Brazilian Higher Education in 2012: Background
TopUniversities.com examines the factors underlying Brazil’s strong performance in the 2012 QS University Rankings: Latin America.
According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), in 2011 Brazil overtook the UK and became the world’s sixth largest economy.
Added to that, the International Labour Office (ILO) has reported that Brazil’s youth unemployment rate has fallen from 21.8% in 2007 to 15.2% in 2011, while the global youth unemployment rate increased at least a full percentage point during the same period.
There is also evidence to suggest that the Brazilian government has been prioritizing investment in education.
Public expenditure on education as a percentage of total public expenditure has grown from 10.5% in 2000 to 17.4% in 2008.
This growth has shifted Brazil to third position among the 27 countries on which the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) holds data.
Brazil still developing as a nation
Finally, of the 250 universities in QS Universities Ranking: Latin America (QSUR: LA), 65 are Brazilian institutions.
Although these figures suggest that Brazil is making steady progress, a deeper analysis of the country’s situation regarding similar indicators, shows that there is still much to be done.
While Brazil’s GDP is the sixth biggest in the world, IMF reports that for GDP per capita the country id in 53rd place. And, despite the significant reduction in youth unemployment between 2007 and 2011 and the fact that global trends in the period went in the opposite direction, Brazil’s youth unemployment is still higher than the global average (15.2% against 12.6%).
Likewise, although public expenditure in education relative to total public expenditure has been ranked third in the OECD 2011 report (because total public spending represents a relatively small portion of the country’s GDP), overall national income invested in education is still below the OECD average (5.3% against 5.9%).
Furthermore, if we look at the number of inhabitants versus universities ranked 1-200 in the QSUR: LA, Brazil’s figures would be behind Chile, Uruguay, Costa Rica, Panama, Argentina, Colombia and Peru.
Further analysis of Brazil’s performance in the QSUR: LA points to some interesting opportunities for development.
Looking at the average performance of the 63 Brazilian universities among the top 200 institutions in the QSUR:LA, shows that employer reputation, academic reputation, papers per faculty and citations per paper are key areas for improvement. Likewise, a breakdown by region of Brazil’s top universities, population and GDP shows that:
a) Considering the level of its higher education institutions, the South could have the highest level of GDP.
b) The North, Midwest and Northeast (especially the latter) have very low rates of top universities per inhabitant.
When reviewing the performance of Brazil’s higher education within a global context, we found that 11 Brazilian universities are ranked within top 600 institutions reported in the 2011 results of QS World Universities Rankings.
Among BRIC countries, this performance is inferior to China’s (17 universities in the top 600) but better than Russia and India (9 universities each).
However, Brazil’s performance is well behind that of some non-English speaking developed nations like Germany (42 universities in the top 600), France (25), Japan (27), and South Korea (17).
OECD reports shows that Brazil has a below-average share of adults with tertiary qualifications. Only 11% of Brazilians adult have university degrees, compared to an average of 30% among OECD countries.
However, employment among adults with a degree is higher than the average across OECD countries (85.6% against 84.4%).
Moreover, the scarcity of skilled labour in Brazil means that the premium a tertiary graduate can expect to earn over a secondary-education graduate is 156%, while the average premium among OECD countries is 50%.
Therefore, the incentives Brazilians have for completing higher education are significant. Unsurprisingly, tertiary enrolments increased by 57% between 2000 and 2008.
Other research taken by ILO reveals that Brazil’s productivity level in 2008 was the second highest among the BRIC countries.
However, the same report shows that Brazil’s productivity level was considerably below that of developed economies, and even lower than other Latin American countries such as Peru, Uruguay, Chile and Argentina.
Countries’ productivity levels positively correlate with the skill levels of their workforce, which adds another reason for Brazil to seek to further improve its education system.
Brazil’s recent economic growth, decline in youth unemployment, increases in expenditure on education and high number of institutions among the top universities in Latin America and the Caribbean are certainly very strong achievements.
This overview of Brazil’s higher education situation suggests that enhancing the link between universities and the private sector might present a major opportunity for the country.
Private investment in education seems to be the most reasonable way of increasing the proportion of overall national income invested in education.
Likewise, collaborations between the private sector and higher education institutions, as well as the strengthening of connections between curriculum design and employers’ requirements, should be perceived as important tools for improving productivity and creating more opportunities for enrolment in good quality tertiary education.
Moreover, enhancing partnerships between Brazilian universities and both the private sector and international universities can play a key role in accelerating knowledge creation and transfer.
Finally, improving higher education standards in regions that have a low number of top universities per inhabitant is likely to have a positive impact on economic growth and inequality reduction.
This article was originally published in October 2012 . It was last updated in September 2021