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The internationalisation of higher education in Brazil

Title:The internationalisation of higher education in Brazil
Name:Volume 3, Issue 2, Page 9-10, Summer 2011
Author:Rosa Marina de Brito Meyer

Internationalisation, higher education in Brazil, European country, Portugal, commercial, political, educational, exchanges, Bossa Nova, manifestations, Brazilian students, Masters, PhD degrees

Although founded by the European country of Portugal, Brazil appeared closed to the rest of the world until three decades ago. Commercial, political, cultural and educational exchanges were very limited if at all existing. Imports were prohibited with the excuse of protecting the national production. International artists, shows and plays in general did not perform in Brazil. Brazilian presidents and ministers did not participate in most of the main international political forums. Once could say that with the exception of Bossa Nova -which gain an international acceptance...

The internationalisation of higher education in Brazil - Published Wednesday 24 of August: 2011-08-24

By Rosa Marina de Brito Meyer, Associate Vice-President for Academic Affairs, Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, www.puc-rio.br

Although founded by the European country of Portugal, Brazil appeared closed to the rest of the world until three decades ago. Commercial, political, cultural and educational exchanges were very limited if at all existing. Imports were prohibited with the excuse of protecting the national production. International artists, shows and plays in general did not perform in Brazil. Brazilian presidents and ministers did not participate in most of the main international political forums. Once could say that with the exception of Bossa Nova -which gain an international acceptance to the point that many people do not recognise the music as Brazilian- not many other cultural manifestations ever happened to be internationally known. While large numbers of Brazilian students travelled to international universities to attain Masters and PhD degrees since the 60’s, the international universities knew them individually, not as representatives of the Brazilian educational system. With the stabilisation of democracy things started to change. Imports were permitted leading to an inevitable awareness that most of our products were outdated. Political and cultural events followed, Brazil successfully hosted the Rio Earth Summit 1992, joined the G15 group of countries and a few years later Brazilian Presidents started to be invited to the main international forums and summits. Music events such as the rock concert ‘Rock in Rio’ brought many famous bands and singers to Rio de Janeiro, they interacted with Brazilian performers and returned home carrying with them the Brazilian cultural experience. In higher education the Federal government focused on sending only PhD and post-doctoral students abroad on scholarships. This helped to create deeper academic collaborations between Brazilian and international universities. The forging of the term BRIC (the group of the strongest and fastest emerging countries: Brazil, Russia, India and China) in 2001 placed Brazil on the spot of the international media. Coincidently, the Brazilian economy improved and is today the 7th largest in the world. Brazil invested in Ethanol energy programmes and also became self-sufficient in oil production. With exports figures overcoming imports, more than 40 million Brazilians left poverty, composing a country where more than 70% of the population is in the middle class and up. In sports, Brazil won the 1994 and 2002 World Cups (and since it had already three previous titles in 1958, 1962 and 1970), is currently the only 5 times winner of the World Cup. After successfully hosting the Pan-American Games in 2007, Brazil was chosen to host the 2014 Football World Cup, and Rio de Janeiro will be the home of the 2016 Olympic Games. Brazil has become a main international player. In the educational sector, early international initiatives led to a number of developments. Youth exchange programs such as the American Field Service (AFS) took thousands of Brazilian teenagers abroad, mainly to the United States, and brought American students in since the 50’s. The governmental scholarships for academic qualification took thousands of Brazilian scholars abroad, mainly to universities in the United States, England, France and Germany. As a consequence, academic collaboration was established in individual basis, since the returning researchers kept contact with their former advisors and colleagues. Despite the general understanding of the importance of international individual experience and links for the strength and quality of academic excellence, the universities as institutions did not realise early on, that they should include the objective of the “internationalisation” in their strategic plans. A small number of institutions organised an international office department before the arrival of the 21st century, and most of them still do not have one. They were some exceptions, for more than 10 years, the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Rio) was the only Brazilian university to become a member and attend the annual conferences of associations such as NAFSA (Association of International Educators, USA) and EAIE (European Association of International Education). About five years ago, some other Brazilian universities started to attend some of these events and for the last 4 years there was even a Brazilian booth at NAFSA, but supported by the Ministry of Tourism. An inexpressive number of 16 Brazilian universities -from more than 2,200- attended this year’s NAFSA. Nevertheless, only a very specific segment of third degree institutions, the research universities -no more than 200- maintain international collaboration activities. This is not only the consequence of many of their faculty members having obtained their degrees from abroad but also due to their constant participation in international scientific events.

