Administrators of Ecuador’s public universities were taken by surprise Friday when President Guillermo Lasso announced he was eliminating the Senescyt exam used for student admissions. Under executive order, each of the country’s 33 public universities will now be responsible for developing their own admission standards.
President of the University of Cuenca Maria Agusta Hermida says Lasso’s announcement raises more questions that it answers. “I worry that it gives the false impression that university admission will now be easier and that we will expand the number of students we admit and this is not the case,” she said.
During his campaign, Lasso promised to eliminate the Senescyt (Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Technology) exam, claiming it restricted entrance to many qualified students, especially those from low-income families.
Hermida said eliminating Senescyt will not, by itself, accomplish the president’s goals. “All it means is that that the competition that was centralized is now distributed to the individual universities,” she said. “We don’t mind assuming the responsibility but we need funding to do it and that was not mentioned in the order.”
According to Hermida, universities will not only need more funding to develop and administer admissions tests, it will need more money to expand enrollment. Under the Senescyt system, she said the University of Cuenca admits 3,000 students a year of the 18,000 who take the test. “I am very sympathetic to increasing admissions for vulnerable students who have fewer opportunities but it is unfair to suggest that the elimination of Senescyt will accomplish this. We will not turn away good students so the answer is to increase funding to allow us to grow the enrollment.”
She added: “We can not even do an adequate job of educating the students we have. Our budget has been reduced for three consecutive years.”
University of Guayaquil President Francisco Morán agrees with Hermida. “We are pleased with the increased autonomy but since our budgets are determined by the government we wonder when the additional funding will arrive,” he said. “We will need support to produce our own admission test since this requires equipment, administrative personnel and physical space, among other things. After that, there seems to be the expectation that we will open our doors to applicants who were previously denied admission, and under current conditions that will not happen.”
According the Lasso’s decree, the Senescyt test is eliminated immediately for universities on the coast while it will be administered one more time in the sierra. “Since the universities in the two regions operate on different schedules we will not interrupt it in the sierra since it is currently being administered,” said Marcos Miranda, Legal Undersecretary of the President.