150 YEARS IN OPERATION

Ecuador 2020 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Florinella Muñoz, Rector of Escuela Politécnica Nacional (EPN), on over 150 years of history, the dominance of hydrocarbons, and the state of research in Ecuador.

EPN's history goes as far back as 1869. More than 150 years later, what role does the institution play in Ecuador's national development?

Since its foundation, the university has had a defining impact on the scientific and technological development of Ecuador. EPN has advanced greatly over the years, introducing programs and career paths according to the needs of the country. For example, our students and teachers have been involved in the development of large hydroelectric plants, which are related to the main forms of energy production in Ecuador. Similarly, our professional play an active role in the development of other key sectors such as oil and agricultural. We have a faculty of chemical and agroindustrial engineering, and a food department that particularly focuses on native Ecuadorian products such as cocoa, providing, for example knowledge about the specific organoleptic properties related to the chemical composition

What does the demand for jobs in the extractive sectors represent for the institution and how is it preparing the next generation to fulfill these roles?

Since the 1970s, Ecuador's economy has been dominated by oil, and the institution has played a vital role in the development of the hydrocarbons sector ever since. The professionals who have graduated from the faculties of the petroleum, chemical engineering and other technical areas as mechanical, electrical and environmental engineering have gone on to assume important roles in Petroecuador as well as in foreign companies that have operations in Ecuador, such as Schlumberger, Halliburton and others. In the latter cases, some of our graduates work in these institutions, in other countries. The experience that our graduates have gained over the years has been crucial to the development of Ecuador's hydrocarbons economy. Some of our graduates have also served the country as ministers and undersecretaries, for example.. Overall, the oil sector recruits the majority of our graduates. We are also planning to target more sectors. For example, we plan the restructuring of the faculty of geology to better serve the mining sector. In this sense, our primary focus is postgraduate programs because they lead to more opportunities in the job market; EPN offer the highest number of doctorate programs in Ecuador. We also offer several different master's degrees that allow professionals to can acquire more knowledge and do more research related to their fields.

Can you elaborate on your plan to form new partnerships with other international institutions?

Improving the institution's international status is important to us. We have been developing our student exchange programs, giving our students the opportunity to present their ideas and projects or develop their final degree projects or thesis in other countries . Our professors also travel abroad to share their research results. We also invite foreign professors to teach some courses. By improving the institution's standing on the international stage, we aim to attract more foreign students.
This also enables us to improve the content and quality of our programs. We are a public university and the majority of our students belong to low-income sectors. We are proud that the training and education we provide them gives them a global vision and transforms their lives and the life of their families and communities. Our agreements with foreign universities and international companies also play a key role in this. We want to further expand our international cooperation with countries and companies in Asia, for example.

What are your goals for next year?

Notably, we entered the QS World Universities Ranking in 2019. We are one of the four Ecuadorian universities in that list. EPN is also ranked highly by The Highest Education Ranking. Doing research in Ecuador is not easy; it can take months sometimes to acquire some materials. Therefore, one of our goals is to improve our research capabilities. Given the resources on offer, the work that our researchers do in the university is really admirable. So far, around 1,800 of our publications are available on the Scopus database. Just in 2018 alone we submitted 400 entries. These include key studies in different fields of science. Our students and faculty members do cutting-edge and important research, representing a big chunk of the university's contribution to the development of the country. In addition, we hope to improve communication with industry and productive sectors, to work on their specific needs. Under this perspective, we hope to increase the academic offer with new careers and postgraduate programs. Finally, we work on implementing entrepreneurship training in our students.