Gringoes > Culture > An Introduction to Higher Education in Brazil
An Introduction to Higher Education in Brazil
By Pedro Souza
June 19, 2017

Brazil is not only a great country for living and visiting, but it also offers many opportunities for studying. Many Brazilian colleges appear frequently in the QS World University rankings, with USP (Universidade de São Paulo) and UNICAMP (Universidade Estadual de Campinas) being the two most prominent ones in the last ranking.

Educational institutions in Brazil are often evaluated, as a form of quality control. Postgraduate programmes are evaluated every two years by the government, and if they get a low score they are then monitored by the Brazilian Federal Agency for the Support and Evaluation of Graduate Education (CAPES).

There are different types of institutions that offer higher education in Brazil. The first of these institutions are universities, which are focused on teaching and research on different areas of human knowledge. Universities need to be recognized by Brazil’s Ministry of Education, which is known as MEC. For a university to be recognized by MEC, at least one third of its teaching staff must have a PHD. Then there are University Centers, which are institutions focused on multi-course teaching but with no obligations to carry out research.

One can also get higher education in Integrated Faculties and Schools of Higher Education, which offer both undergraduate and postgraduate courses. Both of these institutions need to be recognized by MEC as well when opening new courses. Integrated Faculties are subject to a set of regulations made by a larger university institution to which they are affiliated, while schools of higher education offer one or a few courses in a specific area. Both of these institutions have little autonomy.

There are also institutes that offer courses and carry out research on specialized subjects, as well as isolated private colleges, which are not linked to any university and are not required to conduct research. These colleges offer graduate and post-graduate courses, and are very easy to be admitted into most of the time. Prices and quality in these colleges vary. Some private colleges offer excellent courses, but often at inaccessible prices.

Undergraduate degrees are known in Brazil as a “bacharelado” (Bachelor’s), and take from three to six years to complete. One can also take technology degrees known as “tecnologia”, which take from two to three years to complete and offer specialized courses with a focus on practical knowledge in areas such as agribusiness and metallurgy.

In order to apply for any institution that offer higher education, it is mandatory to have finished high school. Since 2009, one can enter certain universities using grades from the National Survey of Secondary Education (ENEM), a test that students take in the last year of high school. For the majority of courses, students will take a test offered by the college which is known as “Vestibular”, and which varies in content and subjects according to the institution and course that one intends to join.

If students have applied for in person education, they are required to attend at least 75% of the lessons and evaluations offered by the institution they have chosen. In many institutions, however, some teachers will not take note of students who are missing. One can also choose distance courses, which use printed and visual media, as well as the internet. Some courses are offered in English and other languages that are not native to Brazil. This tendency has been growing, as learning institutions have been showing an increasing interest in attracting foreign students. That being said, most courses are still taught in Portuguese only.

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