Higher Education Development in Times of Crises: Struggles & Aspirations in the State University of Haiti

Bossé, Corinne (2014). 'Higher Education Development in Times of Crises: Struggles & Aspirations in the State University of Haiti' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, 2-5 September 2014, Athens, Greece.

Higher education is under attack on many fronts.  Along neo-liberal discourses and policies that have contributed to state budgetary cuts affecting university systems across the globe, the combination of socio-political and environmental crises are further deepening the vulnerability of the higher education sector in low income countries. The case of Haiti's earthquake in 2010 encapsulates in a dramatic fashion the devastating impact of natural disasters in a state plagued with chronic and systemic capacity gaps in its institutional infrastructures. It  is estimated that 87% of Haiti Higher Education (HE) institutions suffered considerable losses or were destroyed following a 7.0 magnitude earthquake on January 12, 2010 (INURED, 2010).  This post-disaster context is exacerbating longstanding systemic challenges such as severe financial and human resources constraints. The latest Human Development Index underscores the grim reality as Haiti now ranks 161 out of 187 countries with low scores across all dimensions of socio-economic development –notably education (UNDP, 2013).

Capacity development for education system in a post-disaster context is emerging as a pressing issue of the international development community agenda (Bethke, 2009; Miller-Grandvaux, 2009). Reconstruction in the education domain goes beyond building physical infrastructures since building human capacity is the key ingredient to achieve sustainable capacity development of education in fragile contexts (Bethke, 2009; De Grauwe, 2009; Sisgaard, 2011).  There is a gap in the emerging literature on education in fragility contexts. Most of the attention has focused on primary or secondary education (Bethke, 2009; INEE, 2004; Miller-Grandvaux, 2009).   Although there has been a few case studies on capacity development interventions and approaches on education in 'fragile' states and situations (Rose & Greely, 2006; De Grauwe, 2009), there is a lack of research on post-disaster responses in the higher education sector in a context of 'fragility'.  In fact, the role of higher education institutions has long been 'peripheral to development concerns' (IIEP, 2007).  How can the capability approach (CA) usefully contribute to our understanding of capacity development of higher education in a post-disaster and fragility context such as in the case of Haiti?

This paper is an exploration of the analytical contribution of the capability approach (Sen, 1999) for a qualitative inquiry that broadly seeks to understand the process through which individuals or groups mobilize capacities in an environment of instability.  One relevant conceptual contribution is that the capability approach consists in evaluating the range of capabilities and freedom to choose amongst valued opportunities. It is a broad normative framework for

'evaluating and assessing individual well-being and social arrangements, the design of policies, and proposal about social change in society' (Robeyns, 2005: 94).  It is a multi-layered view of human development that emphasizes capabilities instead of utility.  From a capability approach perspective, human well-being is evaluated by a person's level of freedom of choice to engage in valued activities instead of their access to resources.  This approach provides an alternative way of measuring individual welfare and of evaluating educational policy.  

A recent exploratory research undertaken at the State University of Haiti (Université d' État d'Haïti) is examining the socio-political contextual factors affecting the capacity development of higher education in a post-disaster/'fragility' context  and (2) exploring the role and influence of diaspora networks in the case of developing teaching and learning capacity in Haitian  higher education sector. The study draws on the UNDP (2009) definition of capacity development which is: 'the process through which individuals, organizations and societies obtain, strengthen and maintain the capabilities to set and achieve their own development objectives over time'. The capability approach framework will be used in the analysis and interpretation of findings from a series of interviews conducted with faculty and the executive group of the State University of Haiti during the year 2014.  More specifically, the lens of the capability approach framework will be used to analyze two thematic questions. One focused on soliciting research participants' views on the discourse of rebuilding higher education prior and post-2010 earthquake.  Another one focused on the perception of what constitutes a useful contribution for the development of the Haitian university.  The emerging findings of the exploratory research highlight the struggles and aspirations of the State University of Haiti's faculty both at the personal and institutional level which revisit the concept of 'adaptive preferences' and Sens's notion of agency in a post-disaster context.

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