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Brazil to fund 75,000 study abroad scholarships

Brazil announced this summer that it is to invest in 75,000 scholarships to enable its top students to study science and technology abroad by 2014. The decision comes as part of a programme to enhance the competitiveness of Brazilian industry.

The Science without Borders programme will cost Brazil $2.02 billion and involve 238 top foreign universities – mostly in the US and UK, including Harvard University and the University of Cambridge, but also in Canada, Germany, France, Holland, Spain and Portugal.

In addition, the ambitious South American powerhouse hopes to foster new partnerships with foreign universities and welcome more international researchers to Brazil’s facilities through the programme. The government is also challenging the private sector to fund a further 25,000 scholarships, though these are yet to be confirmed.

Aloizio Mercadante, the Minister of Science and Technology, said the programme would be “a quantum leap in the formation of a scientific and technological elite, which will allow Brazil to advance sustainably toward innovation, competitiveness and business leadership in strategic sectors.”

While Brazil is the world’s seventh largest economy, it has a relatively low level of outbound student migration, with Brazilians representing just 1.3% of all international students in the US from 2008–2010, compared to 18.5% Chinese, 15.2% Indians and 10.4% South Koreans (source: Open Doors).

This has resulted in a shortage of chemists, physicists, computer scientists and engineers which is threatening the country’s future competitiveness. Already,commentators say Brazil will not be able to provide enough engineers for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics – not surprising given it saw just a 1% increase in engineering graduates between 2001 and 2009, according to Mercadante.

The programme has been welcomed in most quarters, although some fear the government may be overreaching itself. English language proficiency, a preserve of the upper middle classes, is a major hurdle given most universities in the scheme require high standards of English as a condition of entry.

“The biggest challenge is the deficiency in foreign language skills at public schools and…  the need for more investment in foreign language training for low-income students,” said Maura Leão, President of the Brazilian Educational and Language Travel Association (BELTA).

Others say the country needs a major overhaul of its HE infrastructure before it can invite more foreign postgrads to its universities, which are only just emerging from decades of academic insularity. However, change has begun in recent years, with universities forming more international partnerships and the country’s best ranked institution, the University of São Paulo, doubling international recruitment between 2006 and 2010.

The Science without Borders programme reflects the wider investment in study abroad schemes happening across Latin America, where countries are using the profits of rapid economic growth to up-skill their populations.

Ecuador announced its largest ever scholarship programme of 1,000 students in August

Chile has promised to award 30,000 scholarships by 2018, and Ecuador announced its largest ever scholarship programme of 1,000 students in August. El Salvador and Colombia are also upping their efforts, while former front runners Mexico and Argentina still send sizeable numbers abroad despite testing economic climes over the last decade.

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