Brazil is expected to cut back its flagship academic exchange programme Science Without Borders after the government forecast that the country was heading for a R30.5 billion (£5 billion) budget deficit in 2016.
Funding for the scheme, which was launched in 2011 to provide 101,000 placements abroad for Brazilian students, would be reduced to R2.1 billion under budget proposals presented to Congress at the end of August.
This year’s budget for SwB was almost R3.5 billion, divided between two funding agencies: the Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Education Personnel (Capes) and the Brazilian National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq).
Capes confirmed that it had funding to sustain the scholarships of the approximately 13,300 students who will already be abroad by the time of the budget cuts next year. That means that the government will meet the original goal of 101,000 scholarships in five years, of which 10,000 were for places at British universities. CNPq is expected to fund 22,000 scholarships next year.
But although President Dilma Rousseff announced an extension to SwB in June 2014, before she was re-elected in October, the second phase of the initiative has not yet been finalised.
Reports in Brazil last week claimed that the programme had been “frozen” and that no new scholarships would be offered, as the proposed budget could only cover current exchanges.
And insiders believe it is likely the “unsustainable” programme will be drastically reduced, providing only postgraduate academic placements.
A former Capes coordinator told Times Higher Education: “The Capes budget had an important cut and with the devaluation of the Brazilian real, it is impossible to maintain the costs of such an ambitious programme.
“As 90 per cent of the agency’s budget is in scholarships, which cannot have their value reduced, there are not many alternatives for...other programmes.”
Some 14,000 SwB students started placements at institutions in 21 different countries between July and September this year.
Meanwhile, the second of two calls for postgraduate exchanges closed at the end of August.
Rodrigo Gaspar, Brazil office director for the universities of Bristol, Strathclyde and Rochester, in New York, said: “It is hard to believe the pace of those undergraduate scholarships could go on every four years. It is just not compatible with the government’s budgets.”
But he added that the scheme was too politically important to Brazil to be abandoned completely and was likely to offer at least some postgraduate or PhD scholarships as a way of maintaining the initiative.
Renato Janine Ribeiro, the education minister, confirmed that he was expecting significant budget cuts in his department.
Speaking at a seminar on public education organised by social investment organisation Instituto Unibanco, Mr Ribeiro said: “Next year, unfortunately, we are saying that there will be a bigger cut. Now, this is a reality.”
He said that Brazil’s economic crisis, which has seen the Brazilian real reach its lowest rate against the US dollar for more than a decade, was common knowledge and that the government was looking for efficient low-cost solutions.
Commenting on the suggestion that SwB may be suspended, Mr Ribeiro said: “The budget is not yet defined and will be discussed in Congress. We will do everything we can.”