Cuba's successful transition from Communism to a democratic, free enterprise system, will require a major effort in all aspects of society-economic, social, spiritual and civic. We have experienced these changes in all former Soviet bloc East European countries.

The new technologies, in all fields, are complex and require a high degree of engineering expertise to implement effectively. Cuba will need first rate engineers if it is to develop and maintain a stable growth in the economy. And whether Cuba will have the engineering talent to support a fast growth will depend on the quality of engineering education.

This article will analyze a number of issues of the greatest importance for Cuba's engineering education. Issues where the United States, and our universities, due to geographical closeness, historical ties, and the presence of the influential Cuban exiles in the United States, will play a major role. These issues include, among others:

* The need to restructure the content of engineering programs, as well as the diversity of the engineering fields

* The role of design, manufacturing and processing in engineering curricula

* The problem of faculty recruitment and development

* The need of good engineering laboratories

* The career long education of engineers

* The quality of students and their precollege preparation

* The integration of computers in the engineering curricula

* The overall quality of the programs


During the 1970's, Cuba's engineering education underwent a major change in order to follow the model of the former Soviet Union and most East European countries. Therefore, the main and traditional engineering disciplines were replaced by an extraordinary number of engineering disciplines, many of which are worthy only of a few courses of specialization within a major traditional discipline. Later, in 1993, minor changes were developed to break slightly with the former Soviet disciplines guidance.

The major engineering disciplines to implement in Cuba, according to the country's economic and industrial needs, should be: civil, electrical, mechanical, industrial, agricultural, and chemical. In the United States, the most advanced engineering country, there are approximately 350 engineering schools, which teach about 15 engineering disciplines. However, 75% of the engineering students are enrolled in the six traditional disciplines mentioned above.

Other areas, should be part of the traditional engineering fields, as areas of specialization, or should be part of post graduate studies.


There must be a change in nature and extent. The present trend in engineering education is toward a deeper, more fundamental understanding of the subject, combined with greater dependence on mathematical analysis and modeling.

The broad goals for engineering education in Cuba should be to prepare students for practice and for lifelong learning.With regard to the first goal-preparing students to contribute to contemporary professional engineering assignments-the curriculum must be necessarily part of a dynamic process. As engineering practice changes, the educational base must change.

The second goal-providing a base for lifelong learning in support of evolving career objectives-has a subtle and open ended purpose.It attempts to address the fact that, during the active career of an engineer,he or she should be apt to take on increasing supervisory responsibilities, and/or entrepreneurial activities, which lead to important management functions having a strong economic component.

Revisions of the curriculum should include:

(1) Re-examination and repackaging of the basic mathematics sequence to ensure that it provides the appropiate background for modern engineering practice and career long learning.

(2) Re-examination of the basic science requirements with the objective of combining introductory material in the three basic natural sciences.

(3) Integration of the humanities, social sciences, economics, and the principles of democracy and free enterprise into the overall engineering curriculum.

(4) Stronger emphasis on elements of engineering practice such as design, manufacturing, and construction process.

(5) Deletion of much of the disciplinary specialization in the current programs, and its replacement by concentration on fundamental engineering principles and practice.

An important step to take is to incorporate the use of computer in engineering education in Cuba. Of course, the question is how to minimize the cost of conversion to fuller computer use on a national scale. Each engineering school in Cuba should ensure that its faculty be able to integrate computer use into the curriculum by providing mandatory faculty training and review of faculty computer use in the classroom.

We recommend that faculty weave computer use into the fabric of engineering curricula for problem-solving, data base storage and acquisition, interactive graphics, simulation in the laboratory, and computer-aided and computer-managed instruction. Each engineering school and its university should have a coherent strategy for conversion to broad-base use of computers, and their integration into a campus-wide communications network.

Within the framework of the general educational goals mentioned above, the objectives of engineering curricula in Cuba should be as follows:

1. to provide an understanding of fundamental scientific principles and a command of basic knowledge underlying the student's field.

