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Brazilian universities optimistic about future of SwB

Budget freezes were announced for the second phase of Brazil’s science mobility programme, Ciencias sem Fronteiras, last autumn, but higher education leaders say they are confident the scheme will continue to be beneficial to international education in the country.

A group of scholarship recipients arrive in The Netherlands. Brazilian student mobility at the undergrad level could shift towards Europe, says the president of FAUBAI, Jose Celso Freire. Photo: Flickr/Gabriella Andrade.

"We expect that the programme will be reshaped and there are lessons to be learned"

Speaking with The PIE News, Jose Celso Freire, head of the international office of Sao Paul State University (UNESP) and also president of FAUBAI, the international education association of Brazil, said, “I don’t believe they will just cut the programme, but there’s a huge push that scholarships will be more focused on postgraduate studies.”

Freire said he expects the government to make a call for applications in October, but that it will be more limited in scope than the programme’s first phase which provided 100,000 mostly undergraduate scholarships between 2011-2015.

“There’s a huge push that scholarships will be more focused on post-graduate studies”

If a pared down version of the programme only focuses on postgraduate study, Freiere said he expects undergraduate mobility to shift towards universities’ European partners where tuition is free and universities to provide maintenance support.

According to Freire, FAUBAI has been in talks with the government to transform the programme’s model from strictly student mobility to a consortium of Brazil’s top universities, similar to Europe’s academic and mobility collaborative Erasmus Mundus.

“We’d like it to be a programme where you have much more than only mobility but capacity building where a university that has a good international office, a global relations office…can create possibilities for others to develop cooperation, to understand about internationalisation, to understand how they can develop research together,” he said.

He added that through the consortia model, mobility could better support institution-wide internationalisation and partnerships with overseas universities could be leveraged to support smaller institutions in the country that don’t have such agreements.

“I sent a lot of students abroad but I didn’t send to my partner institutions and I would like to use those students to foster relations that I already have or to develop relations with important partners [of mine],” he said.

Jaime Ramirez, president of the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, agreed that more should be done to leverage benefits for universities from the flow of students already funded by the programme.

“The university needs to be involved in the phase prior to their acceptance from each country,” he explained. “It’s important to involve the receiving university because it’s important for the Brazilian university to have a kind of collaboration with them, otherwise it will be an experience only for the student themselves.”

UFMG has participated in the programme since it was established in 2011. Last year it sent 2,100 students to study overseas through the scheme.

Despite reports that the programme’s budget has been slashed by 40%, Ramirez said he expects the programme to continue to support undergraduate study in some capacity.

“It’s important in our opinion, to support other areas because you can not be strong only in one area nationwide”

“We understand and respect the government’s decision if they want to only offer funding at the PhD level, for a period of time, but I think there will be something in terms of the undergraduate level as well,” he said.

He’s also hopeful it will expand to include disciplines beyond STEM fields like the arts, social sciences and humanities. Until now, the university itself has supported some 200 students a year studying in these fields to go overseas.

“We know the government has its own priorities,” he commented.  “The need for good engineers is still there and it will stay there, but it’s important in our opinion, to support other areas because you can not be strong only in one area nationwide.”

Despite the uncertainty surrounding the programme, both Celso and Ramirez recognise the benefits that the Science without Borders scheme has brought to the country so far.

“We expect that the programme will be reshaped and there are lessons to be learned but we were quite happy with the first phase. It was important for the students,” said Ramirez.

Celso said the programme “was good to show Brazil’s talent to the world”.

“When they receive our students, I think now they realise if I received good students, then maybe there’s a good institution behind them.”

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