A government program intended to promote academic research and innovation in higher education has awarded 950 grants to foreign researches who work full-time in the Ecuador for two to 12 months.
The Prometheus program, started in 2010, has so far produced 935 projects and and 285 published articles, according to Susana Toro, who coordinates the program for the Ministry of Higher Education Science, Technology and Innovation (Senescyt). She says that 100 of the research grants have been awarded to Ecuadorian scientists and researchers but the majority go to foreigners.
To date, award-winners come from 48 countries.
One of the major attractions for foreigners are the program’s economic incentives, which include a monthly allowance of between $4,320 and $6,000. Additional money is allocated for assistants, equipment and travel. Since 2010, the government has spent $27 million on Prometheus and another $20 million is budgeted for 2015.
The objective of the program, says Senescyt Secretary René Ramírez, is to help develop research talent that is currently lacking in Ecuador. “More than 75% of the Promethean projects are being carried out in conjunction with our universities and technical schools. Our goal is to offset the inadequacy of specialized talent in the country by providing training from the best researchers in the world,” he says.
An example of a successful Prometheus project, say Ramírez, was directed by Polish psychologist Mariusz Wotonciej to improve the educational climate to encourage youth entrepreneurship. He also developed plans to integrate students with mental disabilities into the educational system.
Wotonciej is currently writing a book that will provide guidance to educators working with entrepreneurial youth and disabled students.
Prometheus is not without its critics and many Ecuadorian university professors say that the money would be better spend improving the country’s public universities.
Arturo Villavicencio, professor at the Universidad Andina, is one of them. “The government brings teachers in at very high costs who are not familiar with our culture and systems,” he says. “Some of the foreigners are being paid $60,000 a year, which is an insult to Ecuadorian academic professionals.”
Toro replies that the costs are based on an international pay scale. “We are hiring the best researchers in the world and we cannot do this on an Ecuadorian pay scale,” she says. “By bringing them here, we are exposing our academics to international standards that we think will improve higher education in the country, and eventually raise salaries.”
President Rafael Correa, who received his graduate education in Belgium and the United States, has called Ecuador’s universities “mediocre” and said that they need to establish higher standards and bring in more faculty with graduate degrees and foreign teaching and research experience.
“I do not criticize our professors,” Correa says. “Many of them work very hard. The problem is that in many cases they are the products of an inferior education system and we must work to correct this.”
Correa adds that Prometheus is a first step in achieving this.