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Higher Education

Much can be explained about Ecuadorian higher education by an understanding of arguably the most important historical reform in universities throughout Latin America, the Cordoba Reform of 1918. This reform provided universities the autonomy which they are still attempting to hold onto today. Because of that reform, universities have challenged the authoritarian excesses of civil and military regimes, provided presidents and vice-presidents of Ecuador, and generally been highly politicized organizations. Ecuador has 33 universities and technical colleges with 202,683 students. It has 12 state universities, equally divided between the costa and the sierra, and an additional 5 private universities, 3 in the sierra and 2 in the costa. A number of polytechnic schools and teachers' colleges offer specialized postsecondary studies. The number of university students per 100,000 members of the population grew fivefold from 1960 to 1980; the number of professors grew ten times. About two-thirds of those enrolled in higher education attended public institutions, especially the Central University in Quito. The postsecondary population of 208,000 students represents a 33 percent increase since 1982. Since 1985, some 12 new universities have been founded bringing the total to 29, and the number of faculty increased from 6,884 in 1980 to over 12,000 by 1993. Since providing high quality education, which will actually prepare university students for the technological and economic future, requires a heavy investment in human, technological, and physical resources, Ecuador faced a difficult challenge. Public universities generally have an open admissions policy. In recent years, large increases in the student population, budget difficulties, and the extreme politicization of the university system have led to a decline in some academic standards. The progress of higher education in Ecuador seems, in many ways, to be out of control because external forces such as economic and political conditions have changed the characteristics, emphasis, curriculum, and student populations of most public institutions. Certainly, during the past two decades, the chronic sifting of the educational, political, and economic agendas has resulted in new goals, priorities, and missions for public universities. New academic and economic models had to become important to the higher education equation. Extreme financial constraints have challenged the traditional vested rights of public higher education. Reforms have been difficult and are not likely to further equalize university entrance. Some university and student leadership has appeared that has attempted to solve some of the many problems faced by changes in the higher education in Ecuador. The Consejo Nacional de Educacion Superior or National Council of Higher Education is the coordinating body for institutions of higher education. Universities and colleges are members. Since higher education's share of the national government's budget fell from 26 percent in 1981 to 19 percent in 1994, and from 4.6 percent of the GDP in 1981 to 2.7 percent in 1993, it is understandable that much of the growth in recent years has been in the private sector.

Ecuador's universities are changing to meet the challenges of the technological age. During the colonial period, the authorizations for universities were by papal authority, royal decree, or authority of the Council of the Indies. All the universities established during the colonial era emulated the University of Salamanca model, which emphasized theology, law, arts, and medical studies. The Universidad de San Fulgencio de Quito was Ecuador's first university. It was authorized by papal bull in 1586.

Originally places to train priests, the universities of Ecuador have gone through changing missions. While more recently they have trained students in the law, arts, and philosophy, they now prepare to train students in engineering, technology, and CIS. Perhaps the greatest problem is one that is seen in many countries: budgets were not compensated when enrollment increases occurred. Thus the growing demand for admittance to universities and access to academia through public universities over-came the delivery abilities of those schools. University budgets, which needed room for the physical plant and operating costs, were almost entirely consumed by faculty and staff salaries. In the face of the growing student population, particularly with the population growth of Guayaquil, university administrations were faced with delayed maintenance, deteriorating physical plants, antiquated technologies, anachronistic curricula, and a professorate without the means of updating their knowledge-base or credentials. That is not to say that Ecuador's public universities do not have many well trained academics with terminal degrees from major international universities. Its universities have highly trained faculty, some of whom earned graduate degrees abroad and are themselves successful researchers and authors, but their numbers are inadequate for the job of educating the bulging population of university-bound students.

The government, attempting to finance the onslaught of students, embraced international economic ideologies, but was unable to create the massive public subsidies necessary for the growing student populations. One of the answers to this problem is to diversify funding resources through funding initiatives of different kinds. Since the traditional source of financial resources, the central government, of necessity has withdrawn much of its resources for the public university, academic administrations have had to develop new budget sources. Diversification of funding sources includes the volatile issue of student fees. University education had been a ticket out of poverty for many talented young people who were not likely to be able to pay anywhere near the real cost of their education. The problem that public institutions are facing is one of growing elitism. With rising student fees, increasing technological costs, and a government less willing and able to continue to pay the traditional percentage of the cost of educating a student, an economic crisis of sorts has occurred in major Ecuadorian universities. Free higher education is a longstanding tradition in Latin America and often constitutionally guaranteed. The administrations of the Escuele Superior Politecnica de Litoral (ESPOL) in Guayaquil, perhaps the hardest hit with this population explosion, and the Escuele Politecnica Nacional in Quito, the two leading public technical universities, have tried to face this issue. Variables such as family income and academic standing were considered in designing the fee schedules. In Guayaquil students, frustrated by the outdated technical equipment, proposed a laboratory fee schedule that would repair old and buy new equipment. The university approved the student plan. The predominant sentiment sometimes seems to be in favor of improving the conditions and equipment for learning even if it means costs billed directly to the student, but this does not mean that there have not been student protests. There were brief demonstrations at ESPOL and at Politecnico. In both cases some concessions were made to student demands, such as the lengthening of implementation schedules, but income was still generated through student fees.

