For nature-lovers, Ecuador has always been pretty much impossible to beat. This country in the northwest corner of South America is renowned worldwide for its incredible biodiversity. Add in a vibrant cultural fusion of indigenous, European and African traditions, and the result is a unique study-abroad experience. The Andes mountain range runs through Ecuador, while the Amazon rainforest also takes up a sizeable portion of its land mass.
Ecuador also incorporates the Galapagos Islands, or the Archipiélago de Colón as they are known locally, which are recognized as one of the most biologically unique sites in the world. In fact, the country as a whole is considered to be ‘megadiverse’ – a term used to describe nations with extremely high levels of biodiversity – and is believed to have the world’s highest rate of biodiversity per square kilometre.
Ecuador has over 70 universities, attended by more than 61,000 students. There are as many as nine Ecuadorian universities in the QS University Rankings: Latin America 2015, with the Universidad de San Francisco de Quito the highest ranked in the nation, ranked 68th in Latin America. With a long history of higher education, Ecuador boasts two Quito-based universities dating back to the 17th century, now merged to form the Universidad Central del Ecuador.
The top ranked universities in Ecuador are:
The area that is now Ecuador was once the northernmost outpost of the Incan civilization, and it is estimated that this region has been occupied for more than 10 millennia. Two of its largest cities – Cuenca and capital city Quito – have been identified as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
As in most Latin American countries, Ecuador has developed a cuisine which draws on a variety of influences. Most dishes centre round meat or fish, depending on your proximity to the coast, with potato, bread, rice, and plantain also featuring regularly.
Spanish is the official language of Ecuador, which is a former Spanish colony, though in some rural areas indigenous languages are widely spoken. Past links with Spain are also evident in the country’s culture – the popular Spanish sport of bullfighting, for example, is also popular in Ecuador.
Ecuador is in the midst of reforming its university system, with the aims of improving higher education standards and making admissions fairer. As of 2012, the country has introduced a standard aptitude test for the 29 public universities, which cater for around 70% of students. The test is designed to measure aptitude for learning, rather than actual knowledge, in the hope that this will increase the number of students from lower income backgrounds who gain entry.
Meanwhile, as part of the plan to raise teaching standards, all professors will be required to have at least a master’s degree by 2017 – and ideally a doctoral qualification. At present, however, graduate degrees are relatively rare in Ecuador. Only three universities currently grant PhDs – and only about 20 per year are completed.
The government’s plan to raise standards also means a clamp down on so-called ‘garage universities’ – higher education institutions deemed as failing to meet required standards of teaching, facilities and academic resources. Those which fail to make sufficient improvements within a two-year period will be closed, while all public universities will have to account publicly for how they spend government funding – which amounts to around US$490 million per year.