Ecuador attempts to plug the brain drain
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Ecuador attempts to plug the brain drain

Ecuador, since 2010, has been funding its ‘best and brightest’ to study at the world’s top universities for free.

The only catch: for every one year of study paid under the scholarship program, the candidate must return and work two in Ecuador.

The project’s aim is to address the ‘brain drain’ problem that has plagued Ecuador, like other developing nations, which sees many highly-educated citizens emigrating to developed nations in search of better job prospects due to a lack of local opportunities.

Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa has cited the exodus of highly qualified Ecuadorians as a leading obstacle in developing the country’s academic institutions and knowledge economy.

In a speech in 2012, covered by the Associate Press, he highlighted the consequence of the brain drain on Ecuador: “Without human talent Ecuador won’t advance … we lack the minimum critical mass of top-flight professionals needed to spur the country’s development.”

Correa’s views were expanded on by Deputy Minister of Science and Innovation, Hector Rodriquez, who pointed to the project’s end goal of transforming Ecuador from exporters of raw materials to technologies.

Many Latin American nations, like Ecuador and Venezuela, have historically relied heavily on exporting raw materials and using foreign experts as a cheaper alternative to developing skilled local professionals.

President Correa launched the Open Call and University of Excellence programmes in 2010, to address this precise problem. The scholarships are open to all Ecuadorians, at home or abroad, and those selected will receive funding to complete their higher education at the world’s leading universities.

Speaking to NY Daily Nathalie Cely, Ecuador’s ambassador to the United States, put it simply; “if you get into the top universities of the world, we’ll pay.”

“There’s nothing happening like this anywhere else in Latin America”

Juan Ponce, president of Ecuador’s arm of the Latin American Faculty of Social Science, spoke of the project’s uniqueness to the Associated Press: “there’s nothing happening like this anywhere else in Latin America.”

All programs will be offered by the Ecuadorian government are funded through the National Secretary of Higher Education, Science, Technology and Innovation (SENESCYT).

The ‘Open Call’ program, aimed at the current generation of Ecuadorians, will offer financial support worth up to $250,000 for professionals completing a masters, doctoral or medical specialty postgraduate degree.

The funding is available to candidates in seven fields: Natural Sciences, Mathematics and Statistics; Information Technology and Communication; Engineering, Manufacturing and Construction; Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Veterinary; Health and Welfare; Education and Arts.

The ‘Excellence Scholarship’ program will target the next generation of secondary-level education students who successfully pass a qualifying exam, and will subsequently be accepted to one of the top 50 universities.

The students can earn scholarships ranging from five to 100 percent of the studying costs.

Early this year SENESCYT launched a new programme named ‘Common Globe’ which offers a further 415 new scholarships in nine new countries, including China and Russia. Ecuadorian news group Ecuatorianoenvivo reported René Ramirez, a SENESCYT director, stating that $32 million in funds will be available and for “these scholarships no restriction exists on the focus area.”

In order to access the scholarships and ensure students’ return, either the candidate or a relative must sign a contract agreeing to repay the costs if a student reneges on their promise to work in Ecuador. All returning students will have jobs guaranteed by the government in universities and state institutions.

Over 10,000 scholarships awarded to date

According to SENESCYT figures, 10,507 scholarships have been awarded to date, of which 62 percent have been doctorates or masters, 12 percent undergraduate and four percent medical specialities.

Ecuadorian students have had access to study across the globe; 32 percent studied in Latin America, 33 percent in Europe and Asia and 35 percent in the US and Canada.

Of the ten thousand plus scholarship recipients, so far 2,816 have returned with 67 percent having worked in the education sector, 25 percent in public businesses and seven percent in the private sector.

Allan Goodman, president of the non-profit Institute of International Education spoke of the initial success of the project; “there’s a real integration between education and labor in ways that I don’t see in a lot of countries … It seems to me they read the playbook for best practices to make this work and they’ve adopted all of them.”

Correa himself can be seen as somewhat of a poster child for the initiative, having studied in Belgium and gained a PhD in economics in the U.S. before returning to apply his trade in Ecuador.

Upon his return he held posts as a university professor before being made finance minister and then elected President. As a trained economist, Correa has presided over an unprecedented period of growth and stability in Ecuador, all during a period where a global economic downturn wreaked havoc in many other global economies.

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