What’s Happening to Higher Education in Brazil?

Brazilian students with a flag

For years Brazil was a rising economic and political power. Former president, Luíz Inácio Lula da Silva, was one of the most popular on the planet and the country secured both the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games.

Football with the Brazilian flag and a mortarboard

In 2010, The Washington Post reported that: “Under Lula, Brazil became the world’s eighth-largest economy, more than 20 million people rose out of acute poverty.”

But after Lula’s chief of staff, Dilma Rousseff, was named as his successor and assumed the presidency in 2011, Brazil’s economic growth began to slow and the country has been struggling to recover ever since.

This has had a devastating effect on the Brazilian higher education sector. In September of last year, the country announced US$17 billion of austerity measures to try and tackle their financial issues. In addition, last month the government announced US$6 billion of cuts to 2016’s federal budget, with the Education Ministry one of the worst-affected departments.

The Education Ministry’s budget is now R$1.3 billion (around US$334 million) lower than it was last year, raising serious questions about its ability to deliver on Brazil’s National Education Plan, which was passed into law, after years of debate, as recently as 2014.

Goals of the National Education Plan include investing 10% of GDP in education by 2023 as well as increasing university enrolment by 40% and ensuring that 75% of lecturers have master’s degrees and 35% have doctorates by the end of this same time-frame. In light of the new budget cuts, can these objectives still be achieved?

Closing the border?
‘Science without Borders’ programme is put on hold

Science students in a laboratory

One of the worst-hit areas is ‘Science without Borders’, the government’s flagship scholarship programme designed to fund students of STEM subjects to study abroad for a year. The scheme aims to improve international mobility in these fields while allowing participants to develop their foreign language skills. The 2016 cutbacks mean, however, that no new students will be able to enroll in the scheme this year, although the government will continue to finance those already abroad.

Another area of the Brazilian higher education system which has suffered is the Postgraduate Research Support Programme (PROAP). As a result of cuts last year, the Federal University of Bahia’s graduate programme was closed temporarily after its funding was slashed from around US$1.3million to about US$316,000.

 Bad news for other countries as well as Brazil?

Brazilian students with a flag

This is not only an issue for higher education in Brazil.

Institutes across the globe have benefited from the income of tuition fees from Brazilian students that have been covered by the Brazilian government. In the USA especially, some universities have become heavily reliant on programmes bringing in these international students.

But, it’s not only these funded by the government who will be affected. The economic crash has negatively impacted much of the population. The value of the Brazilian real was at a 12-year low in 2015 – so even self-funding students might well be looking for cheaper destinations.

What does the future hold?

Despite the downturned economy, the government is still actively trying to improve education across the country and has resolved to follow the National Education Plan as far as possible.

But with impeachment proceedings against the current president looking more and more likely, and no clear end in sight for the recession, it seems likely that the higher education issues the country is facing will continue for the foreseeable future.

To find out more about student tends in Latin America, download our report.

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