For first time, international university admissions tests coming to Cuba

ets-1U.S. universities show appetite for recruiting students in Cuba

HAVANA,  June 18  Two popular university-entrance exams will soon be offered in Cuba for the first time, a development that signals U.S. educational institutions’ appetite for recruiting prospective students in the newly opened communist nation.

Four Cuban students will sit on June 27 in Havana for the Test of English as a Foreign Language, a standardized exam required for admission for nonnative speakers at many universities in the U.S., U.K., Australia and other countries, according to the nonprofit Educational Testing Service, which administers the test.

The Educational Testing Service also said it plans to offer the GRE revised general test, which is a graduate-school entrance exam that measures verbal and quantitative reasoning as well as analytical writing, in Cuba as early as October.
But the island nation’s still-developing financial and technological infrastructures present considerable logistical hurdles, the testing service said. The planned Cuba test dates come in large part as a response to demand from U.S. universities seeking to recruit Cuban students as relations between the countries normalize, said Jose Santiago, GRE business director at Educational Testing Service.

There has been “a lot of interest both on the U.S. side and the Cuba side” in making the tests available to Cuban students, he said. The University of Washington’s School of Law is among the institutions eager to recruit Cuban candidates.
The school actively seeks students from transitioning economies around the globe, such as Afghanistan and Myanmar, for its Sustainable International Development program, for which students earn a master of laws degree, said Anita Ramasastry, a professor of law and the program’s director.

“It’s not a far stretch to think that Cuba is another important country in this larger dialogue,” she said. The university requires graduate applicants not educated in English to meet an English-language proficiency requirement, she said.

Yet there are still kinks to be worked out. For one, registrants for the GRE and the English language test typically sign up via credit card, which few Cubans have, Mr. Santiago said. For that reason, he said, the Educational Testing Service expects that students’ family members who are outside Cuba or at universities overseas will have to complete registration on their behalf.

All four Cuban students taking the coming English test in Havana were registered from outside the country, the testing service said. Schools can also provide vouchers to test takers to cover fees, allowing them to bypass online registration, he said. Also difficult is securing testing facilities with sound computing capability, said Mr. Santiago.

The test center for next Saturday’s English exam has six electronic workstations, two of which will remain open in case a student’s equipment malfunctions and he or she must move to another station, according to the testing service. The organization is “erring on the side of caution,” a spokesman said. Mr. Santiago said he’s currently working with two Cuban universities to certify their computer labs as official test centers.

There are currently no planned dates to give the English test in Cuba beyond this month’s administration of the exam. It is too soon to evaluate demand from Cuban test takers, Mr. Santiago said. “This is still very new; it’s in its infancy,” he said. “There are still a lot of issues that need to be resolved.”