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Edition Electronique

Vol. 8, No. 28
Du  Jan  21  au  Jan 27. 2015

Electronic Edition

Kòrdinasyon Desalin: Conférence de presse



Clinton Commission Shuns Rebuilding of Haiti’s Quake-Ravaged State University, Favoring Private Schools Instead

by Haiti Grassroots Watch


Port-au-Prince, February 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.

...The 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 a 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 community activist.

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 obtained.

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 Port-au-Prince.

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,” he added.

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 the proposal.

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 non-governmental organizations.

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 develop…

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 free!

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 catastrophe” 

The low funding represents much more than contempt. It represents a danger, a “peril,” according to experts.

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.



Dominican Republic


Latin America and Caribbean

Sub-Saharan Africa

Higher education enrollment for university age group






Percentage of state budget dedicated to education






Percentage of that amount going to higher education






 * Note – The Haiti budget figures reflect an average of the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 fiscal year actual expenses. 

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 private sector

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 of Haiti”?

Despite a number of meetings 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 two 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 last January.

They can [only] only help us through long-distance courses, scholarships and exchanges,” he added.

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” is clear.

The future in peril

But the World Bank’s “Peril and Promise” study is also clear on the necessity to invest in public sector higher education.

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, so well described recently by Professor Ugo Mattei. Or to read the study by the World Bank, usually a bastion of neoliberal ideology.

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.

To see other images - http://www.haitigrassrootswatch.org
Vol. 5, No. 32 • Du 22 au 28 Février 2012

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