The Vrije Universiteit Brussel has made official its collaboration with the Universidad Central โ€˜Marta Abreuโ€™ de Las Villas in Santa Clara, Cuba, and with the University of the Western Cape in South Africa. VUB has signed a strategic international partnership with both institutions. This allows for broadening cooperation in terms of research, teaching and service to society. By looking at social problems from different scientific disciplines, the three universities aim to formulate solutions to tomorrowโ€™s challenges.

The partnership with Universidad Central โ€˜Marta Abreuโ€™ de Las Villas (UCLV) was signed on 16 November, formalising a 25-year collaboration. The Cuba-Brussels story began with a joint research project to improve food security, including research on pathogenic E. coli that caused problems in farm animals and anti-nutritional components in food and feedsAt the same time, VUB updated some courses in UCLVโ€™s agriculture faculty, equipped a lab for protein isolation and characterisation, and set up a biochemistry and protein chemistry library. 

โ€œIt turned UCLV from a major national player into an internationally recognised university that established several partnerships in Central and South America and in Africa,โ€ says Prof dr em Edilbert Van Driessche, who was closely involved in the initial collaboration. 

Five years ago, other fields were added, from engineering sciences to humanities, such as criminology and gender studies. 

โ€œCuba is a country in flux, undergoing changes on several fronts in recent years,โ€ says Kim Van der Borght, VUB professor in international economic law and diplomacy and coordinator of the VUB-UCLV strategic international partnership (SIP). โ€œThe idea behind the SIP is to further broaden cooperation between the universities, involve more colleagues from VUB and Erasmushogeschool, and create more interdisciplinarity by aligning science with the real world, with industry, with society. This is the main focus of the SIP: interdisciplinarity in research, teaching and service to society.โ€

A few months ago, VUB also signed an SIP with University of the Western Cape (UWC). There was a previous link between UCLV and UWC, but UWC invited UCLV to Cape Town to renew the collaboration with a cooperation agreement, creating a triangle of cooperation.

โ€œItโ€™s very important for all of us,โ€ says Van der Borght. โ€œThe SIPs are partnerships of equals in the field of research. VUB and VLIR-UOS provide the funding to support that partnershipIt is a clear example of the philosophy of VLIR-UOS to collaborate between North and South, but also between South and South, as UWC and UCLV already work very closely together. The VUB-UCLV-Western Cape triangle is also an embodiment of our shared values, hopes and aspirations."