During a press conference on Thursday February 14 2013, René Ramírez, Secretary of the Ecuadorian Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Technology and Innovation (SENESCYT), refuted the lies spread about the current situation of higher education in Ecuador leveled by right wing candidates during the election campaign of February 2013.

Ramirez stated that he regretted the profound damage caused by opportunistic candidates and their mendacious propaganda.  He said that reactionary candidates used a platform of systematic deception and lies to destroy a process for higher education reform supported by the majority of Ecuadorians. Ramirez  added that the opportunism of the right wing reactionaries in Ecuador seriously affect democracy and play with the illusions and dreams of thousands of young people seeking a better life through education.

Lies and recurrent truths: Some background

At the time of his press conference, Ramirez, accompanied by Héctor Rodríguez, Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Pablo Cardoso, Undersecretary Scholarship, presented the most frequent lies created by reactionary politicians and then pointed out the real truths about Ecuadorian Higher Education (EHE).

Ecuador has seen a 20 position rise, according to the Global Competitiveness Index, in quality educational systems, quality management in the academy, internet access in schools, availability of research, and training.  Ecuador is now one of the most advanced countries in higher education in Latin America, as reported by Europa Press.  It is also one of the countries in the world with the highest public investment in higher education (Ecuador invested 1.86 per cent of its GDP in higher education making it number two in the world for public investment in higher education) with Denmark being the country with the highest public investment in the world — 2.19 per cent of its GDP.

This massive public investment in Ecuadorian public higher education is also accompanied by the fact that the Ecuadorian National Constitution of 2008 and the Higher Education Law of 2010 have changed the way Ecuador’s universities are funded, administered, and accredited.  As part of a constitutional mandate, there is a requirement that establishes that higher education needs to be re-evaluated every 5 years for quality control purposes.  This requirement was implemented to prevent the neoliberal policies of privatization and for-profit fraud which is a problem in Ecuador as it is in most countries in the world.  This is a revamped, new Constitutional process where 48 indicators were and are to be considered within key categories: academia, efficiency, research, organization and infrastructure.

As a result of this new process of evaluation many universities which were in category A (the highest category) were moved to category B.

Yet the Ecuadorian educational system has improved as a whole, according to government officials.

Here are just some of the numbers: There were 7,899 M.A. professors in the 2008, but 11,307 in the 2012; before higher educational institutions had 460 PhD and now there are 756 PhDs in the academia.  Five year ago a professor earned an average of USD $1,249 per month, today they are being paid USD $2,239 per month (ibid).

However, there is still much to be done.  President Correa, a former university economics professor, said that the changes cannot come soon enough.

In an interview at the presidential palace Correa stated that:

“Ecuador probably has the worst universities in South America.  Many of the failing universities, which serve 69,500, “are cheating their students because they don’t have the minimum elements to guarantee academic excellence” ( ).

The deplorable conditions of higher education were a result of disinvestment in higher education in general by former neo-liberal governments before Correa became president, along with years of imperialist exploitation that placed education at the bottom of the list for Ecuadorian citizens.  This is now all changing.

8 Lies and truths about higher education in Ecuador

To counter the continued right wing attack on public education the government has put out a list of ‘lies’ propagated by reactionary forces and the real truths about EHE.  Here are just some of the lies and truths (http://www.conocimiento.gob.ec/10-mentiras-y-verdades-sobre-la-educacion-superior-en-el-ecuador/).

LIE. 1 - “The government chooses the careers of students.”

TRUTH - This lie was floated during the campaign again and again.  It is the neoliberal lie of “lack of choice” and “screams of government run schools” we hear and see throughout the US and much of the so-called advanced world.  But the truth is in Ecuador students do choose freely and autonomously their career options within the EHE.

In the 54 public universities and over 280 colleges students can choose the campus, mode and career cycle in accordance with the number of colleges and slots available.

This is real choice, not the phony neo-liberal market based choice system that has actually removed choice for American students through privatization.

LIE. 2 - “There is no ‘free entry’ into EHE.  The government controls it all”

TRUTH - Before the government of Rafael Correa, there was no free entry into higher education. 9 out of 10 universities and polytechnics had some filter they used to deny access to many students seeking an education. But the mantra that “the government controls it all” is how education has been privatized in the US and thus represents the howl of free market neo-liberal reactionaries in Ecuador as well.  And the argument is tied to the ‘lack of choice’ argument.

Again, this is the same hogwash we hear on the US and England, to name a few countries that privatized education — “lack of access”.  Far from restricting opportunities and access, access and the ability to go to the college or university of one’s choice has increased in Ecuador while falling in the US.

