ENGINEERING EDUCATION IN CUBA'S TRANSITION
TO DEMOCRACY THE CHALLENGE
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
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
* 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
A. DISCIPLINES. BACK TO BASICS
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
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.
B. THE CURRICULUM
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
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
(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
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
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
C. LABORATORY INSTRUCTION
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
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.
D. THE FACULTY
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
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
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
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.
E. THE STUDENTS
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
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.
F. GRADUATE EDUCATION
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.
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.
DR. MANUEL CEREIJO
COLLEGE OF ENGINEERING
FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITY
MIAMI, FL. 33199
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