Cuba, a New Important Player for Higher Education in Latin America?

by Liliana Casallas

Interestingly, UNESCO reported that in the last ten years, there has been an impressive 96% increase of the number of mobile students from Latin American and the Caribbean countries.  As shown in

Table I, in 1999, students from Caribbean countries formed a large proportion (66%) of the student migration from this Region who decided to study in Cuba. 25% were from South America and Mexico for the same year. This dramatically changed.

In 2008, the total number of mobile students in the region studying in Cuba reached 24,928 students. Mexico and South America represented 74% of the students enrolled in Cuba; Caribbean students represented only 10% (although their number tripled since 1999). Is this change in the flow of students a matter of educational quality, cost and/ or a sign of effective government agreements?

Region 1999 2008
Caribbean Islands 700 2,555
Central America 92 3,995
South America & Mexico 259 18,378
Total mobile students in Cuba 1,051 24,928

Table I. Source Unesco .  Latin American and Caribbean Students in Cuba

As the graph shows below, since 2004, Spain has been displaced as the top destination for Latin American Students by Cuba which received 14% of the mobile students in the Region compared to only 6% enrolled in 2007. Certainly, it would be interesting to understand the factors that have influenced the fall of Latinamerica students pursuing studies in Spain since then.

A closer outlook at the numbers show that this phenomenon bloomed in 2001 with an increase of 71% of students in Cuba from the previous year. Again, in 2007 the number almost doubled from 12,447 to 22,916 students from Latin American and Caribbean countries.  Cuba hosted 26,889 international students in 2007, almost the same proportion as countries like Sweden, Belgium and Netherlands.

This is a result of Cuban’s articulated strategy to attract students from the Region, through educational agreements with other governments in the Region.

Graph 1. Source: UNESCO 2007. Number of mobile Latin America students in Cuba and Spain.

As the graph shows below, in 2007, eight countries of the Region exponentially increased their number of students in Cuba for studies. Among those countries are Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela, which belongs to the ALBA Group and are developing government agreements to send students through scholarship programmes to study education, medicine primarily and has been extended to further education in Master and Doctorates.

Other bilateral agreements are related to Argentina, Venezuela and Mexico with the same objective. Other steps that include those agreements has been the recognition of certification degrees achieved in Cuba, which means that graduates would not require to go through a validation process in their countries for any certification obtained in Cuba. This is a significant step for students in the medical field that used to be required to go through a complicated process to get authorization to work after studying in other countries.

Certainly, there are divided views about the real purpose of those educational agreements, as they might be part of a political strategy between Cuba and Venezuela to extend the “Revolution” toward the Region. But certainly, Cuba is well recognized for its high educational level strong schools in medicine, pedagogy, sport training and expertise in research and development in the sciences.

Graph II. Source: UNESCO 2007. Number of mobile students in Cuba per country of origin.


Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias.

National Statistic Office – Republic of Cuba.

El Universal. Cubanos copan áreas de desarrollo en Venezuela.

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