Ghent University delegation visit to Ecuador

From 1 to 6 October, Rector Rik Van de Walle is visiting Ecuador together with a delegation from Ghent University. We’ve listed some of the trip’s highlights below.

Ghent University and Ecuador

As a pluralistic and socially committed institution, Ghent University has always been a pioneer in the field of internationalisation within higher education. We want to further strengthen this position by, among other things, continuing to enter into partnerships with institutions offering higher education in countries and regions that are of strategic importance to Ghent University. In this context, the Rector is visiting Ecuador. 

Ecuador is a small country (256,370 km˛) in the Andes region with a great diversity of geographical and ecological systems. Ecuador has over 70 universities, which serve a combined total of over 61,000 students.

Ecuador is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. Research in Ecuador by renowned naturalists Alexander von Humboldt and Charles Darwin helped to develop the basic theories of modern geography, ecology, and evolutionary biology. Today, academic research mainly takes place in the fields of medical sciences, treatment of tropical and infectious diseases, agricultural techniques, pharmaceutical research, and bio-engineering sciences.

Research centres and companies connected to Ghent University with activities in Ecuador

  • Via Professor Patrick Van Damme (Faculty of Bioscience Engineering):  Join for Water  and  Rikolto
  • Via Professor Hans Verbeeck (Faculty of Bioscience Engineering):  BOS+  and  MCF: reforestation

CESAM Platform

Under the coordination of Professor Guido Van Huylenbroeck , five regional platforms with China, Africa, Russia, Asia, and Latin America were set up at Ghent University. Each of these platforms brings together knowledge about a specific region and strives to build and expand qualitative cooperation with regional partners.

The CESAM Platform (the Central and South America Platform) brings together all of Ghent University’s expertise in this region, with the following concrete objectives:

  • Support new initiatives on academic mobility and exchange;
  • Encourage joint projects and activities in the fields of research, education, and services;
  • Facilitate the exchange of knowledge and expertise in Latin America;
  • Promote initiatives aimed at capacity building in higher education, both at Ghent University and in Latin America.


’Sustainable use of water’ conference (Tuesday, 1 October, Guayaquil)

On Tuesday, 1 October, the rector and a Ghent University delegation joined the ’Sustainable use of water’ conference organised by the International Water Association (IWA), ESPOL, and Ghent University. Professor Peter Goethals , Faculty of Bioscience Engineering, was one of the keynote speakers.

The International Water Association (IWA) is an open, yet ordered platform in which both innovators and adopters of new technologies and approaches can generate creative friction. It is a place for diffusion, benchmarking, and evidence.

The aim of this conference is to further guide the IWA, in cooperation with other stakeholders, towards the implementation of sustainable water use in three specific areas of life - industry, agriculture, and cities. Therefore, the focus of the conference was on the concrete application, the real-world focus, of technologies and scientific findings related to the sustainable use of water.

On Wednesday, 2 October, the delegation visited Escuela Superior Politécnica del Litoral (ESPOL).  ESPOL was founded in 1958 and is now comprised of 8 faculties: natural sciences and mathematics, social and humanistic sciences, geosciences engineering, maritime engineering, biological science, oceanographic sciences and natural resources, electrical engineering and computing sciences, mechanical engineering and production sciences, life sciences, and visual design and communication.

There are 26 undergraduate programmes and 10 Master programmes. There are also 15 research centres. The spearheads are agriculture and animal husbandry, climate, human development, fundamental science, economics, renewable energy, and industrial technology.  

The cooperation with ESPOL was initiated by Professor Magda Vincx and Professor Patrick Sorgeloos. Professor Magda Vincx coordinated the IUS ESPOL programme in the period from 1998 to 2010. The network launched in 2012 and is now coordinated by Professor Peter Goethals. After over 10 years of intensive cooperation, a partnership agreement was concluded between ESPOL and Ghent University in 2011. The faculties involved at the time were BE, S, EBA, E, and PES. The agreement was renewed and consolidated in 2016.

The cooperation with ESPOL lies mainly within the context of the VLIR-UOS operation and focuses primarily on development cooperation. After all, Ecuador is one of the most important partner countries for VLIR-UOS.

