Published On: November 7, 2014

University Graduation Numbers Fall

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The number of students completing higher education in Brazil, university bachelor’s degrees, has fallen for the first time in a decade, figures show. There was a 5.7 percent drop in the number of graduates last year compared with 2012 – the first decline in the number of university graduates since 2003.

Some 991,000 students graduated with degrees in 2013 in Brazil, a drop of almost 60,000 from 2012. Contrary to the decline in the number of graduates, there continues to be an increase every year in the number of students enrolled in higher education. The total number of students enrolled in university courses increased to 7.3 million.

The federal system of universities, which is considered the most prestigious in Brazil, is also free. Because of these two factors, the federal system is also the most selective among applicants. Entrance to the federal system, like for private universities, is based entirely on test scores from each university’s entrance exam, known as the vestibular. Unlike US universities, there are no interviews done of applicants, nor are there applications that require written essays or high school grade reports from students. Unlike the decline in the rest of the country, the number of graduates from the federal system increased by 3.8 per cent.

As the federal system is tuition free and showed an increase in graduates, higher education experts questioned whether the decrease in private university graduates was due to financial difficulties among students, prompting them to drop out. Another possibility education experts in Brazil are considering is whether the country had reached the limits of growth after a period of rapid expansion in student numbers.

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José Henrique Paim, Brazil’s Education Minister, said that guaranteeing the quality of courses was as important as expansion. “[The drop in graduate numbers] is not worrying because there is a greater concern about quality,” Mr Paim said in a statement issued by the Ministry of Education. Among the disciplines to register a decline in graduates were education, health, and science, according to the Higher Education Census, released by the Ministry of Education earlier this month.

The census shows that the fall in graduates in 2013 occurred mostly within 14 institutions, all of which were subject to supervisory action by the authorities, which sometimes can require enforcing cuts in the number of student openings.

A decline in ‘distance learning’ also contributed to the drop, the census revealed, with graduates in that field decreasing by almost 50 percent between 2012 and 2013. “There were [some] very specialized courses, and they completed their cycle and were not renewed,” said Francisco Soares, president of the National Institute for Educational Studies and Research.

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The overall drop followed a decade of growth in which the number of graduates more than doubled between 2001 and 2010. Dr. Fátima Bayma de Oliveira, an education expert with the Getulio Vargas Foundation, said that some areas of higher education in Brazil might have reached their limits in terms of growth. “It’s extremely worrying,” she said. “This census needs to be analyzed so that we can understand which professions are seeing a reduction.” She said that incentives should be created to encourage more students to enter disciplines such as medicine and education.

Leandro Tessler, associate professor at Unicamp, the State University of Campinas in São Paulo, said that the fall could indicate growing problems for students in accessing higher education without scholarships or grants. “We are close to the limit of possibility for [students] paying for courses,” he told São Paulo newspaper Estadão.

Earlier this year, the Ministry of Education closed two universities in Rio de Janeiro – the Universidade Gama Filho and UniverCidade – citing low academic quality and the institutions’ financial positions. The ministry said that students from these two universities would be able to graduate elsewhere.

The census also shows that growth in student intake has slowed. Enrollment between 2012 and 2013 grew by just 3.8 percent compared with a peak increase of 10 percent between 2007 and 2008.

Federal University in Curitiba

Federal University in Curitiba

[This article was written by Donna Bowater for the TimesHigherEducation (THE) website and was edited by CIE.]

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