In June of 2011 a new report from the Education Trust suggested that only a handful of US colleges were prepared to meet the needs of lower-income students.

The report, “Priced Out: How the Wrong Financial Aid Policies Hurt Low-Income Students” looked at 1,186 colleges nationwide, which had comparable data on what lower-income students pay for college.

Success was measured in three key areas: colleges must enroll a proportion of low-income students comparable to the national average, low-income students must pay a portion of their family income that is no greater than what is paid by the average middle-income student and students must have a decent chance of graduating – about 50 percent (http://www.edtrust.org/dc/publication/priced-out).

Because education is a ‘business’ in the US students of all stripes are simply priced out of attending unless they wish to take on student loan debt placing them into debt purgatory for most of their lives.

LIE. 3 - “More than 100,000 students have been cut out of higher education due to government policies”

TRUTH – This too is part and parcel of the lack of ‘access’ argument we hear bandied about in the US by the likes of John Sperling, the founder of the Apollo Group, owner of the University of Phoenix, an online educational racket (http://www.dailycensored.com/apollo-group-founder-john-sperling-says-university-phoenix-exists-public-education-providing-enough-help-working-class/).  It is also the rhetoric employed by Obama and his Department of Education through the Obama 20/20 plan.

Let’s begin to critically examine this argument by first looking at the neo-liberal policies of the US that favor disinvestment in the public higher educational system under the auspices of ‘austerity’.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a think tank out of the US, found that in the US, since the 2008 financial collapse, most states in the US are funding all public schools far less than they did before the collapse:

“State budget documents find that:

  • At least 34 states are providing less funding per student for the 2013-14 school year than they did before the recession hit.  Thirteen of these states have cut per-student funding by more than 10 percent.  (These figures, like all the comparisons in this paper, are in inflation-adjusted dollars and focus on the primary form of state aid to local schools.)
  • At least 15 states are providing less funding per student to local school districts in the new school year than they provided a year ago.  This is despite the fact that most states are experiencing modest increases in tax revenues.
  • Where funding has increased, it has generally not increased enough to make up for cuts in past years.  For example, New Mexico is increasing school funding by $72 per pupil this year.  But that is too small to offset the state’s $946 per-pupil cut over the previous five years” (http://www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&id=4011).

And when it comes to higher education, The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that some states have slashed per-student spending by as much as half.  The report noted that nationwide, legislatures have sliced off 28 percent on average from public investment in higher education.  Only two states — Wyoming and oil-rich North Dakota — have increased spending on higher education (http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/03/a-truly-devastating-graph-on-state-higher-education-spending/274199/).

Yet in Ecuador the rate of enrollment in higher education increased by 27% — from 52,781 in 2009 to 71,995 in 2012.  This fact not only runs contrary to reactionary claims that the government is a ‘bad actor’ when it comes to education, but it is an amazing achievement and Ecuadorian students and their families know it.

So, while the US disinvests in higher education and K-12 education Ecuador invests heavily in public higher education.

In April of this year Ramirez cited figures showing that as to higher education:

“The government has invested 30 times more than the last seven governments together, this represents in numbers far USD $300 million, which has been awarded to 5,000 Ecuadorians studying in the best universities in the world” (http://www.andes.info.ec/en/sociedad/ecuador-free-higher-education-constitutional-right-chile-it-protested-streets.html).

LIE. 4 - “The government has prevented the poor and minority populations in Ecuador from going to universities and colleges through their policies

TRUTH – Again, this is the neoliberal cat call that shouts for privatization of the college and university system under the auspices of helping the minority population gain ‘access’.  The USA and England are leaders in this prevarication, along with such countries as Chile where free access to higher education is the subject of protests in the street (http://www.andes.info.ec/en/sociedad/ecuador-free-higher-education-constitutional-right-chile-it-protested-streets.html).

Within the Ecuadorian system, the enrollment of students from indigenous peoples and Afro-Ecuadorians, historically excluded from attending college or university, has actually doubled. There has been an increase of over 35,000 young people in colleges and universities, from families receiving government aid and today they can study at universities through scholarships, not loans (which is what the reactionaries in Ecuador and in the US and England actually deplore.  For they wish to monetize students for financial gain.    Ecuador is the country with the highest rate of income of the poor in all of Latin America — 27% above Chile and Argentina.

Ramirez also in April of this year that the implementation of the National System of Equalization and Admission has seen the enrollment of citizens of African descent, and indigenous people who are amongst the poorest strata of Ecuador, skyrocket.  Their admission rates doubled (http://www.telesurtv.net/articulos/2013/08/10/ecuador-destaca-en-america-latina-como-el-pais-que-mas-invierte-en-educacion-superior-1442.html).

