The government of Ecuador has come up with a way to plug the brain drain suffered by many Latin American countries— it will pay for its citizens to attend the world’s top universities as long as they go back home to work for two years.
The program — worth up to $250,000 per scholarship — is open to all Ecuadorans, including those living outside of the country.
“If you have the academic credentials to get into the best universities of the world, we’ll pay,” says Nathalie Cely, Ecuador’s former ambassador to the U.S. “The thing is — you have to have really good grades.”
Among the schools for which the Ecuadorian government will pick up the tab for are Harvard, Stanford and Yale in the U.S., Oxford and Cambridge in Great Britain, and the Sorbonne in France.
Several state universities in the U.S. — like the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Texas at Austin — also made the cut, along with colleges in Japan, Canada, Switzerland and Australia.
Scholarship recipients at those schools can pick any major and get a free ride. Other schools only count for specific majors like life sciences or social sciences.
The program, which has been in effect since 2010, has so far covered expenses for almost 5,000 Ecuadorian students at the expense of about $100 million.
In New York’s Queens’ Little Ecuador, some people were skeptical that young scholars who grew up in New York would return to a country they barely remember for the sake of a free education.
But Oswaldo Guzman, president of the Ecuadorian Civic Committee in Queens, called it a “magnificent idea.”
“I hope that kids here will take advantage of it,” he said.
Ecuador also offered immigrants abroad one-way plane tickets and grants to return to Ecuador to start businesses.