Upon reading his surnames, it is immediately clear that his father is not Cuban. He later confirms this in conversation, “My father is from Zimbabwe. He and my mother met when he was studying here.”
This could be one of many stories of young foreign students who come to pursue their higher education at Cuban institutions, which have seen over 60,000 international professionals graduate.
Traditionally, the number of African and Latin American students completing their undergraduate degrees on the island has been significant – countries whose governments have maintained historical ties with Cuba. These are precisely the regions to which the Cuban Ministry of Higher Education (MES) exports its academic services, but they are not alone.
“The continent that contributes most to our services is Africa, particularly Angola,” Dr. Mario Ares Sánchez, director of MES Exports, notes, “We also provide services to Latin America and the Caribbean. Today Ecuador is a country from which we have many students doing different types of coursework, from undergraduate to postgraduate. In the case of Asia, we are talking about China and Vietnam,” he adds.
Students from other geographical areas such as North America and Europe also choose to undertake studies offered by Cuban universities, although in these cases the main attraction are the Spanish courses for foreigners, with a significant number of Canadian students.
Ernesto Carvajal Moreno, a commercialization and marketing specialist from the MES Department for Exports, notes, “North America also has an impact, due to the academic exchange that exists between the United States and Cuba.”
WHAT COUNTS IS THE QUALITY
The foreign students at Cuban universities today either undertake their studies supported by funding from their governments, with whom agreements are signed, or using their own resources, through an individual agreement with the university in question or through the website of the institution at which they wish to study.
These young people come to know firsthand the Cuban reality, they learn the language in a natural environment and receive high quality training.
“The degrees we offer as international academic services must be accredited by the National Accreditation Board (the body that oversees the quality of Cuban higher education). The same goes in the case of postgraduate courses. The masters and doctoral courses are of high quality, recognized by international standards,” Dr. Ares Sánchez explains.
The undergraduate services offered include short courses, internships and full degrees, which are available in most universities where there are accredited programs. However, it is important that the student knows beforehand which degree courses are accredited and certified for excellence.
In recent months, Ernesto Carvajal commented, Ecuador has increased the number of postgraduate students, surpassing in this area, Angola, the United States and China, who were previously the main sources of international students. In the case of postgraduate students from the United States, the increase is based on academic exchanges.
I WANT TO BE AN ENGINEER
When I ask my interviewees about the degrees that are most in demand right now, the answer is immediate.
“Generally the highest percentage of applications are aimed towards company administration and business management,” Ernesto Carvajal notes. “In our case there is no Business Management course, but we offer Economics, with a more comprehensive education than that offered in business management.”
“Another degree course that is closely related to this area is Industrial Engineering,” he adds. “An industrial engineer, on graduating, is equipped to manage any process within the different sectors of the economy.”
Also in high demand are the various engineering courses offered in the country, as well as Veterinary Medicine and Animal Sciences, Law, Computer Sciences and Educational Sciences.
Like all universities, there are admission requirements. Non-Spanish speakers must complete a compulsory preparatory year of Spanish language, which can also be taken by Spanish speakers if they or those funding their degrees so wish. Prospective students must also have completed their high school or preuniversity level education.
Undoubtedly, having international students is a strength from the academic point of view because, as Mario Ares Sánchez notes, “It provides us with a new dimension that contributes to the comprehensive training of young people” and raises the international prestige of the island’s universities.