Brazil’s College Enrollment Doubles to 7 Million Students

Higher education in Brazil is increasing in popularity, as the number of students attending college in the South American nation doubled to 7 million between 2002-2012. The Brazilian government has vowed to double that number again by 2020, reports Dan Horch of The New York Times.

To meet the growing demands in the field of education, the country is turning to corporations and banks to fund the schools.

“The government has had no choice but to work with the private sector. It cannot meet the demand on its own,” Fernando Iunes, global head of investment banking for Brazil’s Itaú BBA, said.

This method is working out quite well for company shareholders.  For example, the majority shareholder of Brazilian school operator Ser Educacional SA, Janguie Diniz, recently became a billionaire as student numbers increase, reports Blake Schmidt of Bloomberg Businessweek.

“The company is expanding in Brazil’s north and northeast regions, where the demand for higher education is stronger then average in Brazil,” said Bruno Giardino, analyst at Banco Santander Brasil SA, in a phone interview from Sao Paulo. “There’s an emerging middle class there that doesn’t have the conditions to get into the federal universities, so they’re going into the private institutions instead.”

Brazil does have highly-regarded public universities which offer free tuition to its students and have extensive research budgets.  However, the entrance exams for these schools are difficult and most spots go to upper class students from private schools.

A scholarship program was created in 2004 by then-president Luiz Inacio Lula de Silva to help low-income students attend private schools.  Since then, the budget for the program has quadrupled in size, and offer an interest rate on loans of 3.4%. Students do not need to begin repayment until 18 months after graduation.

It is estimated that 5.3 million of Brazil’s college students attend private universities, with 31% of those receiving scholarships.

As the number of students enrolling in college is on the rise, it is becoming increasingly important to improve the quality of education being offered, according to Jack Grove from The Times Higher Education.  In a recent study, it was discovered that almost three-fourths of students have said they are borrowing or lending a paper to a friend, with one in ten admitting to purchasing a paper online.

The study, Plagiarism and Academic Misconduct: A Survey in Brazilian Universities, was presented at the International Integrity and Plagiarism Conference, held in Gateshead from 16-18 June.

The authors said the issue of academic integrity was “a subject still little researched and explored in the Brazilian educational system”.

While private schools cannot compete with the quality of education offered at public school, they do offer students the skills necessary to move up in the job market after graduation.  But are they truly educating students, or simply teaching to the test?

Laureate Education, a major corporation which has purchased 12 schools in Brazil since 2005, has shown to have improved rankings on national standardized tests since purchasing the schools.

Nelson Cardoso Amaral, a professor of education at the Federal University of Goiás in midwestern Brazil, believes the test scores do not tell the whole story.

“Government supervision of private colleges is very weak,” he said. “We don’t have enough data to accurately judge the education they are offering.”