22, 2012 – Two years after the
earthquake, and despite the proposals written, the consortiums
organized, and the foreign delegations entertained, the
University of the State of Haiti (Université d’Etat d’Haïti or
UEH) still has not seen any “reconstruction,” and the
proposal for a university campus that would unite all 11
faculties remains a 25-year-old “dream.”
Today, the majority of the
13,000 students at the UEH’s faculties in the capital are jammed
into sweltering sheds, struggling to hear the professor who is
shouting, hoping to drown out the other professors shouting in
the surrounding sheds.
The fact that the Haitian
government and its “friends” have not financed the
reconstruction – and a sufficient operating budget – of the
oldest and most important institution of higher learning in the
country represents more than a “peril” to Haiti’s future.
These choices – or at least, these omissions – offer perfect
examples of the global orientation of the “reconstruction,”
which is centered on the needs of the national and international
private sector, and which favors “quick-fixes” to Haiti’s
urgent problems, rather than lasting solutions over which
Haitians can have some say. Finally, these omissions represent
contempt for the public interests of the entire nation.
dream of a campus – The farce of the IHRC
The disaster of Jan. 12, 2010, destroyed
nine of the 11 UEH schools in the capital. Three hundred and
eighty students, and more than 50 professors and administrative
staff of UEH disappeared, according to the university and to
study by the Inter-university Institute for Research and
Development (INURED), released in March 2010. (According to the
same study, at least 2,000 students and 130 professors in all of
the institutions of higher learning died in the catastrophe.)
Nevertheless, this tragedy
offered an opportunity to UEH authorities, who are themselves
charged with supervising all institutions of higher learning in
the country. The members of the Council of the Dean’s Office (Rectorate)
saw their chance to make a dream become reality. Twenty-five
years ago, in 1987, delegates at the first conference of the
National Federation of Haitian Students (FENEH) listed a campus
as one of their post-dictatorship goals and demands.
“We always wanted a
university campus, we really struggled for that,” remembered
Rose Anne Auguste in an interview with Haiti Grassroots Watch (HGW)
in July 2011. Once a FENEH leader, today she is a nurse and
Over one year ago, the Rectorate submitted a proposal to the
Interim Haiti Recovery
Commission (IHRC), the institution charged with approving and
coordinating all reconstruction projects.
“Right in its first
extraordinary meeting, on Feb. 5, 2010, the University Council
decided to face the reconstruction problem… and we voted a
resolution asking the Executive Council to take all measures
deemed necessary to assure all the University faculties could be
rehoused together,” according to the project, which HGW
“When considered as part of
the challenge of reconstruction and of the re-founding of this
nation, this project can be seen as a crucial asset of primary
importance which will assure a better tomorrow for our
population,” the same document continues.
The Rectorate proposed a
provisional student and preliminary budget of US$200 million for
the construction of the main campus with classroom buildings,
libraries, laboratories, restaurants, and university residents
to lodge 15,000 students and 1,000 professors on part of the old
Habitation Damien land in Croix-des-Bouquets, north of
“It’s an old dream,”
said Fritz Deshommes, Vice Rector for Research, during an
interview with HGW.
“It’s really an aberration…
despite the importance of UEH in the higher education system in
Haiti, this prestigious institution has never had a campus,”
Following the submission of the
project in February 2011, for months, the IHRC “didn’t
respond. We gave a copy to each member of the council… the
administrative director promised to call us, but that promise
was empty,” Deshommes complained. “They never discussed
Auguste was aware of the
project. Founder of the Association for the Promotion of
Integral Family Health (APROSIFA), she was an IHRC member,
representing (without the right to vote) Haitian
“The project was never
discussed at any IHRC assembly, but every member knew about it,”
Auguste told HGW. “I tried to pressure the administrative
council to get the project considered and discussed.”
“According to the project
director, there were some technical weaknesses,” she added.
Maybe. But the IHRC had its own
weaknesses, according to
a study by the U.S. Government
Accountability Office (GAO) , published in May 2011.
