The PIE: Can you tell me how you got involved with the international education sector?
Maria Leonor Alves Maia: It’s interesting because I’m graduated in architecture and urban planning [from Universidade Federal de Pernambuco and University College London] and my field of research is on urban accessibility and mobility.
When I returned from my postdoctoral studies that I did in the UK in 2009, the president of the university [Federal de Pernambuco] invited me to be part of the team, initially as the director of planning and assessment and soon after as the director of the international affairs office. And then, since 2012 I’m involved with the internationalisation of higher education.
“With this virtual exchange initiative, we have reached six times more students”
That’s why I said that I always wear many hats: I give lectures and I do research on urban mobility and I’m also involved with the UFPE internationalisation process. And, since 2018 I’m the president of FAUBAI.
The PIE: How are you going about doing that?
MLAM: It’s not easy but at the same time it is a good challenge. UFPE is a comprehensive university with a huge and diverse community: 40,000 students, 3,000 teachers, 500 labs, seven National Institutes of Science and Technology. As it belongs to the Federal System of Brazilian Universities, it is financed mainly by the government.
The development of a plan is critical to foster the international environment within the university. We have recently approved, by the University Board, the UFPE’s Internationalisation Plan. It is structured in five strategic axes and three cross-cutting axes.
The former are academic mobility; internationalisation at home; international network; quality of the undergraduate, graduate, research and community engagement, and capacity building. The latter are language, ICT and legal framework.
“Language is fundamental for any international process”
We’re developing a quite interesting project related specifically to the internationalisation at home axe named the BRaVE project (Brazilian Virtual Exchange), a joint initiative between UFPE and UNESP.
With the fantastic and very competent support from the State University of New York – SUNY COIL (Collaborative Online International Learning) Center the UFPE trained 14 teachers and offered 24 international disciplines in 2019, all of them related to the 17 SDGs. With this virtual exchange initiative, we have reached six times more students in comparison to physical mobility.
To get connected and to be part of universities’ networks is also critical for the internationalisation strategy. That is one of the reasons I was in Colombia taking part in the CAIE, and other events such as NAFSA, EAIE, IEASA, and so on.
The PIE: Regarding inward mobility and international students coming into Brazil: are there many more opportunities in English now?
MLAM: Yes. And it’s increasing. FAUBAI, developed a project with the British Council so as to know the international activities, such as short courses, disciplines, internships, which are offered by its members – 220 HEIs, from the public to private sectors, from all five Brazilian regions.
It resulted in a Guide of English as a Medium of Instruction recently published and found to download at the FAUBAI and British Council websites. There you can have a panorama of what is offered not only in English but also in other languages including Portuguese for foreigners.
It is important to stress that language is fundamental for any international process and cannot be ignored by the Brazilian HEIs which intend to foster internationalisation.
The PIE: There’s a FAUBAI conference next year in 2020. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
MLAM: Yes, it will be in Belo Horizonte on April 25 -29. The theme is ‘Global Learning, Global Citizens’, and will allow participants to discuss strategies for advancing global education, developing global awareness and perspectives and attitudes towards a global engagement.
The conference brings together specialists on internationalisation of higher education, SIOs, head of international offices from Brazil and abroad and also those interested in internationalisation of HE.
Around 600 people attend the conference, half from all over Brazil, and the other half from abroad. I would say that it is one of the most important events in South America discussing such an issue.
The PIE: Where is Brazil’s focus in terms of student destinations? There was a lot of talk at CAIE about the importance of reaching out to neighbouring countries.
MLAM: Yeah, traditionally the Brazilian HEIs have strongest collaborations with HEIs in Europe and the US. However, I would say that in the last 10 years, we have observed an increase in south to south collaboration, involving not only countries in Latin America but also Africa and the Asia Pacific. In fact, we know little about the educational systems in these continents and to get to know each other is a critical step to improve collaboration.
“In the last 10 years, we have observed an increase in south to south collaboration”
FAUBAI participated in an Erasmus + project named RIESAL (Regional Network for Fostering the Internationalisation of Higher Education in Latin America) which aims to create capacities in the HEIs of the region for the design, implementation and management of the process of internationalisation of higher education.
It involved 14 HEIs and three associations for International Education (FAUBAI, Grupo Montevideo and Ascun). This project finished this year and we launched a RIESAL Network at the CAIE Conference.
This is a kind of initiative with a high potential to foster international partnerships within the Latin American region.
The PIE: Would Canada be the main country that Brazilian students would be looking to, instead of South America?
MLAM: Not necessarily. I would say that the majority of students wants to go to Europe, or the US, or Canada, instead of going to Colombia, or Chile, or Argentina, or Peru. The Brazilian HEIs know more about the HE systems, their quality and assessment in Europe and the US than in any country in Latin America. What I’m saying is that we need to get to know each other better and to build confidence.
The PIE: Do you think that can happen in the future?
MLAM: Yes. And I think that’s powerful, very powerful. I believe that the south to south connections will increase with initiatives such as MARCA, CONE SUR and BRICS League. Besides, conferences and events like FAUBAI, CAIE, FIESA, IEASA are critical in creating room for better understanding the institutional structure of HE systems and for overcoming barriers such as language and culture.
“The majority of students wants to go to Europe, or the US, or Canada”
It is important to emphasise that Brazil is the only Portuguese speaking country in Latin America and the barrier of language is a concern that has to be dealt with.
FAUBAI did a quite good initiative before the CAEI, actually. We organised with the Brazilian embassy in Bogota a series of activities named Study and Research in Brazil that happened two days prior to the Conference: a seminar of best practices on mobility and research collaboration among universities from Brazil and Colombia; a matchmaking session; and a fair to show the Colombian students the opportunities to study and research in Brazil.