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Ecuador shuts down 14 universities in quality campaign

In a far-reaching effort to overhaul its higher education system, Ecuador is shutting down 14 universities that the government determined did not meet basic academic standards.

President Rafael Correa has made reforming Ecuador’s 71 universities (with 621,000 students) a key priority, saying that “Ecuador probably has the worst universities” in South America.

The government said it would take a year to close the schools, allowing about 10,000 students who are in their final year of studies to graduate (there is a total of approximately 38,000 students in the affected schools). Most of the remaining students will be given the chance to transfer to other academic programmes.

The New York Times reported last month that 26 universities were given warning to make major improvements. Government efforts began in earnest in late 2009 when they conducted an evaluation of the country’s universities, grading them from A to E.

Additional moves to enhance quality

Furthermore, this year admission to the country’s 29 public universities, which have about 70 percent of all students, will be based on an aptitude test for the first time ever.

The government is also seeking to improve the quality of teaching. By 2017, all professors must have at least a master’s degree, and many will be required to have a doctoral degree.

Some educators say the goals are too ambitious. Only three universities in Ecuador give PhD’s and they grant a total of about 20 a year, according to René Ramírez, the government secretary of higher education, science, technology and innovation.

The study abroad solution

In part to increase the pool of qualified professors, the government has embarked on an ambitious scholarship programme. A few years ago, the country gave scholarships for postgraduate study abroad to about 20 students a year. Last year, 1,070 students got the scholarships. This year, Ramírez expects that number to exceed 3,000.

Students who get the scholarships agree to return to Ecuador when their studies are finished and remain for at least twice the time the government paid for them to be abroad. The government hopes they will become university professors or work in the private sector.

In the last 20 years, a cottage industry was born around the creation of small, privately operated universities. With virtually no regulation, the quality of these schools was often very low – although the profits could be quite high.

They earned the name “garage universities” because the worst ones were a long way from having the facilities and academic resources of more established schools.

Source: The New York Times

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