UAlberta brought into think-tank talks for new Silicon Valley in South America

University may play a role in the bold, new initiative.


It's not every day that a country makes plans to develop its own Silicon Valley—a high-tech city anchored by a top-tier research university and bursting with R&D facilities and startup incubators.

But that's exactly what's on the rise on the northern edges of Ecuador’s highlands as its government plots out Yachay, a planned City of Knowledge meant to rival high-tech hubs like Shenzhen, China, and California’s renowned valley.

How UAlberta might be involved

Britta Baron, vice-provost and associate vice-president (international), is heading to Urcuqui—a small town 140 kilometres northeast of the Ecuadorian capital of Quito—to participate in a two-day workshop involving international leaders and innovators in higher education. 

Participants at the first-ever "International Academic Think Tank" will offer insight and expertise as Ecuador transforms Urcuqui and the surrounding area into a burgeoning research community. 

"It's definitely a remarkable initiative being undertaken," says Baron. "Great universities and great research centres around the world all start from the minds of visionary people. They build consensus and find support to make their vision a reality. I’m excited to be part of the conversations."

Yachay a work in progress for several years

Plans for Yachay began after the 2006 election of President Rafael Correa, an American- and European-educated economist who has been working to modernize Ecuador’s economy through investment in research and education.

Correa established a public company devoted to making Yachay a reality, and an extensive planning exercise was undertaken involving partnerships and consultations with international governments, industry and universities. Partners to date have included CalTech and the minds behind South Korea’s up-and-coming Incheon Free Economic Zone.

The end goal is a city of 80,000 people supported by a university, public research centres and dozens of high-tech enterprises. Construction is well underway on the first phase of Yachay, the university. The city and supporting research facilities will follow.

Although it won't be fully operational until 2015, the university will start delivering classes to 200 students next month. Approximately 500 teaching staff—including 40 PhD holders—have signed on to teach in the university's five priority research areas: life sciences, nanoscience, petrochemistry, renewable energy, and information and communications technology.

Baron believes the U of A was tapped to participate given its closely-aligned research expertise and strong international record.

Think Tank will bring experts from around the world

The "Academic Think Tank," running Feb. 11-12, will bring together 75 international experts who will provide advice into curriculum development for Yachay’s professional and research degrees. Representatives will discuss student learning both inside and outside the classroom, sharing best practices and lessons learned.

Baron plans to highlight the U of A’s success in attracting cohorts of international graduate and undergraduate researchers through UAI’s sponsored student program and research internship programs. She’ll also tout the importance of embedding internationalization in the curriculum through education abroad experiences and the importance of co-operation between universities and industry.

“It’s difficult to say at this point what, if any, role we might play but it’s wonderful to be brought into the discussions. It speaks to our reputation globally,” says Baron. “We will listen carefully to understand where opportunities may exist and see where it can make sense for both parties to build bridges and develop sustainable co-operation.”