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April 18, 2016
Prior to the World Cup in Brazil, there were scenes of civil unrest being beamed onto televisions around the world. Within all the mayhem of the protest flew banners reading ‘Teachers are more important than footballers’ and showing that a change is currently taking place in Brazil. In a nation where football runs through their veins, this is quite the statement. With the first round of the Brazilian elections taking place this coming Sunday, education with be one of the main issues to be dealt with. Brazil has a shortage of some 300,000 primary school teachers. At the other end of the education journey, there is less than 20% availability for all of Brazil’s students to attend the country’s highly regarded public universities.
In the protests that swept across Brazil, education was a recurrent theme as seen on placards and throughout social media channels. The demand for educations is being driven by both Brazil’s size and the sustained economic growth through President Dilma Rousseff’s predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. As the fifth largest country in terms of geographical area and population of over 200 million, Brazil has increased its domestic production by a third over the last decade and in doing so, raised the economic status of about 40 million Brazilians.
This increase in domestic production and rise in the standard of living in Brazil has continued to stimulate the demand for access to education at all levels, stretching the current provisions to their limits and testing Brazil’s domestic capacity. Brazil is now attracting growing interest from international education providers, especially at university level but it is still far behind the internationalisation of the competitive hubs in Dubai, Qatar, Hong Kong and Singapore. At the centre of Brazil’s higher education system are 100 state and federal public universities all of which have high entry requirements but charge no fees; causing an ever-intensifying competition for places. It is estimated that by 2015, Brazil will need a higher education capacity for 10 million students in total. As less than 1 in 5 get a place at a public university, there are now 90 private universities and over 2,000 private higher education institutions entitled to offer qualifications and are recognised by Brazil’s Ministry of Education. With fees rising to as much as £1,000 per month, the private higher education institutions and universities are adding to the twist in Brazil’s affirmative action policies. Latin America is recognised as one of the most unequal regions in the world and Brazil is high up on the list of unequal countries. The Brazilian government interestingly require publicly funded universities to set affirmative action targets at up to 50% of all enrolments.
As a result of the publicly provided schooling being of a low standard, applicants find it difficult to meet the public university entry requirements without having a private education. This in turn translates into a profitable private schooling sector and the unsavoury scenes prior to the World Cup as Brazil’s economy continues to grow whilst excluding the poor from the many benefits. To combat these challenges, there is an increasing openness to international participation and investment with the for-profit sector growing rapidly with mergers and acquisitions. US-based private universities are showing a growing interest in minority partnerships with what have to be majority Brazilian owned education institutions. It is only a matter of time before the Brazilian higher education system becomes even more internationalised but it remains to be seen what form this change will take.
Brazilians have taken to social media like almost no other nation in the world with over 29 million Facebook users and at 9.2%, it has the highest current annual growth in sign-ups on the planet. As can be seen in the lead up to the presidential election, attitudes and choices in Brazil are unpredictable and while President Rousseff’s government is in trouble, she is until recently, expected to win. Rousseff’s main competitor, in the form of Marina Silva, the Green candidate from a poor Amazon community could still take the prize. Anything is possible and if there is change or no change in the government, there could be a great number of different paths taken in international education as the new generation of students assert begin to make their aspirations heard. Following the World Cup, Brazil’s government announced a new education policy which stated by 2024, 10% of Brazil’s GDP would be earmarked for the National Education Plan. This would become the highest in the world with the UK’s currently at 6.2% of GDP and 5.4% in the US. However, the combination of 10 million students straining the education system and an economy of knowledge scattered across a wide range of subject areas and institutions means that higher education league tables outside of the well regarded public universities actually mean very little. This is unfortunately a red flag for many international institutions that are wary of their own quality regulators and it paints a rather uncertain journey ahead.
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