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[MONTEVIDEO] Ecuador's president Rafael Correa has announced a US$1.7 million plan to attract senior Ecuadorian scientists living abroad and senior scientists from the developed world — whether active or retired — to come and work in Ecuador.

Under the 'Prometheus Old Wiseman' plan, announced last week (7 August), 48 scientists will be invited to come to Ecuador for up to a year to teach at universities, or collaborate in research centres or state-owned companies.

Initially the aim is for 30 Ecuadorian scientists living abroad to return home to teach, at an estimated cost of US$735,000 to the government, who will pay the airfares for the scientists and their families, and living costs.

Under the second part of the programme, backed by a further US$981,000 sum of government funding, around 18 foreign scientists will be invited to Ecuador.

"According to a 2009 survey, only 29 per cent of the universities in Ecuador have a research programme," Manuel Baldeón, head of the National Secretariat for Science and Technology (Senacyt) told SciDev.Net.

"This is the trend that Prometheus wants to reverse by bringing foreign retired scientists to Ecuadorian research centres and universities for at least one semester. We thought of retired experts because they have time and experience," he added.

Baldeón said that Prometheus aimed to turn Ecuador into a haven for top scientists from around the world and that the government is ready to provide "all that is necessary" to lead the country into becoming "the retirement destination of brilliant minds".

"It will be great if Ecuadorian universities could have a couple of worldwide recognised scientists — even Nobel Prize winners — that would help them to structure their research programmes and could also teach some classes," Juan-Carlos Idrobo, an Ecuadorian physicist from the US-based Vanderbilt University, told SciDev.Net.

"It's very important for students to have role models, and a couple of internationally-recognised scientists, as well as highly motivated young scientists, would really help to engage students in getting into research," Idrobo said.

Scientists can apply to Prometheus online, or Ecuadorian scientific and academic institutions can also nominate a scientist. An evaluation committee will select the best candidates and match them to a research centre or university.

Many European countries and Japan have a mandatory retirement age that forces scientists to retire even if they are at the top of their field. Their main options have been to become an emeritus professor, or move to a country that does not have an upper age limit, such as United States or Australia.