AGUSTÍN ALBÁN

Ecuador 2020 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

Through a holistic education policy, SENESCYT is working on establishing international alliances, creating online learning programs, and increasing the amount of R&D activities in Ecuador's universities.

Agustín Albán
BIOGRAPHY

In 2019, Agustín Albán was appointed secretary of SENESCYT. Since December 2018, he has held the position of president of the educational council of the European School of Management and Business. In 2000, he founded the company, aCambio.com, a market leader in multilateral corporate barters in Mexico. He founded the university UniverMilenium together with a group of partners. He was rector of the university for seven years, where he managed to increase enrollment from 300 to more than 15,000 students. It has nine campuses and a wide academic offer. In 1990, he obtained a BA degree in economics and political philosophy with honors from Brown University in the US.

What role does SENESCYT play in the national education sector and in making education more accessible across its territory?

SENECYT establishes the scope of the country's education public policy. There are two other entities involved in the education sector in Ecuador: the National Council of Higher Education (CES) and the Education Quality Assurance Council of Ecuador (CACES). SENESCYT develops public policy, CES creates regulation, and CACES evaluates the quality of public policy in the education sector. In addition, we also coordinate certain activities in science, technology, and innovation. Among those initiatives, we offer seed venture capital funds that support the growth of new entrepreneurial ventures. We aim for a comprehensive approach to the education sector, and to do so we must not only focus on education, but also develop the infrastructure necessary to promote opportunities for the entrepreneurial sector. Access to higher education is one of our main focus areas. Today, many Ecuadorians lack access to higher education, and our national participation rate is just 57%. That is why we are working to get both public and private universities to accept more students. Many public universities have opened new campuses in different parts of the country, including some new campuses in the Amazonas region as part of the project in Amazonas Law to build four new universities in the region. We are also working to boost online education, which today only accounts for 3% of all education programs in Ecuador. Online education can be a great solution to expand the educational reach of our academic system given the lower barriers to entry compared to opening a physical campus. We are set to meet with the National Distance Education University from Spain, which will help us to develop certain online programs with other local universities.

What is your view on the internationalization of the Ecuadorian education system?

We want Ecuadorian students to be able to complete part of their degree abroad and have duly signed many exchange program agreements with Spanish universities. We are working to motivate universities to sign more of these agreements with institutions worldwide. Right now, our universities have many partnerships and alliances with foreign universities, but we can still do better. I recently had a meeting with Spanish universities that were willing to sign agreements with its Ecuadorian counterparts. I consider it paramount for us to establish international alliances that will allow our students to gain an international edge during their education.

How can local universities improve in terms of research and innovation?

We are improving, but right now we need to ensure these developments can be applied nationwide. Universities are self-governed and determine what research programs to pursue. We respect the independence of universities but continue to promote the advantages of researching new patented technologies that could ultimately become economically beneficial to the broader economy. In certain countries, universities and private institutions work hand in hand, and that is something we would like to see more of. Universities, by law, must allocate 6% of their budget to R&D activities but can decide on what areas to allocate funds to. Innovation is a portmanteau term that also involves its application for life improvement, and we pursue this with many other players. For example, we have been to many entrepreneurial conferences and funded various ventures. In 2019, the country will spend USD1.2 billion to promote its commitment to R&D to the benefit of the nation at large. We are particularly interested in promoting the agribusiness, fishing, and energy sectors. Ecuadorian academia has much to bring to the table in those areas, and we expect them to do so over the coming years. Education is the capstone of national development, the solution to future problems, and the engine of progress. Needless to say, it is a key component of Ecuador's Vision 2030.