Before and during the present government, Cuba has boasted some of the highest rates of education and literacy in the Americas. The Cuban state, through tax receipts, funds education for all Cuban citizens including university education. Private educational institutions are not permitted. School attendance is compulsory from ages six to the end of basic secondary education (normally at 15), and all students, regardless of age or gender, wear school uniforms with the color denoting grade level. Primary education lasts for six years, secondary education is divided into basic and pre-university education. Higher education is provided by universities, higher institutes, higher pedagogical institutes, and higher polytechnic institutes. The University of Havana was founded in 1728 and there are a number of other well established colleges and universities. The Cuban Ministry of Higher Education also operates a scheme of distance education which provides regular afternoon and evening courses in rural areas for agricultural workers. Education has a strong political and ideological emphasis, and students progressing to higher education are expected to have a commitment to the goals of the Cuban government. Cuba has also provided state subsidized education to foreign nationals, including U.S. students, who are trained as doctors at the Latin American School of Medicine. The program provides for full scholarships, including accommodation, and its graduates are meant to return to their countries to offer low-cost healthcare. Internet access is limited

It is required that all applicants to universities in Cuba gain a letter from the government (the "Committee for the Defence of the Revolution") stating that they have a good "political and moral background" in order to apply. There have been claims that such letters are withheld because of an applicant (or relative) being politically undesirable. The validity of these claim or how often letters are refused is not easily verifiable and so there is no consensus on whether this amounts to widespread political oppression or just a few isolated cases.