September 14, 2010, 05:55 PM ET
Is Brazil Prepared for Its New Role in the World?
Brazil has been a matter of recent attention in the international media due to its tremendous growth and its increasingly important role in the economy and the politics in the world. Just last weekend, The New York Times published an article entitled, "Education Gaps Limits Brazil’s Reach," which effectively makes the case about the critical deficit that Brazil is facing in educational terms. Concordantly, The Chronicle of Higher Education also published an excellent piece entitled, "Brazilian Universities Find Challenges in Internationalization," for which I was interviewed.
As I explained to Andrew Downie, the Chronicle correspondent in Brazil, "unfortunately, Brazilians don't go abroad too much, and Brazil as a destination for international students is not as popular as other destinations in the world." I also said that this is a situation which is not exclusive to Brazil since other Latin American countries face similar challenges, although considering the size of education systems in Brazil and its importance in the global economic context, the numbers are disproportionately low.
Let me elaborate a little bit more. According to IIE’s Open Doors 2009, the U.S. was able to attract only 8,767 Brazilian higher-education students, ranking Brazil 13th among the top places of origin for international students. This represents only 1.3 percent of international students in U.S. colleges and universities, and only 4 percent of the total 215,170 students coming to the U.S. from the so called BRIC countries which, in addition to Brazil include Russia, India, and China.
Of course, the U.S. is not the only destination for Brazilian students. However, larger data from OECD shows that Brazilians represent only 0.8 percent of international students in leading countries over the world. The country in which Brazilians represent a significant share of its international-student body is Portugal whereas 12.5 percent of international students are from Brazil. This confirms that language continues to be a major factor influencing why a larger number of Brazilians doesn’t choose to study abroad.
Regarding the capacity of Brazil to attract international students, data from the U.S. can serve as a comparable indicator to the overall trend. In 2007-08, Brazil only hosted 2,723 U.S. students, equivalent to a mere 1 percent of U.S. students abroad, placing Brazil a distant 20th in the ranking of leading destinations abroad. BRIC countries attracted 20,891 U.S. students of whom 13 percent went to Brazil. In Latin America alone, more U.S. students travel to Mexico, Costa Rica, Argentina, Ecuador, and Chile, than to Brazil.
A variety of factors restrict Brazil's performance in terms of international mobility including limited second-language proficiency inside the country and its education system; the rigid academic structures which complicates or prevents recognition of credits for courses taken outside of a student's home institutions – not only internationally but even domestically; limited financial resources available to support students who go abroad and the lack of consistent mechanisms to more effectively promote the Brazilian higher-education system abroad.
In the aftermath of the upcoming presidential elections, it remains to be seen if the next Brazilian government will take the issue of internationalization of its higher education more seriously.