Carnival. Copacabana. Beach. Football. Those are the first images that spring into anyone’s mind when the subject is Brazil.
But looking more carefully into Brazil’s current political instability reveals a reality that is everything but joy and happiness – particularly for science, technology, and education.
Things are bad. Not the kind of ‘bad’ that we can live with; it is not a matter of getting used to new ways of doing things. It is bad in a sense that the major educational hubs of Latin American can vanish by the end of 2019.
Recent government actions to reduce the budget of public federal universities have left the leading institutions of the country astray. The oldest university in Brazil, the Federal University of Paraná with more than 100 years, has now experienced a 30% reduction in its budget, a total of 48 million reais (c. US$12.2 million). Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case. Nationwide, the cuts amount to 5.8 billion reais (c. US$2.1 billion).
This policy targets directly public universities which, ironically, are those with highest international reputation and scientific productivity in the country. In fact, more than 90% of Brazil’s scientific publications are from public universities, and all Brazilian universities in international ranks are public. Given these numbers, it is somewhat moronic to justify the cuts by saying that public universities are not involved in research, as suggested by the government.
But hold on! Things get worse.
More than three thousand masters and PhD scholarships were cancelled nationwide. Allegedly, these scholarships were vacant, and thus retrieved by the government body responsible for managing them (i.e., CAPES). However, a large number of these scholarships had already been allocated to students at the University-level. Many students had planned their graduate studies and – in a country as extensive as Brazil – had relocated to other cities to start their degree only to realise that their scholarships were no longer available.
Institutions are pushing back. The rector of Federal University of Paraná – Ricardo Marcelo Fonseca – has expressed his concerns about the future of public education in Brazil. Students around the country have organised protests and rallies to express their discontentment regarding the matter. A national rally is scheduled to happened on the 15th of May. Social media, TV, and radio are highlighting the many achievements of public institutions and their alumni in an attempt to inform the wider population of the importance of public education for the society.
Sadly though, politics are deaf. This is because politics in Brazil has become a public way to express personal views, and the loud-and-clear voice of the people in favour of public education remains deliberately unheard. We therefore need international support to protect our public institutions. Brazil is a Portuguese speaking country, so big as to become self-centred in South America. As a result, there are relatively few English-proficient persons capable of (and interested in) communicating the extent of the country’s problems to the international community. As Brazilians, we need media platforms that enable us to express the dimensions and nuances of the problems in the country, thereby allowing for the world to see the disastrous trajectory that Brazil has adopted for its future. We need to have a voice! Only then we will be able conceive the emotional, cultural, and political distress caused by this catastrophe.
If we lose this battle and public federal universities are strangled to death financially, we will not only lose the knowledge produced by public institutions, but also the opportunity for talented young minds to reach their dreams and contribute with new discoveries that can change the future of our planet.
And in a country with extreme social differences as Brazil, the hope for an opportunity to study is all we’ve got.
Don’t let them take that away from us. Please share and let other people know the struggle.