Compare this with the amount of African American disposable youth who have found they have no money to go to college or university unless they borrow and then many end up in ‘dungeons of despair’ called ‘for-profit colleges’ carrying life- long debt.

But affordability is just one factor in African American college attendance in the US, poverty is the other: in the U.S., one of every three African American children and one of every four Latino children live in poverty— two times higher than the rate for white children (http://npc.umich.edu/publications/policy_briefs/brief16/).

And sadly the statistics from the US Dept. of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reported in April of 2013 that there are almost as many African Americans in prison than there are in higher education:

“Correctional authorities supervised 7,225,800 offenders at yearend 2009 … The majority (70%) of offenders under correctional supervision at yearend 2009 were supervised in the community (5,018,900) either on probation or parole, remaining relatively unchanged since 2000 (71%) (http://bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/cpus09.pdf). ”

The report went on to note that:

“In 2008-09 Black people in America had approximately 2.9 million students in post-secondary education and approximately 2.85 million under correctional supervision making up 39.5% of the population under correctional supervision and 14.29% of the population enrolled in post-secondary education (ibid).

So while Ecuador is increasing enrollment in public higher education for people of African descent, the indigenous and the poor the US is decreasing enrollment and beefing up its for-profit African American prison population while at the same time divesting in public higher education.

Add to this the school closings in the US from K-12 and beyond and we see an immense disparity between the US and Ecuador when it comes to educational access.

Nationwide, 1,929 US schools were closed in 2010-11, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.  In Chicago where Mayor Rahm Emmanuel has closed more than fifty schools in 2013 alone, there is evidence to suggest that the closings disproportionately affect black students.

More than 90% of students displaced at the 72 schools in the city of Chicago which have closed since 2001 were African American, even though African American students constitute 42% of the city’s total public school population (http://nation.time.com/2013/05/23/are-school-closings-discriminatory/).

So the truth is that while the US closes public schools under the neoliberal school privatization plan adopted by the Obama administration, Ecuador is opening schools with rapidity and increasing enrollment among those typically marginalized.

LIE. 5 - “The closure of some universities left 40,000 students unable to attend college”

TRUTH - According to the Ecuadorian Higher Education Council (CES), 98% of students received Coverage Contingency Plans for further study.  The ‘continuation rate’ (as opposed to the ‘dropout rate’) is a whopping 87%. The Ecuadorian government has invested $60 million dollars in the greatest public academic bailout in their history.  And they are poised to invest far more in the public sector in the future.

It cannot be understated: Ecuador invests more in public higher education than ANY COUNTRY IN THE WORLD, outside of Denmark.

Countless international student movements, as in Chile, praised the Ecuadorian model and they seek to emulate it.  For example, 35,878 students in Ecuador returned to the classroom thanks to the Contingency Plan put forth by the government. 16,452 already began graduating in 2013.  9 out of 10 students continue their studies at universities in category A and B (the highest categories of colleges and universities in the country).

So while Ecuador soars ahead with public investment in higher education college graduation rates in the United States are continuing to slip behind, this according to a report published  by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.  Drop-out rates in the US are escalating faster than school closings (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/26/business/economy/dropping-out-of-college-and-paying-the-price.html?_r=0).

In 2000, 38 percent of Americans age 25 to 34 had a degree from a community college or a four-year institution, putting the nation in fourth place among its peers in the O.E.C.D. By 2011, the graduation rate had inched up to 43 percent, but the nation’s ranking had slipped to 11th place (ibid).   This is all due to decades of disinvestment in public education.

Place the massive social investment in education by the Ecuadorian government side by side with the privatized US and Chilean higher education model based on the transfer of public funds to for-profit colleges, and this puts these ‘market based’ educational models to shame.

LIE. 6 - “More than 20,000 teachers must obtain a PhD to keep their jobs …”

TRUTH - Neither the salary nor the work of teachers is touched by the new Ecuadorian higher educational initiative. The PhD requirement is the highest category (what are called ‘head teachers’).  With the number of scholarships given out by the Ecuadorian government for student studies the amount of PhD’s in the country has tripled. Under the Correa government a specific scholarship for teachers was created. And the lowest salary for a college professor went from $480 to $1,600.
Full-time employment for academics also increased from 6,046 professors to 9,994 (The Education in Ecuador from Mónica Urigüen).

Put all of these astonishing statistics side by side with the neoliberal policies of America where adjunct professors, not full time employees, rule the halls of privatized and public colleges and universities and where salaries for professors have steadily fallen and the case is clear: Ecuador provides far more access to affordable higher education than its former colonizer.