From the broader point of view, these activities are not only promoted but also required by CAPES (Coordination of Improvement of Higher Education Personnel a Brazilian Federal Agency for the Support and Evaluation of Graduate Education). This federal agency evaluates based on a tri-annual schedule every postgraduate program in the country based on international standards. The system used ranks these programmes from 0 (zero) to 7 (seven), 5 means “a very good program in national standards”, while the grades 6 and 7 are awarded to programs of “good” and “very good international standards”. The long lasting activities of CAPES regarding postgraduate programmes combined with the more recent government initiatives to appraise undergraduate courses, guarantee what most people in the world cannot expect to find in a Latin American country: a third degree system of very high quality and with a level of education comparable to that of most developed countries, state-of-the-art research in many areas (such as Medicine, Telecommunications, Computer Science, Bioenergy, etc), top level faculty members and students. The Brazilian scholars publications equal 2,7% of all scientific production worldwide. For this reason, the history of Brazilian students’ performance in international universities, even in some of the most prestigious ones, is a successful one. Consequently many of them return to Brazil having already been offered scholarships for their next degree. Regarding campus internationalisation, in a diverse educational system as the Brazilian (see: Meyer, R. M. de B. “The Educational System in Brazil”, AngloHigher® magazine, volume 2, issue 5, pp. 15-17, Autumn 2010), no process would develop in a similar path in all institutions. While the PUC-Rio’s International Office is about to celebrate its 20th Anniversary in 2012, many institutions do not have even one professional exclusively in charge of international cooperation, and in institutions that have such focused professional , this person serves as a special advisor to the Rector, with no independence of action. The FAUBAI (Forum of International Affairs Representatives - http://www.belta.org.br/faubai/br/index.php , information in Portuguese) is the association that gathers all these university professionals, organising an annual conference attended by most of them. Nevertheless Brazilian universities in general are open to the various types of academic collaboration, but tend to firmly reject any kind of more commercially oriented arrangements. Thus, student exchanges are welcome in a one-to-one basis, independently of the home institution’s tuition fees. Brazilian public universities are totally free of charge, i.e., no tuition is ever charged; this means that students who do not pay for their education at home will not be willing to pay for it anywhere else; and incoming exchange students will be received with no charge too. Private universities, although charging tuition, tend to prefer the same system, so that incoming students pay whatever they have to pay (or not) to their home institutions and not to the Brazilian host university. This allows students from countries where higher education is free (such as France) to come as well as students from very expensive international universities (as some private North American institutions). Stimulated by European universities, mainly the French and German ones, a large number of double degree programmes -undergraduate and postgraduate- were created and are very popular among students and staff. Brazilian universities tend to be very open to the creation of new joint programmes. Also faculty exchange has always taken place in research intensive universities, partly because CAPES funds this initiative in a large scale, both for outgoing and for incoming professionals. Joint research projects and joint scientific events are also a growing area, and many such initiatives are funded not only by CAPES, but also by CNPq (National Counsel for Research) and a few existing state foundations like the FAPESP and FAPERJ (respectively, the State of Sao Paulo and the State of Rio de Janeiro Foundations for Research). Both CAPES and CNPq have signed agreements with a considerable number of other countries’ agencies or institutions, like the one of CAPES with the University of Cambridge in the UK (http://www.capes.gov.br/cooperacao-internacional/reino-unido/doutorado-pleno-em-cambridge , information in Portuguese). These agreements aim at funding different types of collaborations and have annual calls. S &T (science, technology) and Innovation are the areas more generously funded by most of the agencies. For more information in Portuguese, please refer to http://www.capes.gov.br/cooperacao-internacional and http://www.cnpq.br respectively. Student exchange is still quite limited. Incoming students tend to fear the language barrier, not realizing how similar to Spanish and Italian the Portuguese language is. The university that receives the largest number of international non degree-seeking exchange students per year in the country – PUC-Rio – receives only around 1,000 students a year, mainly from European countries and the USA. Most universities do not receive any exchange students; some receive only a few, most, less than 50 per year. There is a large number of degree-seeking students who come to our campuses through the PEC (Agreement Student Programme) Federal government scholarship programme. Students from a selected list of the so-called third world countries can apply to a full degree (undergraduate or postgraduate) in Brazil fully funded by the Brazilian government. Mainly students from Latin America and Africa benefit from this programme, but some students from Eastern European countries’ are also entitled to receive the funding. For more information please refer to the Ministry of Education’s website http://portal.mec.gov.br/index.php?Itemid=530&id=12276&option=com_content&vimost largely taught second languaew=article