2. To convey an understanding of engineering methods such as analysis and computation, modeling, design and experimental verification, as well as experience in applying these methods to realistic engineering problems and processes

3. To provide the student with the following:

a. An understanding of social and economic forces and their relationship with engineering systems, including the idea that the best technical solution may not be feasible when viewed in its social, political, or legal context;

b. A sense of professional responsibility developed through consideration of moral,ethical, and philosophical concepts; and

c. Mastery of the ability to organize and express ideas logically and persuasively in both written and oral communications.

These objectives will be met mostly through formal engineering curricula, which include design and laboratory courses and access to computers.


The concept of the engineering student as an experimenter will be fundamental to engineering education in Cuba, and to the role of a practicing engineer. The engineering student should become an experimenter in the laboratory, which should provide him with the basic tools for experimentation, just as engineering science will provide him with the basic tools for analysis.

The engineering laboratory is the place to learn new and developing subject matter as well as insight and understanding of the real world of the engineer.Such insights should include model identification, validation and limitations of assumptions, prediction of the performance of complex systems, testing and compliance with specifications, and an exploration for new fundamental information. The laboratory should also serve as a means for the continuing professional development of the faculty.

All engineering laboratories in Cuba are obsolete, with equipment which do not meet the new technologies. Obviously, a great effort and capital will be needed to re-equip all engineering labs in Cuba. We have estimated that the cost of revitalizing all engineering labs will be substantial, mainly because they need modernization.The estimate is $120 millions in the first two years post Castro. And this is just in capital funds. Not counting maintenance agreements, technicians, etc.

The figure just cited is staggering, but we have used realistic figures in the assesment of equipment needs. They are based in the inadequacy of the present engineering labs in Cuba for preparing students for modern engineering practice. The accumulation of neglect spans over 25 years.

The purpose of engineering experiments in the post Castro engineering labs should be to introduce the student to the process of test and evaluation as it is used in industry, and for that reason modern laboratory equipment of high quality will be required. The student will need equipment that produces, without excessive drudgery, accurate data for critical evaluation and use as a basis for engineering decisions. This process does require modern equipment that is at least representative of equipment being used in industry.

There is a need to establish in Cuba new approaches in the lab instruction which must be cost effective and take advantage of modern technology. An appropiate balance between hands-on experience and computer simulation needs must be also established.


Engineering education in the post Castro Cuba will prove to be only as successful as the faculties are competent in fulfilling their tasks in the classrooms. Although there are many qualities to consider, there exists one qualification a good engineering faculty should have and one which, due to the obsolescence of the system, will be hard to find during the early stages of post Castro Cuba. This is: adequate engineering knowledge.

The faculty must possess complete mastery and up to date knowledge of the subject matter. Bringing engineering faculty to modern engineering standards will be the main short term problem for universities in Cuba. This problem must be addressed inmediately. To do so, will require strong leadership. Individual deans and chairpersons will have to to induce their departmental faculties to professional development.

At each university there will be an inmediate need to develop faculty development programs. All universities in Cuba will need to provide formal mechanisms to ensure both the continued development of their faculties and the vitality of their educational programs.

Such support will have to include the following activities: travel to other universities outside Cuba for cooperative research, short courses; bringing faculties from universities outside Cuba to impart special courses and workshops; periods of residence in new industries where there are equipment and expertise not found in the universities; release time on campus for course development; team teaching in emerging areas by combinations of specialists and experienced faculty. This special situation means that, in addition to classroom teaching and student advising, engineering faculty in Cuba will have various other roles, most of which will relate directly to maintaining their own long term value as professional educators and to supporting the long term effectiveness of engineering educational programs.

Clearly, new technology offers some promise (1) of making more efficient use of the human capital engaged in teaching engineering and (2) of improving the effectiveness of engineering courses. New uses of the computer in interactive teaching and the sharing of courses by video and satellite transmission promise to relieve engineering faculty from much routine classroom teaching.

Maintaining the versatility of engineering faculty will be an important long term problem for universities in Cuba. Although some disciplines experience sudden change, most engineering fields change more steadily and gradually. Significant shifts of educational content, after the first, inmediate post Castro change, should come in Cuba over a 5 to 10 year period. Faculty must meet the ongoing requirement of staying current in their respective fields through involvement in research and advanced study.

