Through the programme, launched in 2010 alongside the Universities of Excellence programme for undergrads, President Rafael Correa has ambitiously offered limitless scholarships to students in an effort to plug brain drain.
“Without human talent, Ecuador won’t advance,” Correa said in a speech last month. “We lack the minimum critical mass of top-flight professionals needed to spur the country’s development.”
The programme favours science and technology students because, according to Ecuador’s deputy minister of science and innovation, Hector Rodriguez, the goal is “a radical transformation” from a country whose exports are 77% raw materials, chiefly oil, to one that exports technology.
In 2010, the programme awarded 285 scholarships, last year 1,000 and this year they expect to award 2,000. International education experts say no other programme of this magnitude exists in South America that combats the greatest risk of state subsidised grants: scholars not returning home to work.
“There’s real integration between education and labour in ways that I don’t see in a lot of countries,” said Allan Goodman, president of the Institute of International Education. “It seems to me they read the playbook for best practices to make this work and they’ve adopted all of them.”
Beneficiaries, or relatives, must sign contracts promising to repay if a student doesn’t come back
In order to ensure that students honour the agreement to return, beneficiaries or relatives must sign contracts promising to repay if a student doesn’t come back, or drops out, and putting up collateral such as a home. When students return home, they will be placed in jobs in universities and state institutions, generally teaching and doing research.
To complete their applications, applicants must provide proof of acceptance to their preferred course at one of the 1,185 government approved universities. After applications are complete, Senescyt will asses them based on their preferred course of study.
Chosen applicants must then sit the Postgraduate Studies Admission Exam (EXADEP) based on their test scores, if successful they will then be called in for an interview in November. They will know by December if they have been accepted.
Correa is also aiming to attract talent to the South American country by offering US$6,000 a month to recruited mathematicians, physicists, chemists, biologists and other scientists from places like Spain, the US or Ecuadorians living abroad.