Why Do Ecuadorian Youth Tend to Choose Russian Universities?
There are large oil reserves in Ecuador but not enough specialists who know how to work with modern technologies. Therefore locals, if an opportunity emerges, choose to study abroad.
Valeria Esthefanía Quiroz Cabascango moved from Ecuador to Russia. Now she is studying petrochemistry at Saint-Petersburg Mining University. In her interview, Valeria compares Russian and South American education systems and also explains the reasons behind her study choice.
As Valeria Quiroz, a PhD student at the Mining University, says "Compared to other countries with large hydrocarbon reserves, mine has just begun developing them. Our first barrel of oil was extracted only in 1973. We got initial help from foreign experts, but they could not cope with working in here. Deposits are located in the jungle, within the rainforest area known through its high humidity, tropical downpours, and a great variety of wild animals, snakes and insects. Indeed, locals can manage better under these conditions. Thus most deposits in the country are owned today by Petroecuador, the national oil company. Repsol (Spanish company) and China National Petroleum Corporation are the only foreign entities within the oil & gas industry that are present here, in Ecuador."
The Ecuadorian student admits that her country lacks high-qualified mining specialists. Most often, people who are employed in mining do not have the appropriate education but only experience. They start working after finishing school, and it takes years to gain the required skills.
According to Valeria, "As soon as mining works had been given a start to, Native Americans came into conflict with oil industry specialists. Many companies did not take any measures to protect the environment. A negative impact on ecology was catastrophic: oil spills, gas flaring, untreated waste dumped straight into the forests. As a result, indigenous peoples do not want engineers anywhere near deposits found on their territories. The whole situation is very complicated - conflicts have been lasting for decades, but extraction should not be stopped either. Through the money it brings into the country's budget, we are provided with the environment we can develop within."
Valeria was always interested in chemistry: she was fond of setting up simple experiments resulting in material purity or colour change. Besides, her parents worked in pharmaceuticals and succeeded in fostering their daughter's interest in science when she was yet a small child.
After graduating from high school, the Ecuadorian girl entered the National Polytechnic School in Quito, which is the most highly reputed engineering university in the country. Soon she, however, found about the contest held by Rossotrudnichestvo. Rossotrudnichestvo is short for the Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Cooperation. This organisation is responsible for promoting Russian education services abroad. Based on the information Valeria had read on the Ministry of Science and Higher Education's website, competition winners were entitled to free studies at one of the Russian universities. She decided she would participate.
Valeria recalls, "Why did I decide to do so? It was the choice of various specialities that impressed me the most. Petrochemistry, pharmaceutical biochemistry, agrochemistry... I would not be able to choose any of them in Ecuador. There is no such possibility here; subject matter experts do not exist in my country. Each graduate becomes a chemical engineer. As a bonus, learning a new language and culture help a person push their boundaries in comprehending the world. So I made a decision. My boyfriend and I submitted applications, and both were approved. There were 30 quotas for tuition-free education allocated to Ecuadorian citizens that year. Of them, we got two."
Back then, applicants could not specify a city they would want to live in or a university they would want to study at. This opportunity was granted only a few years later. It turned out that Valeria's boyfriend was admitted to one of the universities in St. Petersburg. She, in turn, ended up a student of the Chemical Engineering Faculty at Belgorod State Technological University (BSTU). Unfortunately, none of the specialities the young lady was interested in was available there.
As Valeria notes, "I did not want to study chemistry. I wanted to study petrochemistry because I knew that was a field I could see myself working in upon return home. Petroleum engineering and energetics are two industries that are currently being under active development in my country. As of now, we have two oil refineries, and construction of our first hydropower plant started only eight or nine years ago. Once completed preparatory studies, I came to St. Petersburg for a holiday. Surprisingly it felt very different here, and I immediately fell in love with the city!"
It was a chance that helped Valeria to transfer to St. Petersburg. She was on her way back to Belgorod and all of a sudden, while waiting for a train, heard someone addressing her in Spanish. Milton, a young man who talked to her, was a PhD student at the Mining University and was also an Ecuadorian. He assured then the BSTU's student that petrochemistry was taught in his university and even called the Dean's Office for International Students. A few days later, Valeria received an invitation for the interview. And with the help provided by the Mining University's staff, she got transferred to St. Petersburg, yet retaining her quota.
As Valeria says, "When I arrived here I realised I had been accepted to one of the world's top universities. I saw students working here in the labs on their own, conducting experiments with no fear of making a mistake. To my regret, a teacher and student in Ecuador are separated by an unbreakable wall. This wall is not built on respect but horror instead. For instance, we were constantly reminded that if something broke down, we would be required to pay or even expelled altogether. Being afraid of doing something wrong, in my opinion, does not allow students to think freely. I never had such problems in Russia. The biggest issue I encountered here was the language barrier. I did well with written assignments but not so much with oral ones. Although there was one time when, to my surprise, a professor switched to Spanish because he wanted to hear me explain my solution."
Talking about the advantages of the Mining University, Valeria places special attention to the field studies and internships, which are to be undertaken by students on an annual basis. Ecuadorian students do not have such an opportunity, and they thereby have no practical training completed when they become first employed.
Once her Bachelor studies had been over, the Mining University's student decided to continue education and applied for a Master's programme. Now she is studying for a PhD degree. As Valeria explains, a quota is granted only to those students who have written several scientific papers and have participated in significant conferences. She had done both - for example, held a speech at St. Petersburg International Gas Forum.
Valeria sums up, "As I complete my education here, I would like to come back to my home country. I suppose at first I will devote a couple of years to working in the industry because I need to gain some practical experience. After that, I plan to become a teacher at one of the local engineering universities. But no matter what I will be missing Saint-Petersburg."
There had been hardly any information about study opportunities in Russia when Valeria arrived. South American youth mostly tried to enter American and European universities. A lot has changed in the last ten years.
The PhD student admits, "Many Ecuadorians prefer to study in Russia nowadays, with majority paying for their education. It does not cost a lot to become a student here, while the education quality is incomparable. American dollar became Ecuador's currency in 2000, and consequently, the prices surged up. Now higher education in some private university of the country is a more expensive option than studying in a Russian educational institution. For comparison, two years lasting Master's programme in Russia costs about 6 thousand dollars on average. In contrast, it is around 8 thousand in my country."