By Napoleón Velástegui Bahamonde, University of Guayaquil
Universities in Ecuador are facing growing pressure to do some kind of “historical and social audit” of the State’s huge investments in higher education. It is hoped that such focused research will reduce the degradation of universities and quickly translate the resources invested into tangible results that enhance public and private sectors, local and national, modernizing the market itself to make it sustainable and competitive in ways that help to improve social welfare. This entails the urgent development of new State policies that fund, by constitutional mandate, the creation of multiple internal and external mechanisms such as technology parks with their global connectivity. These mechanisms would not only enhance productivity and competitiveness but also help improve peoples’ quality of life.
Society’s current demands, increasingly conscious of public rights and obligations, can only be resolved through real responses based in scientific research, technological innovation, and entrepreneurship. These responses rely on a strong sense of nationhood, including a new relationship between State, businesses, society, science and technology. They make it possible to simultaneously protect natural resources and create a new financial order to address massive social inequalities and the lack of public services.This will facilitate new programs in both old and new universities, contributing to their effort to obtain international accreditation and fulfill their strategic role in the country.
Decades ago, universities were spiritual leaders of societies. July 21, 2006 marked the 80th anniversary of the “Cordoba Movement,” started in the oldest university (“La Casa de Trejo”), whose constitution expressed the most advanced spirit of its age. Almost a hundred years later, in Ecuador, free access and cost-free higher education are provided for in the Constitution itself. This implies an enormous challenge whose outcome is not up to the universities alone but also depends on the social institutions that participate in the national political process.
The Higher Education Act, which will soon come into effect in Ecuador, creates a new social and academic status, responsible autonomy. Business people should create a similar concept of responsible corporate and environmental management.
Latin America is changing.The educational system needs change, particularly with regards to higher education. There is great unity across the diversity of forms and national expressions. Forces of opposition representing a past of abuse and privilege see the latter wither away with strategies of national powers, media manipulation and international coordination. However, and most importantly, electoral change leads to a new continental era. Ecuador is undergoing processes of renewal and modernization across society and the state.
This process began in the second round of elections in 2006 when the group of forces lead by Rafael Correa, a consultant and academic with a PhD and two Master degrees in Economy from the University of Illinois and Leuven, won 50.6% of popular support (3,517,635 votes to be precise) against 38.7% (or 2,689,418 votes) obtained by traditional parties at the turning point of a discredited, repudiated and ineffective National Congress later replaced by the National Assembly. During the same year of this intense social struggle surrounded by rigorous and strict electoral rules, a popular referendum was held in which citizens were asked to consider the following questions:
The first requested that the eight policies of the Ten-Year Plan for Education (2006-2015) be considered as state policies and prioritized in public investment. Popular support was 67.05% as against 6.16% opposed.The second established a time frame for the National Congress to approve laws to channel enough funds for the treatment and prevention of illnesses as well as to uplift universal health care to the category of state policy. An increase of 0.5% in funding for health in relation to the GDP was requested for 2012 or until the latter represents 4% of the GDP. Popular support was 66.09% for as against 7.67% opposed. The third requested that the National Congress expedite laws to guarantee that the resources obtained from oil that are superior to what has been established by the state budget be used for social projects and economic development. Popular support was 64.2% for and 8.23% against.
Regarding the first question, out of the eight policies laid out in the Ten-Year Plan for Education 2006-2015, the sixth one relates to the quality of education. The eight policies are:
1. Universal access to early education for children ages 0-5.
2. Universal access to basic and general education from first to tenth grade.
3. Increase in high school enrollment aiming at reaching at least 75% of the youth in that age frame.
4. Eradicate illiteracy and strengthen educational programs for adults.
5. Improve the infrastructure and equipment of educational establishments.
6. Improve the quality and equity of education and implement a national system of evaluation and publicizing of educational expenses.
7. Increase appreciation for teaching and improve the basic and ongoing training, as well as the working conditions and quality of life of these professionals.
8. An increase of 0.5% in funding for education in relation to the GDP or until the latter represents 6% of the GDP.
Moreover, in 2007 there was a meeting to elaborate a new Magna Carta where the forces of PAIS (patria altiva y soberana or “proud and sovereign nation”) obtained 69.47% of the vote (2,806,004 votes) with 30.35% (1,233,389 votes) opposed. That same year, a popular consultation was undertaken regarding whether or not to give the Constituent Assembly full power to elaborate a new Constitution. The citizens’ reply was 81.72% in favor (5,354,595 votes) and 12.43% (814,323 votes) against.
In 2008, a referendum sought to support what the Assembly had accomplished, the approval of the Constitution, with 63.93% of votes in favor (4,722,073) against 28.10% (2,075,764). In 2009, the now President resigned from his previous position and presented himself as candidate in the elections that elected him with 51.99% of popular vote (3,586,439 votes) in the first round, where the closest candidate obtained 28.24% of votes (1,947,830). In 2009, the majority of newly elected members of the Assembly are part of the forces pushing for social change. These representatives will debate and resolve the project for a Law of Higher Education elaborated by SENPLADES (the Ministry of Planning and Development) and discussed among universities.
The CONEA (National Council for Evaluation and Qualifications), following the 14th Mandate of the Constituency, requires that this public organism elaborate a technical report on the institutional performance of the establishments of higher education in order to guarantee its quality and positive development. The results of this report showed some of the inefficiencies of the universities. Out of the 68 universities, only 11 were categorized as belonging to the A group meeting the almost 200 indicators that can be broadly summarized by four main parameters: academia, students, research and management. Nine universities were categorized as B, 13 as C, 9 as D, and the 26 that were qualified as E, meaning they “do not have the necessary conditions to function as a university.”An eloquent indicator is the highest degree obtained among faculty in the public university: 2% have a PhD, 33.5% a Masters degree, 5.2% a Degree of Specialization and 40.7% have an academic level. The CONESUP (National Council for Higher Education), an autonomous university organism, also published a report that was again hard to receive by the universities involved. The crisis of higher education reveals the vital need for the transformation of the public sphere.
Translated by Ana Villarreal and Abigail Andrews