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A new study of higher education in Haiti -- the first to examine the state of the system in the wake of the Jan. 12 earthquake -- documents debilitating problems that existed before the natural disaster and have only been compounded by the lost lives and destroyed infrastructure.

The devastation in Haiti was so widespread that it was immediately clear in the weeks after the earthquake that all levels of education suffered the deaths and injuries of students and instructors, and the collapse of classrooms. But a study issued Tuesday by Haiti's Interuniversity Institute for Research and Development -- a respected think tank known by its acronym INURED -- documents the extent of the damage, and of the problems that existed previously.

The overall theme of the report is that efforts to revive academe in Haiti need to confront problems that existed before the earthquake. The INURED researchers hope that their study will help international donors who want to contribute.

"There is no way that they can help this country renew itself without creating a critical mass of people to take the leadership of the country," said Louis Herns Mercelin, a Haitian scholar who is the board chair of INURED and who is an anthropologist at the University of Miami. But quoting one of those interviewed for the study, Mercelin noted that "before Jan. 12, the higher education system was a disaster already."

While not all of Haiti was directly affected by the earthquake, 87 percent of Haiti's universities are located in the region around Port-au-Prince that was hit the hardest, the report says. Many of the university campuses are "completely destroyed," the report says. Based on data gathered from the various institutions, the report says that up to 200 faculty members and administrators were killed, and that the number of university students killed may be as high as 6,000.

Further, the report says that because those who are educated have more means, "an uncalculated number of professors, professionals and students have fled Haiti ... contributing to the brain drain."

The underlying problems in the country will add to the challenge of rebuilding higher education, the report says. For instance, it notes that 90 percent of the higher education system consists of private institutions, many of which are "entirely unregulated, contributing to the poor quality of higher education" and that the lack of standards has led to the "general deterioration of academic research and education in Haiti over the last three decades." Many universities also operated with inadequate libraries and other facilities for years, the report says.

Given the range of issues, the report recommends short, medium and long term approaches:

  • For now, a focus on helping students who may be close to earning their degrees so they can finish their programs, and on finding ways to use technology to promote the sharing of library and other academic resources during a period in which normalcy will be far off.
  • Next, such steps as drafting legislation to create governance systems to assure quality in higher education and to develop standards for students and faculty members.
  • Over the long run, efforts to create new universities that embrace the model of international research universities, and provide more higher education outside the Port-au-Prince region.

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