Northeastern signs historic agreement with University of Havana

Northeastern University President Joseph E. Aoun, left, shakes hands with Gustavo José Cobreiro Suárez, rector of the University of Havana, at the agreement signing. Noah Friedman-Rudovsky for Northeastern University

President Aoun signed an agreement with the University of Havana—the most comprehensive academic initiative by an American institution in Cuba—last week during a visit to Cuba, where he led a delegation of Northeastern faculty and staff and members of Congress. This story is the first in a five-part series covering the visit.

Northeastern has signed the most far-reaching agreement between an American university and the University of Havana, a collaboration that includes co-op and other educational opportunities, as well as research partnerships in areas such as coastal sustainability, rare tropical diseases, and the social sciences.

President Joseph E. Aoun signed the agreement on Tuesday as part of a four-day visit to Cuba, where he led a delegation of Northeastern faculty and staff as well as U.S. Reps. James McGovern and Seth Moulton. Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Relations and Ministry of Higher Education paved the way for the agreement, which expands upon Northeastern’s comprehensive partnerships in Cuba aimed at providing new academic opportunities for students and faculty and building strong relationships with institutions in the Latin American country.

“What is truly exciting about this agreement is the scope of the work we are going to do together,” Aoun said. “From coastal sustainability to social innovation to neglected disease research, we are excited to work together to develop solutions to the issues that face our peoples, society, and the world.”

As part of the unique and reciprocal nature of the partnership, Northeastern intends to receive Cuban students and researchers. The agreement also calls for jointly developing academic conferences, symposia, and workshops as well as courses and degree programs; disseminating scientific findings through research publications, events, and other scientific activities; and training professionals, professors, and researchers. In particular, the agreement will leverage the expertise and work at Northeastern’s Marine Science Center based in Nahant, Massachusetts.

“Thanks to you, the congressmen, and your entire delegation for coming,” said Gustavo José Cobreiro Suárez, rector of the University of Havana. “Our doors and our hearts are open to you.”

Aoun praised McGovern and Moulton for their efforts in making the day possible. McGovern, a strong supporter of Northeastern’s efforts to secure partnerships in Cuba, spearheaded congressional letters to Cuban and U.S. ambassadors in support of the agreement. He has visited Cuba many times, first as a college student in 1979, and he noted that he’s spent his entire career in Congress working to improve relations between the two countries. “This [agreement] is a big deal, and I think it will keep us on the path to maintaining better relations between our two countries,” he said.

Added Moulton: “This is a partnership that can be an example internationally. It’s one that’s not only important for the students who will take part but also for our two nations.”

Northeastern University President Joseph E. Aoun, left, and Gustavo José Cobreiro Suárez, rector of the University of Havana, sign the agreement at a ceremony in Cuba. Noah Friedman-Rudovsky for Northeastern University

The agreement builds upon a letter of intent signed in May 2016 by Northeastern and the University of Havana’s School of Communication, in which both institutions agreed to create joint research collaborations and global experiential learning opportunities for Northeastern students. The new agreement significantly expands the scope of the institutions’ partnership to include Northeastern’s research across disciplines and students across its colleges.

Also in May 2016, Northeastern signed a memorandum of understanding with the Fundación Antonio Núñez Jiménez, or FANJ, an environmental research non-governmental organization that primarily engages in studying the impacts of climate change on Cuba and promoting the environmental-consciousness of the Cuban people. That agreement called for FANJ to accept co-op students and work with Northeastern faculty to establish joint marine science, environmental sustainability, and social science-related research projects.

Two Northeastern students began working at FANJ in January, becoming the first students in the world to do co-ops in Cuba.

José Buscaglia, professor and chair of the Department of Cultures, Societies and Global Studies, was part of the Northeastern delegation and has played a key role in establishing Northeastern’s partnerships in Cuba. Buscaglia underscored the significance of Northeastern’s approach, which not only involves interdisciplinary and multifaceted opportunities for students through which they can broaden their skills sets and horizons, but also emphasizes a truly reciprocal partnership between Northeastern and its Cuban partners. “What Northeastern is doing in Cuba is truly unique,” said Buscaglia, who described the new agreement as a “major accomplishment.”

These agreements also align with Northeastern’s efforts to help universities in Latin America and the Caribbean bolster their study abroad and student exchange programs. In 2014 Northeastern received a grant, which was sponsored by the Santander Universities division of Santander Bank, as part of the Obama administration’s 100,000 Strong in the Americas initiative. The initiative aims to strengthen bi-national relations and better prepare young people for the 21st-century global workforce.