These two legal undertakings overhauled university funding, administration, accreditation, staffing professor qualifications, and made public universities free of charge for students who met heightened criteria. At the same time, the reforms barred under-qualified students from degree programs. The 2010 reforms ensure that by 2017, 70% of professors have Doctoral degrees and that all new teachers have at least a Master's degree. In addition, promotions were made contingent on holding a PhD. Educators in Ecuador were quick to criticize the reforms, but ultimately some schools were shuttered, and the reforms went ahead. The ensuing years have tested the viability of the reforms and overall, Ecuador's quality of education is now far better than in years past. According to teleSUR, enrollment in public schools has experienced a 16% increase over the past year, 36% of whom are transfers from private institutions. In addition, 12% of the national budget is allocated towards education-related projects, totaling $1.3 billion annually, and including plans to construct 200 new schools by the end of 2014. These developments are part of the “Good Living" development plan instigated by President Correa, which aims to overhaul education and bring high school graduation rates up to 80% by 2017.
MORE ON REFORMS
Under President Correa, education reforms went beyond removing barriers. The establishment of a university accreditation process through Consejo de Evaluacion Acreditacion y Aseguramemiento de la Calidad de la Educacion Superior (CEAASES) has raised quality standards at universities. One of the responsibilities of the CEAASES is to vet students entering universities. Students are now required to sit an entrance exam created by the National Secretariat of Higher Education, Science, Technology, and Innovation (SENESCYT) that measures basic learning skills and suggests a career path. This organization has also increased scholarships available to students. At the same time, university salaries were raised and interest rates on student loans reduced to 4.6% from a previous 12%.
During a speech made in 2014, President Correa boasted that the country was investing $308 million in either revamping or building dozens of technical institutes that are strategically positioned to benefit the productive sector. Correa also pointed out that four new world-class and tuition-free universities were being built in the country, one of which, the National University of Education, will be dedicated to training educators. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education (which does not include higher education) manages 12% of the total state budget, making it the largest budget in the Ecuadorean government. The second university, which opened its doors in early 2014, is the University of Arts (UARTES), the establishment of which is expected to increase artistic research, creation, production, diffusion, and the maximization of the country's talents in arts and culture. The first degrees being offered by the school are in film, audiovisual arts, and inter-cultural literary arts. Upon completion of the school, which is still under construction, more degrees will be offered. The new arts university will have an investment of around $200 million and an initial enrollment of only 200 students. However by 2026, at full capacity, the school expects enrollment of 2,000 students. The third new university, Ikiam, is dedicated to the study of natural resources and biodiversity. The university lies in the center of a 920-square-kilometer nature reserve, which makes the facility part of a massive environmental laboratory. Also in 2014, the University of Yachay, called the city of knowledge, was opened. The new university will combine industry, research, and academics and go on to play a crucial role in the new productive matrix. While terms such as “the Silicon Valley of South America" are bandied around to describe the project, these titles have currency. With over $1 billion in total investments, the project aims to draw the worlds brightest minds and companies to Ecuador, with President Correa calling it, “the most important project for the country in the last hundred years."
THE PROMETEO PROJECT
The Prometeo program, which funds researchers from around the world in Ecuadorean universities, is evidence that the country's universities are expanding into the international arena. Researchers that are awarded funding must have established academic credentials, such as publications and experience in select research projects in specific fields. By late 2013, 357 scientists and researchers from around the world had moved to Ecuador to participate in the program, which hopes to attract 5,000 scientists by 2017. The Prometeo project is structured to create a knowledge-based social economy in the following areas: sciences of production and innovation, natural resources, life sciences, educational sciences, pure sciences, and art and culture. With such ambitious goals, Ecuador is now competing with established global research leaders. However, the country offers 11 public research institutions in various fields, the chance to research in one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world, a multicultural state with 15 indigenous nationalities, and the political will to support the academic ambitions of its researchers.
Ecuador's international activities are not limited to the ivory tower; in mid-2013, plans were announced to hire 5,500 teachers from Spain to bolster the country's linguistic capabilities, while taking advantage of Spain's high unemployment rates. Teachers from Spain are being offered monthly salaries of up to $5,000, which is far above the median income of less than $500 per month, according to the World Bank's 2013 data. And while the program has predictably raised the ire of local teachers who are challenging the unusually high pay rates, the presence of qualified Spanish teachers is expected to raise overall standards and the competitiveness of Ecuador's schools. While it is too soon to tell how Ecuador will fare in what is becoming an increasingly competitive global educational market, reforms made over the past decade have already made it a regional heavyweight, and as more schools are opened, Ecuador's educational offerings will only increase.