The Economist reported in March of 2012 that:

“one of the fastest-growing job titles in America is “adjunct professor” (an ill-paid, overworked species of academic)” (http://www.economist.com/node/21549948).

The rise of non-tenure-track faculty, aka “freeway fliers”, because of their need to cobble together multiple teaching assignments to make ends meet, is astounding.  These adjuncts work typically without benefits and often labor under poor working conditions.  Tenure at higher educational institutions in America is fading fast in favor of cheap labor.

LIE. 7 - “The government does not invest in the university system or in research …”

TRUTH - The Ecuadorian government has invested over $1.3 billion in higher education. As stated, Ecuador invests 1.9% of its GDP in higher education, the largest investment in all of Latin America. There has also been a 3.6% increase in research related to Public Scientific Research Institutes.  In addition, there is a remarkable growth in scientific research projects.

In 2007 alone the government investment in both the university system and research increased by 919%!  Tell that to the asset stripping reactionaries who seek to euthanize the public commons and direct public funds into the coffers of Wall Street run for-profit predatory colleges and sub-prime universities.

According to a speech by Correa in August of 2013:

“This is the South American country that allocates more resources to the university budget than any other. This year more than a thousand colleges and universities were allocated $600 million without limiting the delivery of the minimum funding requirement imposed by law” (http://www.telesurtv.net/articulos/2013/08/10/ecuador-destaca-en-america-latina-como-el-pais-que-mas-invierte-en-educacion-superior-1442.html).

Correa went on to note that currently the government has delivered five times more to colleges and universities than in the past and specified that the total this sector has received has been seven billion dollars over the past six years.

As noted, in the US education has been the subject of austerity for years and is virtually privatized.  State and federal spending for education has fallen dramatically, leaving little in the way of investment in higher education other than public investment in the privatization of education for the sake of financialized capitalist interests.

LIE 8 -. “There are no options for those who do not get a seat in college …”

TRUTH - The government will build 40 new schools with more than 120,000 open seats, with a $308 million investment.

For example, in August of 2013, the Ecuadorian Department of Education sent to the legislature its plans for the creation of four new public mega universities.

One of the crown jewels is the Ciudad del Conocimiento [City of Knowledge] known as ‘Yachay’ which serves as the banner for the change in higher education in Ecuador (http://www.agencianoticiasandes.com/en/sociedad/ecuador-presents-reports-creation-four-mega-universities-legislative-assembly.html).

Ciudad del Conocimiento Yachay, which will operate in the province of Imbabura, the Universidad de las Artes [University of the Arts] (Guayas), the Universidad del Docente [Teachers’ University] (Cañar) and Universidad Amazónica [Amazon University] Ikiam (Napo), are the four new universities that the current government is building to comprehensively improve academic quality in Ecuador (ibid).

However, Ecuadorian colleges and universities, not unlike the country’s former imperialist rulers, the US, suffer from high administrative costs, sucking the guts out of instructional spending.  Correa seeks to reduce these administrative costs by 25 percent.  He believes that the state contribution to the university budget is a problem, due to excessive administrative spending by universities, which amounts to $557 million.

The Ecuadorean president recently noted that:

“The problem is that 54 percent is spent on an administrative budget. Re-engineering in all the universities is required “(http://www.telesurtv.net/articulos/2013/08/10/ecuador-destaca-en-america-latina-como-el-pais-que-mas-invierte-en-educacion-superior-1442.html).

In the US, on the other hand, administrative costs are eating higher educational budgets at alarming speeds while classes are cut and instruction is placed low on the list of priorities.

 

The Washington Monthly noted in 2011:

“One thing that has changed, dramatically, is the administrator-per-student ratio. In 1975, colleges employed one administrator for every eighty-four students and one professional staffer—admissions officers, information technology specialists, and the like—for every fifty students. By 2005, the administrator-to-student ratio had dropped to one administrator for every sixty-eight students while the ratio of professional staffers had dropped to one for every twenty-one students.

Apparently, as colleges and universities have had more money to spend, they have not chosen to spend it on expanding their instructional resources—that is, on paying faculty. They have chosen, instead, to enhance their administrative and staff resources. A comprehensive study published by the Delta Cost Project in 2010 reported that between 1998 and 2008, America’s private colleges increased spending on instruction by 22 percent while increasing spending on administration and staff support by 36 percent” (http://washingtonmonthly.com/magazine/septemberoctober_2011/features/administrators_ate_my_tuition031641.php).

High paid administrators is a problem in both Ecuador and the US.  The difference is that while Ecuador seeks to reduce these costs, the US seeks to expand them.

