Corruption claim hits Rio university

Commercial links are transparent, says sector body. Donna Bowater in Rio de Janeiro writes

April 30, 2015

Source: Getty

Close look: Petrobras links scrutinised

Higher education groups in Brazil have denied that there is insufficient transparency in the relationships between public universities and private companies after an investigation appeared to show widespread irregularities and fraud.

Federal prosecutors are investigating an agreement between the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (Unirio) and state-controlled oil company Petrobras, which allegedly subcontracted tenured staff meant to work solely for the university via an academic foundation.

The contract’s value had reportedly been doubled to R17 million (£3.77 million), paying six research fellows as partners in companies that had been subcontracted by the foundation without a proper bidding process.

Petrobras is already embroiled in a multibillion-pound embezzlement scandal in which contracts were allegedly inflated so that the excess could be skimmed off by politicians and executives.

According to Leandro Mitidieri, a federal prosecutor with Rio de Janeiro’s Public Prosecutor’s Office, the Unirio matter “is linked to the question of support foundations, which in some cases can serve to loosen the rules of public law, especially the requirement for public tender and bidding, and to financially benefit the professors [if] leaders of the foundations are part of the public education institution”.

He said the law “expressly prohibits” such foundations from subcontracting academics who are employed by a university and from giving work to companies run by the relatives of university staff.

The investigation was now in its final analysis stage, Mr Mitidieri said, and could result in criminal, civil and administrative action.

Loreine Hermida da Silva e Silva, dean of undergraduates at Unirio, said that a disciplinary process had been established. “The rector of Unirio…is mindful of the investigations and is committed to establishing the facts,” she added.

Muckrakers make a mark

The revelations about Unirio and Petrobras were made in a special report by five newspapers (O Globo, Zero Hora, Diário Catarinense, Gazeta do Povo and O Estado de São Paulo) into contracts involving universities and private companies.

In one example, the Federal University of Paraná was given R1.8 million from the National Department of Transport Infrastructure for a dredging project, but Gazeta do Povo reported that 56 per cent of the funds went to private companies.

Responding to the Unirio allegations, the National Association of Leaders of Federal Higher Education Institutions (Andifes) said that academic foundations – private, non-profit institutions formed to support research and development – were vital to public universities and were subject to scrutiny through each state’s public prosecutor.

“There’s no lack of transparency,” said Gustavo Balduino, the executive secretary of Andifes. “There are many rules and regulations.”

The Ministry of Education told O Globo that it had requested explanations of the reported irregularities from the universities.

“If there are irregularities, as it appears in these cases, it falls to the rectors to act first,” said Luiz Cláudio Costa, the ministry’s executive secretary. “The Ministry of Education becomes involved only if there are irregularities involving higher authorities within the institutions, which does not appear to be occurring.”

Times Higher Education free 30-day trial

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Reader's comments (1)

In Britain this would be lauded as impact activity, and those involved promoted and held out as role models. So go figure.

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Professor-Keith Cameron Chair of Australian History UNIVERSITY COLLEGE DUBLIN (UCD)
Senior Procurement Officer UNIVERSITY OF THE WEST OF SCOTLAND
Clinician, Small Animal Emergency Services UNIVERSITY COLLEGE DUBLIN (UCD)
Director COVENTRY UNIVERSITY COLLEGE

Most Commented

question marks PhD study

Selecting the right doctorate is crucial for success. Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O'Gorman share top 10 tips on how to pick a PhD

India, UK, flag

Sir Keith Burnett reflects on what he learned about international students while in India with the UK prime minister

Pencil lying on open diary

Requesting a log of daily activity means that trust between the institution and the scholar has broken down, says Toby Miller

Construction workers erecting barriers

Directly linking non-EU recruitment to award levels in teaching assessment has also been under consideration, sources suggest

Microlight pilot flies with flock of cranes

Reports of UK-based researchers already thinking of moving overseas after Brexit vote