Three “important” UK universities are said to be in talks with the British Council about opening offices in Brazil as interest in expanding into the market rises.
Until now, the UK academy’s presence in the Latin American country has been slow to develop, with British institutions put off by the challenges of working in a highly bureaucratic culture.
But after a University of Edinburgh office opened in São Paulo earlier this month, there have been signs that a growing number of universities hope to overcome those hurdles.
“It’s about being here before the other guy. There’s a lot of competition among them,” said Rodrigo Gaspar, education promotion manager at the British Council in Brazil.
The trio of universities considering Brazilian offices are understood to have established a presence in the country already. Among those with long- standing links to Brazil are the universities of Birmingham and Nottingham, which have shared an office in Joinville in the southern state of Santa Catarina since 2011. David Eastwood, Birmingham’s vice- chancellor, and David Greenaway, head of Nottingham, are expected to visit São Paulo and Brasilia in October.
The office, set up 10 years ago by Nottingham, promotes in-country research and links with businesses, government and higher education.
Birmingham is also working with the Brazilian Ministry of Sport to develop sports science and policy ahead of the FIFA 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Malcolm Press, pro vice-chancellor for international engagement in the Americas at Birmingham, said the office his institution shares with Nottingham is “an important hub in supporting and developing collaborations across the length and breadth of the country. From this base we are building substantial and meaningful links.”
Nottingham, which also has an office in Mexico, says its intended focus in Brazil is on research partnerships and the country’s Science Without Borders scheme. The programme - launched by the federal government in 2011 to encourage tens of thousands of Brazilians to study abroad - led some 70 UK universities to develop relationships in the country.
But while few UK institutions have recruitment or development offices in Brazil, Harvard University has an office in São Paulo to support its US- based David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, and this month Columbia University opened an office in Rio de Janeiro aimed at developing research initiatives across a number of faculties. Later this year, the University of Southern California is expected to open a São Paulo office focused on recruiting Brazilian students and organising programmes for US students in Brazil.
Edinburgh’s new Office of the Americas will share space with the British Chambers of Commerce in the Brazilian British Centre in São Paulo.
“Brazil is not an easy country to develop things,” Mr Gaspar said. “It’s something like 130th in the world rankings for doing business because of the bureaucracy and how long it takes for somebody to set something up.”
Despite this, he noted that the three UK universities considering opening Brazilian offices “were not too concerned about that. It’s about building relationships. São Paulo is the Latin American hub. The best institutions in the country are here. It’s really powerful.”
Even though few of its universities have bases in Brazil, the UK is seen as one of the biggest players in terms of student recruitment and partnerships with Brazilian institutions, alongside the US and ahead of France, Germany and Portugal.
The British Council said that it expected more of a trickle than a flood of interest from UK institutions setting up recruitment and development offices in Brazil, but suggested that the Edinburgh office would soon be followed by others.
“There are at least three important universities that are really active here and have been working here for four to five years with better results than the other universities. The next step will be thinking about something like an office. I don’t think it’s going to take too long,” Mr Gaspar said.