After a year of existence, many
projects had been approved but not financed; two out of five
departments had no director, and 22 of 34 key posts remained
vacant, the study noted.
In short, the IHRC was not “yet
fully operational… According to U.S. and NGO officials, staffing
shortages affected the project review process — a process to
determine whether project proposals should be approved for
implementation — and communications with stakeholders, such as
the Board of Directors,” the GAO study noted.
But the IHRC did acknowledge
getting the project. Contacted via email on Oct. 17, 2011 by HGW,
IHRC Director of Projects at the time, Aurélie Baoukobza,
promised that the campus proposal was under consideration.
“The proposal is currently
following the reviewing circuit and the discussions relative to
its approval have not yet been shared,” she wrote.
“Therefore, I cannot discuss
this project with the media. The decision of the IHRC and the
Government are supposed to be delivered to the submitting
parties by the end of the week. Only after that official email
can I speak about the project,” she promised.
Four days later, on Oct. 21,
the mandate of the IHRC expired. There ensued silence.
Many years of struggle
Deshommes was not surprised at the silence,
or at the lack of a campus.
“The reason that the
university campus has never built is political,” he said.
“Because, if all the students were permanently together in one
place, they would have the necessary material conditions to
better organize themselves and make their demands heard. Then,
they would be able to turn everything upside down. The political
authorities understood the importance of this. A single campus
is not in their interests.”
As noted above, and not
surprisingly, the fight for a campus didn’t start only after the
earthquake. As Auguste said, it was born after 1986, the date of
the end of François and Jean-Claude Duvalier’s dictatorship.
Ever since a 1960 strike of
students at the University of Haiti, François Duvalier
established his control over the various faculties. He issued a
decree on Dec. 16, 1960, creating the “University of the
State” in the place of the University of Haiti. The decree’s
fascist character was apparent in the various lines. One reads
in the decree that Duvalier was “considering the necessity to
organize the University on new foundations in order to prevent
it from transforming into a bastion where subversive ideas would
Article 9 was even clearer. It
noted that any student wanting to enroll in the university had
to get a certificate from the police that he or she did not
belong to any communist group or any association under suspicion
by the State.
After Feb. 7, 1986 – the
departure of Jean-Claude Duvalier in a US-government chartered
airplane – one of the most dominant slogans was “Haiti is
The political uprising that
spread throughout the country extended to the university system.
Professors and students demanded a number of reforms as well as
the construction of a campus that would gather together all the
faculties sprinkled throughout the capital.
Since then, there has been some
progress – the name was changed to UEH, there has been some
democratization, the level of teaching has been improved – but
lack of financing has paralyzed the institution. The budgets
from the last few years show that UEH has never received more
than 1 to 1.3 % of the state budget.
Even worse, the government’s
Action Plan for Reconstruction and Development (PADRN), proposed
by former President René Préval’s team, asked for only US$60
million for “professional and higher education” out of a
total request for $3.864 billion sought for reconstruction –
only 1.5% of the total.
President Michel Martelly’s
government indicated that it would increase UEH’s budget but –
according to a recent
report by AlterPresse, a member of the HGW
partnership – the most recent budget dedicates only 1.5% to UEH.
“This budget shows the
contempt that our elected officials have for the country’s
principal public institution of higher education, as well as
their evident desire to weaken it and perhaps even do away with
it altogether,” Professor Jean Vernet Henry, the UEH Rector,
told AlterPresse in the Jan. 27 article.
“A race between education and
The low funding represents much more than
contempt. It represents a danger, a “peril,” according to
A 2000 study funded by the
World Bank –
Peril and Promise: Higher Education in
Developing Countries – sounded the alarm about the lack of
investment in public higher education over 10 years ago.
“Since the 1980s, many
national governments and international donors have assigned
higher education a relatively low priority,” the study says.
“Narrow — and, in our view, misleading — economic analysis
has contributed to the view that public investment in
universities and colleges brings meager returns compared to
investment in primary and secondary schools… As a result, higher
education systems in developing countries are under great
strain. They are chronically underfunded, but face escalating
demand—approximately half of today’s higher education students
live in the developing world.”
