August 14th, 2014
Ecuador is creating a new city of knowledge called Yachay; a Quechua Indian word that means knowledge, or learning. It is building a research university and city in Urcuquí, Imbabura Province to function as an academic, technological and scientific. The campus expands over an area of approximately 12,000 acres near the snowcapped Andean peaks in northern Ecuador. In one promotional video on Yachay, the tag line is: Ciudad de Conocimiento (City of Knowledge) Investiga! Innova! Produce! (Research! Innovate! Produce!)
Yachay is to become the first planned city of its kind and its mission is to transform the country into an exporter of knowledge which Ecuador sees as the key to access the new global economic structure. Yachay University is a proposed institution planned by the government of Ecuador.
The idea came about in 2013 after President Rafael Correa toured Asia and so impressed was he with the technologically advanced research and business clusters in the countries he had visited, in particular South Korea and Singapore, that he envisioned something similar for Ecuador. Rich in oil and gold deposits, the country’s natural resources may soon run out which is why President Correa wants to steer Ecuador away from an economy that is largely based on oil-extraction and mining. He wants to take Ecuador through an academic and technological revolution with Yachay; a $1.04 billion initiative to build a research university surrounded by labs, industrial parks and, ultimately, a city…a South American Silicon Valley in Ecuador.
The heart of Yachay will be Yachay University (Universidad de Investigación de Tecnología Experimental), the technological experimental university that Ecuador wants to make into an important academic establishment. The focus of the university is to develop research around five key areas: life science, nanoscience, petrochemistry, renewable energies, information and communications technology. Yachay University will be one of four universities, and supposed to collaborate with public and private research institutions. Here’s the link to the promotional YouTube video on Yachay
The university will cater to 4000 students, offering internationally recognized undergraduate, graduate and doctorate degree programs. It will facilitate access to national and international research endeavors. The institution is said to retain world-class teaching staff that will work with Ecuadoran universities on research projects. According to a July 14th article in the Miami Herald: “Some 174 students have been recruited from across the country and are taking intensive math and English courses on campus as they prepare for formal studies next year.”
Rene Ramirez, Ecuadorian Minister of Higher Education, Science, Technology, and Innovation, hopes Yachay University will one day be on par with the likes of Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the California Institute of Technology. Yachay University has already attracted the likes of Sanford, Cal Tech and Kansas State University is offering English language instructions. According to September 2013 plans, the University was to open in the first quarter of 2014.
Yachay wants to attract new, innovative and high tech businesses in telecommunications, petrochemistry, health sciences and nano technology. Companies such as Microsoft, Cisco Systems, and China Telecom have already set up in Yachay. The goal is to attract foreign investors converting Yachay into a hub of employment.
Success as a world-class research university requires not only financial security as well as also autonomy on the part of the institution, but to the critics of this project, Yachay is seen as a government enterprise leaving little room for academic freedom. Other critics see Yachay as a university of the elites, isolated and cut off from the rest of Ecuador operating in a vacuum while much of the country is poor and underdeveloped. Many also argue as to why the billions spent on building Yachay is not being allocated to Ecuador’s existing struggling public universities. Supporters of Yachay argue that Ecuador’s public institutions have failed to make any progress in research and innovation and that Yachay University in fact will help reduce the country’s brain drain. An example I recently heard was a report on Yachay by NPR’s All Things Considered about a 17-year old Ecuadoran who turned down a full scholarship to a top university in Belgium to study genetic engineering in order to attend Yachay University.
All this sounds very ambitious, or as the blogger Eric Mack said in his post, this could very well be the pipeline to the future or a pipe dream. I, for one, would like to see this ambitious endeavor succeed, but not at the expense of the country’s existing public universities. Guess we’ll have to wait and see.