How Brazil’s Education Cuts Could Impact International Student Recruitment

Recent cuts to Brazil’s higher education funding could have significant ripple effects for its international student recruitment and retention.

As we previously reported, Brazil has seen nationwide protests recently thanks to sweeping spending freezes and cuts to higher education.

In over 200 cities across Brazil, tens of thousands of people protested the far-right government’s decision to freeze nearly a quarter of discretionary spending for higher education, due to the country’s financial crisis.

These cuts amount to around $1.8 billion or 3.4 percent of the total annual budget for Brazil’s public universities.

What does this news mean for Brazilian international students?

Currently, 52,515 students leave Brazil to study abroad, but we may see these numbers balloon as domestic students seek universities with better access to funding, resources, and scholarships.

Our 2019 International Student Survey found that 39% of Brazilian students seeking to study overseas would be relying on scholarships from their universities, while 9% would rely on a scholarship from a funding body and 2% on sponsorship from the government.

With scholarships on the chopping block thanks to these funding cuts and the recent announcement that the payment of Masters and Doctorate scholarships in the sciences and human sciences would be suspended, more and more Brazilian students could seek study opportunities overseas.

These funding changes will also significantly reduce research opportunities, potential international partnerships, and the outbound mobility of research staff and students.

For universities abroad, this is something to keep in mind when directing international student recruitment efforts in Latin America.

What does this mean for international students studying in Brazil?

According to UNESCO data, Brazil currently welcomes 19,996 international students to its universities, with 13,747 of these students coming from the United States.

Many of these students could be directly impacted by these drastic cuts to higher education discretionary spending, thanks to the way the budget for universities is determined in Brazil.

It’s divided into two areas, mandatory expenses (like salaries and pensions) and discretionary expenses (like maintenance work, housing for foreign students, and water and electricity bills).

Clearly, the budget for international student housing is going to be impacted by these spending freezes, and not for the better.

Additionally, many believe that these cuts will have far-reaching ripple effects.

Celso Napolitano, president of the Federation of Teachers of Sao Paulo (FEPESP), argues that these cuts will negatively impact scientific research and production across Brazil’s higher education sector.

“The minister says the cuts only regard water and electricity bills, considered ‘non-mandatory’, but a university cannot run without water or light. Because those expenses have to be covered, and the council of deans have said this, they will have to end up cutting their financing for scientific research.”

As a result, many international students may be hesitant about choosing Brazil as a viable option for study, leading to further financial hardship for its public universities.

In our 2019 International Student Survey, of the respondents who indicated an interest in studying in Brazil, 56% said that high quality teaching was important to them, 46% emphasized the need for affordable cost of living, and 45% highlighted the importance of an affordable cost of studying.

All factors which may be negatively impacted by these funding cuts.

While time will tell whether Brazil’s international student recruitment is hindered by these spending freezes, it’s clear that its higher education sector is already hurting.


About the Author:

As the B2B Content Marketing Manager, Sarah Linney is responsible for communicating the insights, research, and market analysis that have positioned QS as a thought leader in the higher education sector. After completing a Communications-Journalism degree at Charles Sturt University in Australia, Sarah worked in radio news and B2B print publishing before joining the content marketing sector. While working at a content marketing agency, Sarah was transferred to their New York office. She then led content marketing efforts at two tech startups in New York as a Content Manager before deciding to make the move to the UK and QS. 

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