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Development cooperation is increasingly high on the agenda of the Flemish universities. To highlight this commitment, on 15 May 2019 the five Flemish universities each awarded one honorary doctorate to a person who has made a merit in the field of academic development cooperation. The honorary doctorate of the VUB went to Professor José Ramón Saborido Loidi from Cuba.


Read all about the honorary doctorates of VUB on


José Ramón Saborido Loidi was rector of the Universidad Central de Las Villas (UCLV) for many years and is currently minister of higher education in Cuba. Since 1998, the VUB and the other Flemish universities have been working closely with Cuban higher education. Saborido Loidi has always been an enthusiastic supporter of this cooperation with more Cuban universities than his own UCLV.


Caroline Pauwels, rector of Vrije Universiteit Brussel:

“With this honorary doctorate we honour not only the contributions of Prof. José Ramón Saborido Loidi to the academic cooperation between the North and the South in general and between Flanders and Cuba in particular. We also honour the idea that fruitful exchanges are possible between countries with very different histories, regimes and ideologies.” Read the speech of the rector.


Read more under the video.

About honorary doctor José Ramón Saborido Loidi

On 15 May 2019, academics from Brazil, Cuba, Liberia and DR Congo were the guests of honour in Brussels, where the five Flemish rectors awarded honorary doctorates on behalf of their university, for the first time in a joint ceremony within the framework of university development cooperation. The academic session was organised by VLIR-UOS (Flemish Interuniversity Council - University Development Cooperation), which is celebrating its twentieth anniversary this academic year.


VLIR-UOS is the platform within which Flemish higher education has been working together since 1998 within the framework of university development cooperation. With funds from the federal government, the organisation is the most important financier of cooperation projects between academics from Flanders and the South, and of scholarships for students and professionals from Flanders and the South.


“The honorary doctorates are awarded to people from the South, people who are active in the field of university development cooperation, and who carry out scientific and/or policy work with an important impact on development,” says Kristien Verbrugghen, director of VLIR-UOS. “With this joint activity, the five universities also make a clear statement about their social commitment in the context of development cooperation.


“We award these honorary doctorates with the five Flemish universities in order to make it clear that cooperation is the best way to combine all possible expertise”, says Herman Van Goethem, rector of UAntwerpen and chairman of the VLIR. “Only in this way can we successfully tackle global challenges such as poverty, migration, climate change and global conflicts.


Hasselt University has chosen Clarice Garcia Borges Demétrio (Brazil). As an expert in biometrics, she enjoys an excellent reputation worldwide. She has taught at dozens of universities all over the world. She also invited many top foreign researchers to Brazil and ensured that dozens of young Brazilian scientists could work at top institutions in the West.


The UGent awards an honorary doctorate to Leymah Roberta Gbowee (Liberia). She was involved in the end of the civil war in her country; in 2011 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize together with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Since then, Gbowee has been working worldwide for peace and women’s rights, including as an ambassador for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Through her own foundation, she provides scholarships to girls and young women, emphasizing the importance of education for development. She currently leads the ‘Women, Peace and Security program’ of Columbia University (USA).


Nteranya Sanginga (DR Congo) will be the new honorary doctorate of KU Leuven. As Director-General of the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), he is committed to small African farmers. He encourages the use of new technologies and tries to improve their quality of life. In the areas of poverty reduction and food safety, among others, his work has already yielded good results.


UAntwerp puts Jean-Jacques Muyembe Tamfun (DR Congo) in the spotlight. He is director of the Institut National de Recherche Biomédicale and professor at the University of Kinshasa. Muyembe Tamfun is a very active Congolese scientist. In 1977 he was involved in the investigation into the first outbreak of ebola. Forty years later, he is an authority on infectious diseases.