Steep costs deter Brazil's experience seekers

Despite interest, UK too dear for growing middle class. Elizabeth Gibney reports from São Paulo

November 8, 2012

UK universities’ student recruitment drive among Brazil’s growing middle class is being slowed down by their costly international fees.

That is the view of Rodrigo Gaspar, education promotion manager at the British Council in Rio de Janeiro, who said that despite the UK being the third most highly favoured study destination for Brazilians after Canada and the US, it was only fifth in terms of market share.

“The reason we don’t have more people in the UK is connected to money. Self-funded students need £12,000 to study in the UK, plus £10,000 to live there for a year. In France and Germany, [the fees are] practically zero,” he said.

According to data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, just 1,355 Brazilians studied in UK higher education institutions in 2010-11, compared with 3,405 Russians and 67,325 Chinese.

This is despite UK universities having ramped up their efforts in recent years to attract students from Brazil’s growing middle class, many of whom are looking to upgrade from language courses abroad to sandwich years and degrees.

Whereas three years ago just 10 institutions took part in UK Universities, a British Council-run event to attract Brazilian students, this year it involved 46 institutions, with a further 14 turned away because of lack of space.

More than 3,000 potential students registered for the two events, which took place in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro on 20 and 22 October, respectively.

The Brazilian government’s Science Without Borders programme, which aims to fund 10,000 UK-bound students over the next four years, has brought overseas education to a new audience, Mr Gaspar said.

“On the back of the scheme [the UK] might have more self-funded students, too,” he said, adding that the UK’s reputation, flexible degree structure and wide range of courses made it an attractive option.

But unlike European countries that charge low fees or the US, which offers a large number of international scholarships, the costs associated with UK study mean that students often have to save into their late twenties and early thirties to afford it.

This means that UK universities are in competition not just with each other and foreign institutions, but also with spending on a wedding or a car. “You have to show that a UK qualification will be as life-changing as those things,” said Mr Gaspar.

Employers in Brazil treat most foreign qualifications as equal, meaning universities need to sell the quality of the experience rather than just the degree, he added.

“UK universities, colleges and language schools don’t need to spend [any time] talking about their quality here…But they’d better work up how fun and interesting the experience is, and that’s very different from other parts of the world.”

Because of the fees disparity, there are also only a small number of exchange agreements involving UK and Brazilian universities, which makes it difficult for students to come to the UK and vice versa, he said. “If you don’t have the agreement, you don’t have the power of the local university working for you…That hurts a great deal.”

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