Cuba will need highly qualified engineering faculty. Like mostly everything in a free enterprise system, the availability of faculty will be a matter of supply and demand. That is, how attractive, monetarily and intelectually, is a faculty position. It is not possible to establish a desired ratio of students to faculty, because each engineering school will vary in goals and purposes, range of activities expected of faculty, and types of education offered. It can be estimated, as a general figure, that a 25 to 1 student to faculty ratio will provide a fair ratio for the needs of engineering education in Cuba.

In summary, universities in the post Castro Cuba, with industrial and government support, should systematically identify and remove the financial barriers to making an engineering faculty career very attractive for the Cuban students with top intelectual ability.

Faculty development, through the use of technology transfer, by conducting workshops, seminars, conferences, faculty abroad, bringing top faculty and industry experts to Cuba, we estimate will need an investment of $ 1.5 millions in the first five years after Castro.


Cuba will need to develop a solid industry if it is to have a fast and stable economic recovery after Castro. There is a need for an engineering force of both quality and quantity in nature. It is estimated that a country needs an enginnering force of at least 1.5% of its population to be consider adequate to the present demand of technological advances.

There are three principal elements in the supply of engineering graduates: (1) the high school graduate's population, the potential base; (2) the percentage of qualified applicants from the base who enter engineering programs; and (3) the retention of engineering students.

The number of 18-year-olds in the Cuba population through the year 2000 rests on well established projection to be a large percentage of the population. In fact, 35% of the Cuban population in 1997 is between 0 and 14 years old.

Cuba will depend on its schools to educate its citizens for a reconstruction period. Therefore, at all levels, the system will have to demand enough of students. If engineering is to grow as a profession, students at the elementary and secondary schools will have to demonstrate interest and to master skills they need for the study of science and mathematics.

To improve the qualifications of students intending to study engineering, the engineering schools in Cuba and the Cuban engineering societies will have to actively encourage the new government and industry to join them in an effort to improve the mathematical, scientific, and technological content in Cuba's school systems. This effort will require sources of talent and funds.


In the short term, graduate engineering education should be only in selected disciplines and in selected universities. Even though graduate education is a very important aspect of engineering education, a sense of priorities and an assessment of the urgent needs of the country, indicates that the major effort in engineering education, during the first ten years post Castro, should be concentrated in undergraduate education, upgrading the technological deficiencies of the present engineering force, and in faculty development.

Currently in the United States most advanced degree programs in engineering are research-oriented. In Cuba, however, only a small percentage of the engineering work force will be engaged in research. Therefore, most advance degree programs should be directed toward engineering practice other than research, for example, toward development, design, manufacturing, and other engineering functions.


Research, in a minor scale, and in selected engineering schools and centers, will be of primarily importance in Cuba. The process of technological innovation is viewed as consisting of more or less sequential stages including basic research, applied research and development, ultimately leading to marketing, dissemination and use.

Cuba will need cooperative research between universities and industries. Technological areas must be found which becomes attractive for both participants.Future economic conditions in Cuba will be largely the result of technological development in industry, and the interactions between university basic researchers and industrial users of that research will contribute to the future growth. Once potential products or processes can be identified from the research, a technological area may be ready for a university/industry cooperative research Center.

Several discrete steps will be involved in establishing a Center. All of these steps involve iterative feedback, extensive meetings, marketing of the Center concept concept, and a great deal of "nonengineering" activity. These Centers must be privately funded, and the university will have a large role in the management of research.

We estimate the reseach Centers to be $500,000 per year operations. Centers will have to request about $10,000 per year per company for Center support. The degree of commitment sought will depend on the nature of the engineering area and the kind of firms working in it. If we account for equipment, facilities, and staff, the estimate is $ 10 million for the first five years after Castro.

Cuba engineering will have to provide the wizardry to convert discovery into commercial products and services.This in turn will lead to economic growth, higher standards of living, an improved environment, and the amenities sought, and long deserved, by the Cuban society.


Manuel Cereijo
January 2000


All thoughts expressed on this paper are based on the author's experience during his professional career as an engineer, researcher, and faculty, as well as the author's work and study of Cuba's infrastructure and reconstruction process.

MIAMI, FL. 33199

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