Cuba’s Free University Education

Daisy Valera

The University of Havana

During the month of January the word “university” appeared more than usual in the pages of the nation’s dailies.  When reading, I couldn’t help but feel chills run up my spine.

Some people wrote about how universities in Cuba should be scientific, technological and humanist.  Others argued for the need to train farmers and builders.

The article heading the list on January 14 had the title “The Training of Professionals: An Investment Not Everyone Values.”

In this feature, journalist Pastor Batista Valdes fired a volley of rebukes against all students who abandon their fields of study or don’t practice them after graduating.  He was also upset with parents who don’t demand that their children graduate.

Batista has every right to get angry, to write about his beefs and to make them public in all the newspapers he likes.

Likewise, I’m entitled to find his arguments a bit too infantile.

Pastor complains that parents don’t know what the costs to country are for the university degrees that their children pursue.

I would tell him that day after day those parents have to worry about a host of other expenses, like the clothes their children will wear to go to that university.  This in itself is a difficult task if one realizes that a pair of tennis shoes cost approximately 20 CUCs, though many monthly salaries of Cubans aren’t as much.

And clearly he wasn’t speaking about the many parents whose children are studying in other provinces, where the food in the dorms isn’t enough, even in the best of cases.

Batista complains about the millions that are wasted and lost when students “calmly and unjustifiably leave the university campus.”

I would tell him that in most cases students leave university classrooms dejected for not feeling capable or because the field doesn’t satisfy their needs or likes; and in many other cases economic needs are put on the balance and wind up weighing more than the need to earn a university degree.

This is a problem that would not be solved with people knowing exactly how many thousands of dollars education costs; instead, what is required is better vocational training, as well as communicating to senior high school students about what their majors consist of and the nature of the work they would subsequently carry out.

The abandonment of university classrooms would certainly diminish if the students along with the teachers were those who developed the study programs, instead of these coming out of the air-conditioned offices of some government ministry.

Batista calls for university admissions to be more in line with the urgent needs [in their places of origin].

I can’t imagine what urgency there would be in the municipality of Sagua de Tanamo, where there are practically no radiochemical industries but where my friend who was born there realized his dream of becoming a radiochemist.

I hope Cubans from all corners of the island can dream and realize their university dreams although they have to leave their provinces.

Pastor Batista sees himself as a defender of government funds and he exhorts us to be grateful.

Perhaps he doesn’t realize that all the money the government spends is no more than the fruit of the labor of the Cuban people.

From here on I’ll feel more grateful for all the anonymous Cuban workers who make daily efforts so that education in this country continues to be better and free, undoubtedly foregoing some personal benefits.

Daisy Valera

Daisy Valera:Soil scientist and blogger. I write from Mexico City, where Havana sometimes becomes so small that it disappears. However in others, the Cuban capital is a city so past and present that it steals your breath.


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