Internationalisation of TTIs in the Caribbean – University World News

Posted: November 17, 2019 at 2:46 pm


This report is unique in that there is relatively little research on the internationalisation of higher education in the Caribbean; the same is true regarding the internationalisation of technical and technological institutions of higher education.

The reports combined focus on the Caribbean and technical and technological institutions may be the first attempt to identify the specific dimensions, challenges and opportunities for relevant institutions in a region influenced by a very diverse landscape of education systems, reflecting the past and present influence of colonial actors.

Higher education in the Caribbean region

Although there are different ideas of the area that comes under the aegis of the Caribbean, we define it as the geographical area that includes the islands of the Antilles and the coastal areas of the countries surrounding the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, including Central America and the northern region of South America and Guyana. In other words, it is an area of ethnic, cultural and political diversity.

The Caribbean region has a diverse array of imported higher education systems: the British, Dutch, French, Spanish and more recently the American. Tertiary education in the Caribbean has the longest history in the Americas region and indeed Spaniards began to found universities early on in the colonisation process.

The British founded their first institution of higher education in America (Harvard) in 1636 and in the English Caribbean it took almost two more centuries.

In other colonial Caribbeans the foundation of universities came even later. The Netherlands and France contributed to the formation of new systems, which were small and had their own characteristics.

Although the influence of the former colonising country is reflected in the diversity of higher education systems, each country has been building its own system with new external influences coming from the United States and even from France, especially when it comes to the conception of short-cycle programmes.

Many of the elite from each country in the region have been trained in the higher education systems of these colonial powers and one can still observe an outward mobility trend to these colonial states and dependence on their funding, teaching and learning, structures and cultures and their quality assurance processes.

This has limited the development of their own research culture and capacity. As a consequence, it has also limited inter-regional cooperation and growth.

Europe and North America have been dominant in influencing and controlling higher education development in the Caribbean region. For that reason, in studying the internationalisation of TTIs in the Caribbean, it is relevant to ask: are institutions, countries and regions simply mimicking the priorities of Anglo-Western forms of internationalisation or are distinctive forms emerging which better reflect local needs and priorities?

Technical and technological institutions

Technical and technological institutions (TTIs) are institutions that form a key part of the macro regional system. In our study we refer to TTIs as institutions that offer post-secondary training programmes.

However, the training programmes offered by TTIs are programmes that are completed in less time than traditional university degrees. In terms of UNESCO, we refer to institutions that offer only Level 5 programmes as defined by the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED 2011).

One of the expected characteristics of TTIs is the level of their relationship with industry as well as their ability to provide a bridge between previous and subsequent educational levels.

What are the key lessons to be learned from this report? We have to take into account certain limitations of the study. We could only include case studies from five settings (Haiti, Cuba, Colombia, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic) and feedback from a survey of nine institutions in eight countries (with Puerto Rico, Saint Lucia and St Kitts adding to those previously listed).

Thus the study tells us more about the Spanish-speaking countries in the region, gives us a little information about the two English-speaking islands and the French-speaking Haiti.

Nevertheless, it still provides quite a diverse picture about the respective evolution and approach to internationalisation. The local context, its stage of development, any economic and political instability and the position of TTIs in the educational system are characteristics that influence institutions status, performance and also their internationalisation efforts.

Cuba is a special case as it is only recently that Level 5 programmes have been started there.

What do the results tell us?

First, the number of international students is less than 1% of total enrolment. In other words, there is extremely limited international student presence in the TTIs of the Caribbean, but more importantly, inter-regional mobility of students is almost totally absent.

The larger TTIs in Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico and, to some extent, the two institutions in Saint Lucia and St Kitts have some exchange of students, but these are very limited and do not take place in a structural way.

As for partnerships, the main ones are with institutions in North America, followed by Europe and then the Caribbean region and Latin America, but again these are limited. In the case of North America and Europe, these are primarily donor driven.

As for policies and strategies, all institutions recognise the importance of internationalisation for their institution; none have explicit policies and strategies, but most have some kind of entity that coordinates activities and undertakes actions. Overall, the picture is that of a centralised but marginal approach to internationalisation, based on good intentions but lacking a coherent and comprehensive approach or available funds.

What are the main actions undertaken? They include: signing memoranda of understanding, looking for external donor funding from Europe and North America, participation in international and regional networks and some exchange of students and faculty.

Traditional approach

To sum up, we observe a rather traditional approach towards internationalisation, depending more on external donor funding than on well-defined institutional policy and approach based on institutions own mission, context and needs.

The main challenges are perceived as funding, facilities and commitment to, and-or understanding of, the importance of internationalisation by teaching staff and, in some cases, senior management.

The main opportunities of internationalisation are perceived as: improving the quality of education, boosting employability, improving the competitiveness of the private sector, helping the personal development of the students and staying up to date with international developments.

Nearly all institutions make reference to the importance of internationalisation of the curriculum, community engagement and partnerships. In several cases there is mention of internationalisation of research, but there is little sign of anything more than good intentions.

The overall picture provided by the case studies and survey is one of good intentions, limited and fragmented initiatives, a lack of funds and facilities, a lack of clear plans and strategies and the lack of a clear vision about the relevance and needs of TTIs when it comes to internationalisation.

What is also very clear is the lack of a regional approach and focus for the Caribbean and a dependence on former colonial powers and donors from North America and Europe.


The picture provided by the report is not optimistic and results indicate the need to address more strategically how TTIs can and should develop their own internationalisation plans and policies. Based on this study, we recommend the following needs:

Hans de Wit is director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College, United States. E-mail: Miguel J Escala is professor emeritus of the Instituto Tecnolgico de Santo Domingo (INTEC), Dominican Republic. E-mail: This contribution is based on the concluding chapter of Internationalisation of Technical and Technological Institutions of Higher Education in the Caribbean, a report by the Technological Institute of the Americas (ITLA) and the Boston College Center for International Higher Education (CIHE), edited by Hans de Wit, Miguel J Escala and Gloria Snchez Valverde, CIHE Perspectives No 15.

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