Haiti’s social situation evokes a series of well-publicized images: extreme poverty, environmental crises, the precariousness of agricultural production, overpopulation in the big towns and cities, institutional instability, political violence, foreign military presence and so on. None of these are new phenomena: rather, they are part of a long history that has become perceptibly worse over the last two decades. Contributing to this decline has been a lack of systematic, independent and continuous research and analysis of Haitian society that would enable the development of policies for solving or at least alleviating the many problems affecting Haiti. One of the urgent challenges facing contemporary Haiti, therefore, is the need to generate empirical data concerning the country’s social reality.
The Haitian academic world has been almost powerless to deal with the complexity of the problems posed by the general crisis afflicting Haitian society and the collapse of the country’s social institutions. The absence of an institutionalized space for scientific research, the scant human resources available – a situation aggravated by the ‘brain drain’ abroad – and the lack of technologies and professional structures have all impeded the development of academic institutions in Haiti. This has led to a severe lack of skilled citizens capable of contributing to the study of Haitian society and the systematic production of first-hand empirical data to be used to guide public policies and the action of local and international organizations working on the ground.
Haitian universities have few solid structures for pursuing empirical research: eighty percent of the empirical data and knowledge produced about the country result from one-off projects sponsored by international cooperation agencies. The short-term dynamic of these interventions leads to the production of fragmented and dispersed knowledge, consistent indeed with the partial and provisional form taken by these interventions.
Over the last twenty years, the country has witnessed the continuous dismantling of higher education training programs, a phenomenon that reinforces the ‘brain drain’ abroad and annuls the attempts made by the State and universities to invest in postgraduate training. Except for the area of medicine, there are no longer any Ph.D. programs in Haiti. Some M.A. programs are currently in a phase of creation or reconstruction in the state university and in some private universities, but for the most part they are geared towards professional training.
Existing Haitian universities possess embryonic scientific libraries that are not yet centers of reference. Their document collections are scattered and very often inaccessible, some containing no more than a few thousand works, most of them outdated or obsolete. Existing libraries do not subscribe to the main international scientific journals and are not connected to the international networks of university libraries. Available documents are mostly in French, which exacerbates the country’s isolation from Spanish, English and Portuguese productions and limits the possibilities for regional and international exchanges.
The creation of the Interuniversity Institute for Research and Development (INURED) is intended to respond to this situation and contribute to the development of an institutionalized space for high-level scientific research in Haiti.