The study looked at enrollment
and investment figures in countries around the world (figures
from 1995). Here are some extracts, compared with Haitian
figures calculated by Haiti Grassroots Watch.
Latin America and Caribbean
Higher education enrollment for
university age group
Percentage of state budget
dedicated to education
Percentage of that amount going to
* Note – The Haiti budget figures
reflect an average of the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 fiscal year
Not surprisingly, in terms of enrollment,
Haiti is far behind its neighbors, and in terms of investments,
Haiti is at the bottom of the list. Even the Dominican Republic,
well known for its failure to invest in higher education, is
ahead of Haiti.
The authors of the study – a
committee of academics and former ministers headed by the
ex-Dean of Harvard University and the Vice Chancellor of the
University of Cape Town – cited a warning from H.G. Wells.
“The chance is simply too
great to miss,” they wrote. “As H.G. Wells said in The
Outline of History, ‘Human history becomes more and more a
race between education and catastrophe.’”
The “friends of Haiti” support the
At the very moment the proposal for the
State University of Haiti’s new campus was locked in a drawer,
the Dominican government built a university campus in Haiti’s
north – the King Henry Christophe University. Built in only 18
months, the campus cost US$50 million.
And the universities and
governments of the countries that call themselves the “friends
Despite a number of
and conferences held at seaside hotels and at the most expensive
conference centers in the country, despite the
promises of a
number of U.S. universities, through at least
consortia, and despite the promises at the
Regional Conference of Rectors and Presidents
of the Francophone
University Agency (AUF), as well as
AUF itself… most UEH courses are still taught in
sheds and temporary buildings.
“We have hosted a lot of
universities who are capable of assisting us, but they don’t
have the resources to build,” Rector Henry told the magazine
Chronicle of Higher Education in
an article published
“They can [only] only help
us through long-distance courses, scholarships and exchanges,”
Meanwhile, at Quisqueya
University, a private institution, reconstruction is moving
along well. Back in October, the IHRC gave a green light for a
project of the Faculty of Medicine, and more recently – last
December – the Clinton Bush Fund offered US$914,000 for a “Center
for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.”
“The Center will be a
destination for business people of all levels,” the Fund’s
Paul Altidor said in
an article on the Fund’s website.
The focus of Haiti’s “friends”
The future in peril
But the World Bank’s “Peril and Promise”
study is also clear on the necessity to invest in public sector
“Markets require profit and
this can crowd out important educational duties and
opportunities,” the study says. “The disturbing truth is
that these enormous disparities are poised to grow even more
extreme, impelled in large part by the progress of the knowledge
revolution and the continuing brain drain… For this reason the
Task Force urges policymakers and donors – public and private,
national and international – to waste no time. They must work
with educational leaders and other key stakeholders to
reposition higher education in developing countries.”
And that was in 2000.
Have Haitian politicians,
donors, “citizens” in the north, and others trying to
take over the King Henry Christophe University read that report?
Haiti’s past and present
governments – who permitted in the past and permit today the
deterioration and denigration of a commonly held asset, the
State University of Haiti – have they been so completely swept
away by the flood of neoliberal thinking that they don’t see the
catastrophe that they are creating through not
reconstructing the UEH?
Maybe they should go back to
school and learn more about the notion of common property,
well described recently by Professor Ugo Mattei. Or to read the
study by the World Bank, usually a bastion of neoliberal
Because, if H.G. Wells were in
Haiti today, he would surely agree that, in the hemisphere’s
second oldest republic, “catastrophe” has been ahead of “education”
for a long time.
Students from the Journalism Laboratory
at the State University of Haiti collaborated on this series.
Haiti Grassroots Watch is a partnership
of AlterPresse, the Society of the Animation of Social
Communication (SAKS), the Network of Women Community Radio
Broadcasters (REFRAKA) and community radio stations from the
Association of Haitian Community Media.
see other images -