The achievements of Ecuador in higher education made ​​in 2012:

1 - Transparent system, democratized and meritocratic admission.

2 - Leveling system that equalizes opportunities.

3 - 15,000 children from families receiving bonus leveling human development in higher education.

4 - 3,000 scholarships have been given students to attend the best universities in the world.

5 - Introduction to the bodies of four new universities. University of Arts, Education, Ikiam (Amazon) and Yachay.

6 - Closing 14 universities for lack of academic quality, including nepotism and academic fraud.   Ecuador has declared higher education in the country as being in crisis and even called many of its institutions ‘garage universities’.

Garage Universities

In the last 20 years, a cottage industry was born in Ecuador around the creation of small, privately operated universities. With virtually no regulation, the quality of these schools was more than often very low — although the profits could be quite high for their owners and investors.

They earned the name “garage universities” because the worst ones were a long way from having the facilities and academic resources of more established schools. Some specialized in giving courses online.  Most used part-time (adjunct) professors, which Mr. Ramírez said meant lower teaching quality. About half the students received degrees in business administration. Cosmetology was another popular degree (ibid). Sound like the for-profit college and university cartel in the US and Chile?  They are virtually the same.

In April of this year, the government moved to shut down 14 universities that they determined did not meet basic academic standards.  The schools, with a total of about 38,000 students, were on a list of failing universities, sometimes called “garage universities” because of accusations of their low quality.

The move is part of a broad effort to improve higher education by President Rafael Correa’s government. The government said it would take a year to close the schools, allowing about 10,000 students who are in their final year of studies to graduate. Most of the remaining students would be given the chance to transfer to other academic programs (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/13/world/americas/ecuador-failing-universities-to-close.html?_r=0).

The fourteen universities closed have had 280,000 students pass through them and 24,000 degrees have been awarded by the so-called garage schools.

For example, the New York Times reported in 2012 that at one of the ‘garage schools’ in Ecuador, the Alfredo Pérez Guerrero University, there are no ivory towers, no quads,  no soccer fields. The entire campus fits in four small, rented buildings on the fringes of a modest residential neighborhood.  Its main entrance can be found on a busy street, between a furniture shop and a store that sells remote-controlled toy cars and airplanes (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/19/world/americas/in-ecuador-garage-universities-are-bracing-for-reform.html?pagewanted=all).

In December of 2013 it was reported that the Government seeks to revamp the entire Ecuadorian public and private higher education assessments in order to prevent rampant commercialization and end the garage universities (http://www.analisiseconomico.info/index.php/opinion2/262-estafa-academica).

Many of the so called garage universities have been closed down by the government (http://www.educationandtech.com/2013/11/ecuador-ceaaces-universities-ranking.html).

7 - Salvaging social and academic majors in the history of Ecuador, to ensure the continuity of education to 40,000 students in the universities that were closed.

8 - 40 new college and university designs with an emphasis on technical and technological education and an increase in enrollment of nearly 20,000 students in colleges and universities 2012 and 2013.

9 - Incorporating the highest scientific level through the Prometheus program, put forth by the Ecuadorian Department of Education.

10 - Increasing the number of researchers in research institutes, going from 250 to 800.

11 – Government investment in research and development increased from USD $1 million to USD $12 million and in 2013 a multi-year investment will exceed USD $60 million.

12 - 25 research networks were promoted by the Ecuadorian government.

13 - The government has constructed regulations within the ranks of teaching and research, which will reward meritocracy and prevent labor exploitation.

14 - Interest rates on student loans, which are being replaced by more and more scholarships, fell from 12% to 4.6% and the debt was removed or ‘forgiven’ by a showing of academic merit on the part of the student borrower (http://www.andes.info.ec/es/sociedad/2012-fue-año-histórico-educación-superior-ecuador.html).

Summary

The Ecuadorian higher education miracle is an example of what can be done for students and society as a whole when the public sector is protected and public investment in education soars.

The United States, once proclaimed a modern civilization, is ironically now the banana republic that Ecuador once was under Spanish and US imperial rule.  US disinvestment in public education at all levels, but for purposes of this article in higher education specifically, means that less and less US citizens can or will be able to attend college or university.

The contrary is true for Ecuadorian citizens who are not only seeing a monumental increase in their ability to attend colleges and universities, but who are also witnessing the rise of their standard of living and the educational levels of their children.

It is time to turn our attention to South America where public investment in education at all levels is on the rise and begin to see that it is public investment in public instiutions that will assure that Americans have the same opportunities as South American countries — especially Ecuador.

But this will mean that Americans must understand the failure of market solutions as the fix for social problems and finally begin to shed the policies of the privatization of everything of value — most notably education.