The Federal University of Santa Maria is located in Santa Maria, in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, known for its international paleontological sites.
UFSM was founded as a federal public university founded in 1960 and is thus considered one of the oldest universities not located in a Brazilian state capital city.
Popular nicknames for Santa Maria are "university city" or "culture city", due to the large student population. This southern city lies in the Jacuí river valley at 153m above sea level. Not only is the city a bustling commercial centre, but also a rail junction for the main lines from São Paulo to the Uruguay border and from the capital of the state, Porto Alegre, to the Argentinian border.
UFSM has four campuses; the main one is in Camobi, Santa Maria, another in the municipality of Silveira Martins and two smaller ones in northern Rio Grande do Sul in the municipalities of Frederico Westphalen and Palmeira das Missões. In Santa Maria, however, the courses of law, business, accounting, psychology, economics, international relations and dentistry are still offered off-campus in the city centre.
The university is divided into nine academic centres that are responsible for all undergraduate and postgraduate courses offered. They include the centre for arts and languages, centre of natural and exact sciences, centre of rural sciences, centre of health sciences, centre of social and human sciences, centre of education, centre of physical education and sports, centre of technology and the centre of higher education of Northern Rio Grande do Sol. UFSM offers more than 10 distance education courses and over 60 graduate courses to more than 28,000.
Similar to several Latin American institutions, UFSM is committed to the advancement of secondary and technical education. Evidenced by its three technical and secondary education institutions, which offer both the plain high school syllabus plus the optional vocational education.