Lack of social commitment is one of the chief problems of institutions of higher education in Brazil. The need for
greater investments, qualification of the teaching staff, and financial autonomy are also detrimental to the performance and
growth of these institutions. This assessment was made by the secretary of Higher Education of the Ministry of Education,
Carlos Roberto Antunes. In his view, the knowledge produced by Brazilian universities needs to be more oriented to the
country's social reality. "The colors of the university should be the colors of society," Antunes observed.
This constitutes the main guideline of the University XXI project, proposed by the Minister of Education,
Cristovam Buarque. The Minister alerts that the current social remoteness of the universities could lead these institutions to lose
their central position in the production of scientific and technological knowledge. "Academic knowledge is fenced in. It
becomes out-of-date and loses touch with knowledge and the demands made by social reality outside its walls," the Minister argued.
With the aim of defining a new concept of the university and its role in society, the Ministry of Education is
sponsoring the seminar "The University: Why and How to Reform It?" this week. Representatives of social movements and
organizations were also invited to participate and present their ideas.
"Our university has a structure that is 30 years old. The last reform of the university took place at the beginning of
the `70's, at a time when the level of scientific and technical development was very different," the secretary of Higher
For José Jorge de Carvalho, anthropologist at the University of Brasília (UnB), the lack of diversity in higher
education weakens academic debate. "A large part of the knowledge produced at this moment is very sclerotic, because the
university is very homogeneous, socially and ethnically. This also leads to a degree of loss of imagination, rigidity in
power-holding, and little theoretical questioning of the established networks," Carvalho commented.
On the last National Course Examination (Big Test), approximately 43 percent of the students declared a family
income of over R$ 2,000 (US$ 700). Of these, 14.3 percent belong to families with incomes between R$ 4,000 (US$ 1,300) and
R$ 10,000 (US$ 3.300). Only 13.9 percent of those who took the test have family incomes inferior to R$ 600. Only 3.1
percent identified themselves as blacks.
To reverse this picture, Antunes believes that it is necessary to increase the offer of night courses, expand
at-distance education, and encourage universities to establish quota policies for blacks and low-income people. Scholarship and
student loan programs will also be reinforced to make sure these students continue their studies.
Between 1991 and 2001, the number of institutions of higher education in Brazil increased 56 percent, according to
a survey conducted by the National Institute of Education Studies and Research (Inep-MEC). Despite this expansion, over
three million students are still unable to gain a place at a university.
The main problem is not the lack of openings. Last year, 370 thousand openings went unfilled throughout the
system. "The courses offered at Brazilian universities are inadequate, in general, since we have a very heterogeneous youth
population with precarious prior schooling," explained Eunice Durham, anthropologist at the University of São Paulo's
(USP) Nucleus of Studies and Research on Higher Education.
Ex-secretary of Higher Education during the Administration of Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Durham believes that
offering different types of university courses might be an alternative to meet the growing demand of a large segment of the
population, which needs to find places quickly on the job market.
This article was prepared by Agência Brasil (AB), the official press agency of the Brazilian government.
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