinces in one (Holguín) where previous work had been undertaken and continues with very important development plans through 2030.

Ciego de Ávila is showing the greatest progress in the northern zone, which I call Jardines del Rey east, or Ciego de Ávila’s northern cays, and then there’s Jardines del Rey west, which are the cays located to the north of in Villa Clara.

Villa Clara is expected to be the site of important development initiatives, with other cays set to be developed; which is why the course was launched there several years ago.

What are the postgraduate options?

We offer a Masters in Tourism Management, which covers almost all branches of the sector. At a national level there are postgraduate specialties in various Tourism related subjects.

It’s important to clarify that our Masters program is different from others. Globally Masters Programs are specialist courses taken to secure employment. In Cuba they are aimed at perfecting oneself as a worker engaged in active employment. That’s why almost all post-graduate degree courses are part-time, and while abroad Masters Programs are full time and last a year; ours last for two and are part-time.

The Tourism degree course has an annual enrollment rate of about 300 students. Photo: Anabel Díaz

This is an important feature because it explains the different forms we use as compared to the rest of the world. I can say the same about postgraduate specialties.

A PhD in Tourism doesn’t exist. There are however PhDs in various specific sciences connected with the discipline. Nonetheless, we have already accomplished the first step, which was the approval of cursory exam in this specialty. Those that are going to work on doctoral subjects related to Tourism, be they Economy, Geography, Sociology, Law or any other branch – must take the exam in this specialty. Our dream is to offer a PhD in Tourism, just like other countries.

How many international students are currently studying Tourism on the island?

Last year there were 19, including Africans and Asians. This year there are approximately 24. We have undergraduate students from Angola, Ghana, Vietnam, China, and we have also had some from Ecuador, and the Dominican Republic.

It’s a similar situation on the post-grad course: we have Chinese students who are doing their Masters.

Who is enrolled in the course?

The degree involves students who were workers. Now, we are reopening the course: we have first and second year students who are also sector workers and next year (September 2017) we are thinking of launching a distance learning course. This year we received students from different sectors and are trying to earn a degree directed toward the professional development of sector workers.

However, next year we are going to launch a distance learning program for those interested, resources permitting. It’s not about enrolling whoever wants to take the course, but those we can cater to. But we are planning to launch it the next academic year.

Can non-state workers also enroll?

The idea is that they have greater opportunities to enroll in the distance learning course in Havana. In other parts of the country they have already started the course. There’s no limitation. The policy is to give equal opportunities for all. There’s no restriction on the non-state sector. It’s just that sometimes the specific circumstances are insufficient to satisfy all the demand.

If we are going to support the non-state sector of the economy, as the Party called for in its last two Congresses, we must also support through education and training.

In your opinion what role will tourism play in Cuba through 2030 and what place will this degree occupy in the development of the sector?

When we first launched the degree in 1977, thinking as an economist, I reasoned that tourism had to be one of the driving forces behind Cuban development.

Today, after nine graduation ceremonies we are trying to ensure that students are increasingly more efficient and effective in their professional work.

Tourism has a carry-over effect on the rest of the economy and this will continue to be important. We hope that students continue to leave better prepared. Our idea is that good human beings enter, but they must leave as better humans, in three senses: more revolutionary; with enhanced sentiments and values; and as excellent tourism, travel and hospitality professionals. This is the essence of the degree nationwide.