Monday, October 17, 2011

Brazilian University Makes the Grade

The Economist: The Struggle to Make the Grade
Times Higher Education: The Goals will Come
University World News: Latin America: Higher Education Integration for Bloc
Valor: Duas universidades brasileiras entre as 300 melhores do mundo

As a result of continued economic growth in Latin America, the demand for higher education in the region has also grown. Latin American students need the skills and quality of education that will allow them to compete professionally in the global economy. However, experts have noted that Latin American universities are currently ill-equipped to provide their students with such a high-quality education. The curriculum, for example, is generally old-fashioned and does not properly address the demands of globalization. Many faculty members lack Ph.D.s in their fields and are employed only part-time, which means that they do little if any research. As a result, they cannot provide students with the cutting-edge knowledge that leading researchers have. Furthermore, universities are generally ranked according to the quality of research they produce, and higher rankings lead to better quality students attending a university. Few institutions provide incentives to promote good teaching and research, like extra funding or promotions, and public universities do not lose funding if large numbers of students drop out, as is the case in many other countries. Many institutions also enroll too many students, which lowers the quality of education each individual student receives. Both of these issues are the result of insufficient funding. Latin American institutions also do not encourage students to study abroad nor do they recruit foreign students and scholars, so as a result, Latin American higher education fails to provide students with the international experience experts agree they need to succeed in the global economy.

However, the University of São Paulo (USP) recently gained global recognition for being among the world’s best universities. According to Times Higher Education, a weekly British publication, USP ranks among the world’s 200 best universities. USP’s success comes, in part, from breaking out of the Latin American mold. The university receives adequate funding from the government and tuition and fees assessments to employ full-time faculty with Ph.D.s that have helped make USP an international leader in scientific research. USP has also developed a high number of top-rated graduate programs and produces more Ph.D. graduates yearly than any U.S. university. The success is not limited to USP—recent research suggests that Brazilian university graduates have seen the benefits of improving higher education in the form of salaries up to 263% higher than secondary school graduates.

Critics, however, have pointed to the problems that still exist in Brazilian higher education. Although a large number of graduates hold Ph.D.s, Brazil lacks specialized professionals, which is particularly noticeable during times of economic growth when there is great need for specialized skills. For instance, Brazil lacks engineers, so it has had to recruit and pay foreign engineers to help complete the substantial infrastructure projects the country has undertaken in advance of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games. Furthermore, Brazilian higher education, like the rest of Latin America’s, does not have a strong relationship with the international research community, and few graduate students are from outside Brazil. Therefore, Brazil fails to benefit from the knowledge and research of foreign scholars. Brazilian universities also suffer from over-enrollment of students; therefore, classrooms are overcrowded, which makes it difficult for professors to effectively teach students.

Experts suggest that Latin American universities should have greater flexibility in hiring, promotion, and pay that would lead to better quality teaching than the current method of hiring less qualified, part-time faculty. With a larger budget, universities could attract better teachers with the prospect of having more resources to do research. Experts also recommend that Latin American universities have a more global mindset and “internationalize” their curriculum and policies to appeal to foreign students and scholars, like by offering courses taught in languages other than Portuguese and relaxing visa requirements for foreign students and educators. In this way, experts believe Latin American students and scholars would benefit from the global perspective they need to succeed in a global economy, and Latin America would benefit from the research conducted by talented students and faculty from other countries.

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