Despite the recent developments one cannot say that Brazilians leave the country to study abroad in large numbers, except for those who receive some kind of financial aid. For example at PUC-Rio, the Brazilian university that sends the largest number of students abroad, only 14% of its yearly graduates have participated in an exchange programme. Although the Brazilian currency has gained value in the recent years -summer 2011 US$1 = R$1,55- it is still considerably expensive for a Brazilian family to support a child abroad paying in Dollars or Euros. Thus internationally funded scholarship opportunities are extremely popular. As for the language, Brazilian students clearly prefer English speaking countries. This is due not only to the fact that English is the most largely taught second language but also to the high prestige that some English-speaking universities have. Nevertheless, the consistent efforts of some other countries, namely France and Germany, in creating attractive programmes such as Double Degrees and in offering full scholarships plus living stipend have been attracting increasingly a larger number of Brazilian students. Many of them have decided to learn French or German just in order to qualify for one of these scholarships. Brazilians tend to avoid programmes taught in English in non English speaking countries for mainly two reasons: they are afraid that the spoken English will be somewhat incorrect, leading them to develop an improper fluency, and they believe that despite studying in English they would have to “live” – shop, socialise, communicate, etc – in the local language. As for the incoming international students, they are always hosted warmly regardless of their country of origin. Brazilians love foreigners, enjoy getting along with them and learning about their cultures, and also feel happy to realise that they chose Brazil as their destination for academic enhancement. This doesn’t mean though that making close friends is very easy. International students usually complain about a certain superficiality that they find in the Brazilian style of making relationships and attach to this the fact that many of them return home having known many people but without having made a ‘real Brazilian friend’. Some say just the opposite, though; it seems that all depends on the personality of the people involved in the circumstances. Regarding the outgoing students, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff recently announced a four year project to distribute the amazing number of 75,000 scholarships for Brazilian students and faculty members to study abroad. These scholarships could be used to finance undergraduate exchange, PhD degrees, Post-doctoral research and even for receiving international researchers on Brazilian campuses. These developments show how important the subject “internationalisation of higher education” has become. For all these reasons, Brazilian scholars and students are rapidly opening themselves to the global academic community. International universities, scholars and students who wish to establish or develop academic relationships with Latin American should focus their attention on Brazil. With a welcoming population, high quality education, rich and diverse culture, fast growing economy and a central role in the international political scenery, Brazil is the perfect destination for any internationally minded researcher, teacher or student looking for new challenges and global opportunities.

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Volume 3, Issue 2, Summer 2011, AngloHigher® The Magazine of Global English Speaking Higher Education™, ISSN 2041-8469 (Online)

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