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World Association of International Studies

Post More on Brazil's Free Universities
Created by John Eipper on 03/10/17 4:19 AM

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More on Brazil's Free Universities (Istvan Simon, USA, 03/10/17 4:19 am)

I like Cameron Sawyer very much; I met him several times in Moscow. But with all due respect, Cameron should not try to explain the Brazilian education system to me. I lived 25 years in Brazil, and I simply know it much much better than Cameron does.

Cameron is incorrect that the Brazilian University system subsidizes mostly the rich. Certainly there are many rich families that benefit from the free education I mentioned. But I had many many colleagues at EPUSP who came from modest backgrounds and were not even in the middle class much less the rich. About 1/3 of my colleagues were of Japanese descent. Their parents were farmers, often quite poor. Yet their sons and daughters became elite engineers. There is no better example that I can give of the tremendous upward mobility that that free university education engendered in Brazil. So Cameron is simply wrong about this.

It is true that many of the poor go to private universities, not unlike the diploma mills in the US like the University of Phoenix and similar institutions.

The United States could learn a great deal from Brazil about the value of that free university education. Quite the opposite of what Cameron said, the University of São Paulo is an economic engine for the state of São Paulo. Just like the University of California used to be for California.

JE comments: Isn't that "used to be" for the U Cal system a bit of an exaggeration?

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  • Universities and "Upward Mobility" in Brazil (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 03/13/17 1:46 AM)

    There is "tremendous upward mobility" in Brazil?  (See Istvan Simon, 10 March.)  That's news to me. I'd like to see some data supporting such a proposition.

    Less than 50% of whites in Brazil finish high school, and only 20% of blacks. In fact, nearly 35% of whites and a staggering 60% of blacks in Brazil don't even finish grade school.

    I don't think Istvan addressed my main point at all--Brazil educates only about 3.5% of its population for free. I don't understand what kind of achievement this is, or what kind of "engine of the economy," such a small number of people can produce. Nor do I understand why someone needs to live in Brazil for 25 years in order to understand such reasonably plain facts. I'm not defending the American system, which has serious problems described by various WAISers in the recent discussion, but a lot more than 3.5% of American are educated for free under various scholarship programs.

    JE comments:  This 2015 article in The Atlantic lines up with Cameron Sawyer's main points.  The piece opens with an 18-year-old girl on an Ipanema street corner.  She had recently been accepted to the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro's medical program and was begging for change--to pay for a party to celebrate.

    One piece of data not mentioned in this discussion:  university graduates in Brazil earn 2.5 more than their non-university compatriots, which is the largest difference among the 34 OECD nations.  Of course, this could be the result of "privilege in, privilege out":  these kids not only benefit from higher education, they also enjoy better connections and opportunities after graduation.

    (It's good to be back with WAIS.  Yesterday's return trip to Michigan was one near-miss after another.  The last of the series:  when I was settling down to do some editing at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, I noticed passengers boarding the Detroit flight an hour early.  Alas:  since I was in Mexico during the "spring forward" time change, I was of the blissful belief that it was 7 PM instead of 8.  Mexico changes its clocks on April 2nd.  Had we not been sitting at the gate, we would have missed the flight--as well as today's classes.)


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    • Brazilian Universities, Finnish Universities, and Upward Mobility (Tor Guimaraes, USA 03/15/17 5:47 PM)
      The recent exchange between Cameron Sawyer and Istvan Simon was interesting to me because I grew up in Brazil before adopting the USA as my country. Both Istvan and Cameron made good points.

      Cameron finds Brazilian formal education unevenly distributed and neglectful of the masses. He is right about that. Only especially intelligent students can go to public universities (correctly considered the best by both Cameron and Istvan) from the middle class or below. There are some respectable private universities like the Getulio Vargas which are open to students with money, but less demanding of entrance examinations. In the technology area the most respected was the Air Force's Instituto Technologico de Aeronautica (ITA), as well as the University of São Paulo (USP).

      I share with Cameron his enthusiasm for the Finnish education system. As the People's Republic of China was massively importing foreign experts, information, and products of all sorts to quickly catch up with the West in a massive but haphazard fashion, the Finnish university system was developing PhD programs as a vehicle to capture the most advanced knowledge in very specific areas from foreign instructors. I personally participated in both efforts and was much more impressed with the effectiveness and efficiency of the Finnish approach. Another impressive aspect of the Finnish tertiary education system is the relatively deep integration of industry and universities, compared to Chinese or American universities.

      Cameron stated: "The US is increasingly unable to produce either health care of education with acceptable levels of efficiency, and that inefficiency is the core problem we face. Why is this? I have no idea--perhaps market forces are being circumvented somehow. But in any case, something needs to change, perhaps radically, in both sectors."

      The most basic reason for that is, as I have discussed before on this Forum, increasingly we have no democracy and we have no free markets. Concentrated money/power has led to oligopolies in just about every industrial sector. Our information systems, sources of knowledge, media, and government are increasingly bought and paid for. All of that has totally corrupted our leadership selection processes (including supposedly democratic elections). Like Cameron, I believe in Libertarian principles. But obviously without strong democratic government, without true democracy and laws/regulations (flexible but enforced) to ensure free markets and the smooth running of society, we are going down.

      JE comments: I'd like to hear more about Tor Guimaraes's experience with the Finnish university system.  Many will object that a small and wealthy country can easily offer its citizenry a first-class education, but do countries like the US or Brazil have anything to learn from Finland?

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