Brazil’s universities are confident that the flagship student exchange programme Science Without Borders will be relaunched, but want to ensure that it does not drain funding from other academic activities.
Between 2011 and 2016, more than 90,000 Brazilian students and researchers travelled to international universities under the scheme, but it now faces an uncertain future because of the country’s ongoing financial crisis.
The scheme’s annual funding was cut last year from nearly R3.5 billion (£850 million) to R2.1 billion and new scholarships have been frozen because of lack of funds.
Raul Machado Neto, provost for international cooperation at the University of São Paulo, told Times Higher Education that policymakers were “committed” to Science Without Borders continuing.
“I am confident that it will be relaunched because it is an important experience for the students,” Professor Machado Neto said.
However, Professor Machado Neto said that universities hoped that Science Without Borders could be redesigned to better serve the needs of Brazil’s universities.
In particular, he said that universities wanted to have a stronger role in the scheme and a bigger say in where students went, ensuring that relationships can be built up between institutions, not just between students and foreign institutions.
And he suggested that Science Without Borders may need to operate on a more modest scale, in order to ensure that it does not impoverish other areas of higher education funding, such as research.
“The scale could be different and it could be done in a different way with more participation from the institution,” Professor Machado Neto said. “We would also like to have a programme that could not hurt other sources of support, like research.”
Brazilian government data show that 92,880 students and researchers went overseas under Science Without Borders between 2011 and 2016. The US and the UK were the primary destinations, welcoming 27,821 and 10,736 people respectively. Canada, France and Australia were also popular exchange countries.
Many observers regard mobility on this scale to be unsustainable and Brazil’s education ministry says that the scheme will focus in future on postgraduate rather than undergraduate exchange.
Speaking during the recent THE World Academic Summit, held at the University of California, Berkeley, Professor Machado Neto agreed that supporting master’s and especially doctoral students was a priority for institutions in the country, but cautioned that undergraduates were “future graduate students” and that international experience could make a “tremendous contribution” to their future careers.
Professor Machado Neto said that academics would “take some time” to assess the new government, which was installed following the impeachment of president Dilma Rousseff, but added that academic freedom had been “assured” by the new administration.
The key challenge, he said, was funding cuts, with the University of São Paulo facing a budgetary reduction of between 10 and 20 per cent. The impact on research projects that are being halted is a particular concern.
“We have research that is really impacting on quality of life; we have specific research that is important for local solutions,” he said. “Nobody is going to take care of this – the country, the state or the region – to provide solutions for the challenges.”