By Sylvan Hardy
When the government paid a house call Thursday to Ecuador’s smartest 2016 high school graduate, it was more than simply a media event.
Although newspaper and television reporters were on hand when René Ramírez, Ecuador’s Secretary of Higher Education, Science and Technology, dropped by the Cuenca apartment of Dianneris Diaz, his visit was a routine part of a calculated plan to develop the talent of country’s best and brightest students.
Because of her top score on the national Senecyt exam, in which she competed primarily with university graduates, the government will provide 17-year-old Dianneris an all-expenses-paid education at one of the world’s best universities.
Since it was introduced in 2010, Ecuador has invested more than $130 million in helping its high-performing students, or El Grupo de Alto Rendimiento (GAR). More than 5,000 students have attended such international institutions as Cambridge, Oxford, Harvard, Stanford, and the Sorbonne, with the government footing the bill for tuition and room and board that can run as high as $250,000. It is the only government-sponsored program of its kind in the world.
According to Ramírez, the GAR program is an investment in Ecuador’s future. “I can’t think of money being any better spent than for nurturing the best talent that this country has produced,” he said. “By paying for these students to attend the world’s best universities we are giving them the best chance to succeed to their chosen field and, at the same time, exposing them to international ideas that they will bring back with them to Ecuador.”
Before GAR, Ramírez says, most of the best students left Ecuador permanently, for North America or Europe.
In addition to universities in Europe and the U.S., the government has also paid the expenses for GAR students to study in Japan, Australia, Canada, Russia, and China.
Dianneris, who will spend a year of intensive preparation in Quito before heading overseas, has not made her final choice of university. “My interest is architecture so I am leaning toward University College of London, which has the best program in the UK and Europe,” she says. “Cambridge also has a good program and I am still considering MIT and Cal-Berkeley in the United States.”
GAR comes with strings attached — a commitment to spend three years working in Ecuador following graduation — but Dianneris says the requirement is fair. “I believe I will owe something to my country for what they are doing for me,” she said.
Ramírez spent 45 minutes visiting with Dianneris and her family, including her parents Lanner Diaz and Dianna Quinde, grandmother Graciela Iglesias, and aunt and uncle Chela Quinde and David Morrill.