The VLIR Network is led by Ghent University and ESPOL and includes the University of Antwerp and the KUL as Flemish partners, on the one hand, and Escuela Politécnica Nacional, Escuela Superior Politécnica del Litoral, Universidad Técnica del Norte, and Universidad de Cuenca as Ecuadorian partners, on the other.

The objective of the project is to make a significant contribution to the sustainable use of natural resources in support of the quality of life of the Ecuadorian population. Several academic experts in the field of biodiscovery, water management, and education are involved.

The second phase of this programme is currently underway. During this phase, the network will focus on consolidating the MSc programmes developed during phase 1, on developing doctoral schools and a PhD programme, and improving the interaction with stakeholders at the academic and research levels. In order to achieve these objectives, the programme will build on the projects carried out during Phase 1 and integrate a third project focusing on innovation in university teaching and outreach.

Alumni and networking event

The rector met with several Ghent University alumni during a network reception on Wednesday, 2 October.

One of the strategic objectives of Ghent University is to increase student mobility to 25% by the year 2020. This means that 25% of our alumni will gain international experience during their studies. Strengthening the relationship with our international alumni is, therefore, one of the priorities of Ghent University’s internationalisation policy. A worldwide alumni network is an indispensable tool in this respect.

The first two international Ghent University alumni platforms were launched in 2013 in Beijing and Shanghai, China. We now also have alumni platforms in the United States, Vietnam, the Western Balkans, Tanzania, South Africa, and - most recently - in South Korea. Earlier this year, we investigated a possible chapter in Mexico.

We hope that more alumni platforms in different countries will follow in the coming months and years, and we hope that Ecuador will be one of them thanks to this visit.

Whether you are Belgian by nationality or Ghentian through experience: you all share a kind of ’UGent-ness’, you all share the ’Dare to Think’ spirit, which unites you with each other and, of course, with us as a university. This is an asset we want to develop more, especially as we notice the success and popularity of the already-existing alumni chapters.

Rector Rik Van de Walle

The Galápagos Archipelago lies in the Pacific Ocean and is about 1,000 km from the Ecuadorian coast. It has long held global fame for its unique fauna and flora. The Galápagos Islands are approximately 4 to 5 million years old and volcanic in origin.

The islands have been a national park since 1959. The Charles Darwin Foundation was established that same year to preserve the natural state of the islands. The surrounding ocean has also been declared a marine reserve.

The islands have been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1978 and the Marine Reserve was added to the list in 1981.

Charles Darwin visited the islands in September and October 1835, during his trip aboard the Beagle.

While the crew charted the archipelago, he visited the islands,  collecting numerous plants and animals, and studying their geology. Of all Darwin’s observations on the Galápagos Islands, those of the finch species are the most well-known. The finches’ beaks appeared to differ from island to island, depending on the food present on the island. But Darwin’s observations of mockingbirds, land and sea iguanas, and giant tortoises also certainly played a role in the development of his theory of evolution.

This led to his famous work On the origin of species by means of natural selection in 1859.

Today, numerous researchers from Ghent University and HOGENT, as well as those from other (Flemish) universities, are active on the Galápagos Islands. The rector visited a number of Ghent University projects on site:

  • Professor Marleen de Troch : Research on marine biodiversity, both along the coast and in the open ocean. The biodiversity of small invertebrates is researched because they react quickly to environmental pollution and stress. They play a very important role as food for fish and therefore also for humans.
  • Professor Philippe De Maeyer uses drones and 3D models to systematically map coastal habitation and carry out analyses on it.
  • Professor Pieter Spanoghe maps out pesticides and organic pollutants.
  • Professor Peter Goethals researches the water cycle & integrated water management.
Our research improves the quality of life of both the local population and the extraordinary ecosystems. We want to be able to provide everyone with drinkable water without affecting nature. Turning saltwater into potable water requires a great deal of technology and fuel. An island is an additional challenge for our water research because it is highly subject to environmental and climate fluctuations. In addition, we must also take a fluctuating number of tourists into account. Through intelligent technologies, we are striving for more sustainability on the islands, by smarter production according to needs. What we learn on the Galápagos is particularly useful for insights into our environmental policy in many parts of the world (islands, mainland, etc.), but also for the development of ecosystems on Mars.

Professor Peter Goethals

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