Student fees gathered insufficient funds to take the place of withdrawn government assistance. Other initiatives had to be implemented, many of them familiar to not only to Latin American university administrators, but to North American administrators as well. President Nelson Cevallos of ESPOL removed services such as maintenance, security, the bookstore, and bus service from the university budget and contracted them to providers in the private sector as part of a large privatization policy. The self-financing degree program was also considered. Reduction of the dependency of the university on the government could occur with self-generated income so Cevallos created 27 new self-financing degree programs, introduced a structure of reward for departments and faculty members who rent university faculties to outside groups, expanded continuing education, and sold consulting services. In 1992, approximately 26 percent of EXPOL's budget was self-generated. By 1996, approximately 56 percent of the operating budget was self-generated.

Another increasingly used technique to limit bulging enrollment is the admissions aptitude test. Limiting admissions to certain programs on the basis of who is likely to be able to be successful in that program contributed to the strike at the Politecnica. Denying the concept of open access and implementing the concept of limited access through admissions testing are still seen as threats to the older system and traditional students rights and entitlements.

Another concern in higher education is the knowledge of computer information systems. A study at the University of Cuena in 1996 found knowledge of computer sciences very low among the agricultural faculty, more acceptable among the civil engineers, and very application oriented in the faculty of computer engineers. Even the knowledge of geography is limited among both the agricultural and civil engineers and nonexistent amongst the computer engineers. Hydrology, soil sciences, topography, and computer science are all taught by different members of different faculties without any organized interrelationships or strategic partnering among them. In 1996 computers were not available in faculties other than computer science. The Program for Land and Water Management of the University of Cuenca is being executed by an interdisciplinary team of local engineers, economists, sociologists, and three foreign experts. This strategic partnership is active in research projects, teaching, and consulting.

In Loja, the Center for Agricultural Computer Science was created in 1994 at the Faculty of Agricultural Engineering of the National University of Loja with the goal of introducing computer science in the fields of agronomy, irrigation and forestry at university level as well as in local private and public organizations. In Quito, at the Escuela Politenica Nacional, the department of Inteligencia Artificial y Sistemas de Informacion Geografica was founded in 1993. The goal of the department was to organize courses in the field of artificial intelligence, GIS, and remote sensing. Most of the graduate students are doing their theses in computer engineering though. Database management applications in areas such as hydrology, irrigation, tourism, city planning, and natural resources management are only some of the GIS related projects. Funding is hard to find though. Interdisciplinary contact is also part of the training for the workgroup. The Escuela Politecnica del Ejercity, probably the best-equipped institute in Ecuador for both hardware and software, is the only university where a faculty of geographical engineers exists.

University faculty is selected for four-year terms by each institution's university council from lists suggested by the faculty. The 1970 Law of Higher Education requires that faculty appointments be based on merit. In 1995, the entire governance structure of higher education was to be changed to more closely resemble a corporate model. Two presidents of "Production Associations" would be added to the governing assembly of universities or the National Council of Universities and Polytechnical Schools (CONUEP). An executive committee of CONUEP was formed to centralize decision-making and create a series of new powers such as being able to audit universities, close inefficient programs, distribute funds according to a systematic formula based on production, create a national student admissions system, and run the university. The internal governance of the university would include traditional outsiders and concentrate power and authority in the University Council for each university. This council is composed of a businessperson, three ex-rectors, a representative of the President of Ecuador, and two alumnae. The University Council would designate the rector through a national search, set internal policy, evaluate the functioning of the academic units, and approve strategic plan (Jameson 129). If this is accomplished, it destroys the old system, which was based on university autonomy from national governmental control. Authority to create universities might be removed from Congress and given to CONUEP, which would also play a greater role in planning and programming if certain reforms suggested for higher education occur.

The National Council for Modernatization Reform (CONAM) was proposed as a process for removing faculty members and required scholarships for students unable to afford university education. Had this proposal been enacted, it would have formalized the de facto changes being imposed on the public university system. CONAM was proposed by an ad hoc committee, supported by Vice-President Alberty Dahik and two-day President Rosalia Arteaga. Dahik's resignation and flight from the country ended the possibility of enacting the CONAM proposal. Several of the new universities, such as the Universidad San Francisco de Quito, operate under a different set of rules since they refused to adopt governance systems mandated by the national law.

Additional topics

Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comGlobal Education ReferenceEcuador - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education