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Colección: La Educación
Número: (129-131) I,III
Año: 1998

Educational Reform in Ecuador

Reform of higher education in Ecuador has been sporadic and partial. The current Ley governing universities was passed in 1982. This appears to have been the last major official national policy change. For most Ecuadorian universities, reform means curricular change, and most would argue that their university is engaged in a reform process. For example, Catholic University of Guayaquil recently engaged in a thorough institutional self study and reform. The heart of this reform was curricular, but because of the wide scope of the study, other factors, such as institutional governance and management, were also examined. Several universities, mainly the privates and the polytechnics, have implemented admissions placement tests, and some of the public universities have tried to follow, even raising student fees. Such efforts at the Central University, the country’s largest and potentially most important public university, have resulted in student strikes.

At the national level, the Consejo Nacional de Universidades y Escuelas Politécnicas (CONUEP), consisting of the rectors of each recognized university and polytechnic as well as an executive staff, is the main policy leader for higher education in the country. CONUEP might be best described as an oversight committee. Although it is a legally created and sanctioned body responsible for higher education, it does not have the policy setting and enforcing rights and responsibilities of a U.S. governing board. However it has more authority and influence than an advisory board. Persuasion is perhaps its most powerful weapon. Rife with its own credibility problems, CONUEP is nevertheless the primary lobbying group for universities. Between 1987-89, CONUEP carried out a study to evaluate the current state of universities and to develop short- and medium-range goals for universities and polytechnics. The results of this study were published in 1992, the same year in which CONUEP joined forces with the World Bank and the Ministry of Education to initiate the aforementioned study entitled Misión de la Universidad Ecuatoriana para el Siglo XXI, hereafter referred to simply as Misión. The results of this study (actually nine separate studies) were published in 1994.

Misión identified five critical problems facing Ecuadorian higher education cited earlier: (1) inadequate connection between the universities and polytechnics and the external environment, (2) poor academic quality, (3) weak management, (4) insufficient funds and (5) lack of accountability systems (CONUEP 1994, 20). Eight primary recommendations resulted from the various studies comprising Misión: (1) continual redefinition of the mission and objectives for higher education, (2) creation of a higher education system, (3) development of tighter relation between the universities and their environment, (4) encouragement of scientific and technological research, (5) improvement of university administration and management, (6) increase in and diversification of sources of finances, (7) creation of a national system of evaluation and accreditation as a means for ensuring accountability, and (8) changes to the law governing universities and polytechnics (CONUEP 1994).

A constant theme throughout the report is that of cementing the role of the university in a modern society by bringing the mission of the university in line with the needs of society and by holding universities accountable for fulfilling their mission (CONUEP 1994). The implicit assumption throughout Misión is that the university should be contributing to the scientific and technological needs of the country and be training the “right” kinds of workers.

Although the report made specific recommendations in a number of areas, including to change the way in which rectors are elected, by the summer of 1996, the only recommendation approved was to create a special fund to support university research, and work had begun to create the accreditation and evaluation system. Critical legislation proposing changes in the law governing universities and polytechnics, namely a change in the process for electing rectors, had become stalled in the Congress. This proposal was arguably as fundamental to improving university quality as creation of an evaluation and accreditation system because internal politicization and corruption are serious obstacles to institutional reform. Failure of this effort left the creation of an evaluation and accreditation system as the hope for the future ability of the Ecuadorian universities to contribute to a global economy.