Education matters: Brazil

Only a few years ago Brazil was one of the fastest-growing emerging markets where the standard of living for millions had dramatically improved. Today it faces an uncertain future, a reflection of public disillusionment with bribery and corruption scandals, and a deep recession. Amid the falling consumer confidence and increasing financial pressure among the middle classes, is the large young population which continues to be Brazil’s greatest resource for driving future economic growth in the new era of the knowledge economy. While the efforts to improve education standards are clear, the need to balance quality with expanding access, particularly for low-income students, is also apparent. With the variable quality of education and the high cost of the private sector offerings, young Brazilians are looking increasingly overseas for higher education. Although poor economic conditions and a weak local currency may negatively impact this trend, continued disaffection among students and families mean that Brazil is likely to become an increasingly important source of international students.

Education Intelligence highlights a number of key facts for those who want to know more about Brazil’s education market.

Education pathway

In Brazil, two years of pre-school are compulsory from the age of four, followed by nine years of basic education. The Ministry of Education oversees the basic education system and sets the standards while administration and budget allocation occurs at the individual state or municipal levels. As such, education provision and outcomes vary geographically, with the lowest indicators in rural areas and among key ethnic and community groups.

The private education system runs in parallel to the state provision. At basic education level, the private system is widely believed to offer better quality and learning outcomes, evidenced by private pupils’ PISA scores. Over 2007–2013, public enrolments fell by 11.25 per cent while private enrolments grew by 34.8 per cent. The free rein given to private institutions has made this a highly lucrative industry, and there have concerns expressed about rising education inequality as a result of unchecked private sector proliferation.

Government investment in education

Latest figures show that the government spent 5.6 per cent of GDP on education, above the OECD average and its partner countries of 4.7 per cent. Brazil allocated 17.2 per cent of its public expenditure on education, from primary to tertiary levels, one of the highest proportions among OECD nations. Public investment in tertiary education institutions as a share of total public expenditure increased by 49 per cent between 2005 and 2012, significantly above the OECD average increase of 33 per cent. Education budgets were cut during the economic crisis, although growth has since resumed. Although there are plans to increase education expenditure, both the OECD and World Bank have warned against additional spending and recommended a focus on education quality and the assessment of current spending patterns, particularly as the school-age population begins to contract in the coming years.

Increasing popularity of private education

Brazil has a well-developed private education market that operates alongside the public sector, although public education is free. The private sector emerged due to quality concerns in the public education system (basic education) and lack of places (pre-school and tertiary education). Enrolment in private basic education has risen since 2007, from 11 per cent of enrolments to 16 per cent in 2013 in primary education and 11 per cent to 13 per cent in 2013 for secondary education (World Bank). Although most students in early childhood to upper secondary education attend public schools, 75 per cent of students are enrolled in an independent private institution at the tertiary level, raising possible equity concerns. Public tertiary institutions are renowned for their academic excellence and the government has adopted measures to improve the equity of access to public tertiary institutions.

Tertiary enrolment is growing but drop-out rates are high

In 2015, there were 7.5 million tertiary students up from 6.6 million in 2010. Undergraduate enrolments increased by 76 per cent over 2003–2013 (INEP) and under its latest education plan, the government aims to increase enrolment in higher education, including the number of master’s and PhD students, even further. However, although enrolment rates are growing, graduation rates are comparatively low with high dropout rates that often exceed 50 per cent. There are reports that more than half of Brazilian students are dropping out of college without earning degrees—including students at public universities because they don’t have to pay, and those at the private ones because they haven’t prepared properly or have money troubles.

A high potential market for short-term study and language programmes

With its large young population and lack of quality higher education places, combined with rising aspirations and incomes and high education inequality, Brazil was considered to have the potential to become one of the world’s top sending countries for international students. However, the economic crisis has affected consumer spending and weakened the local currency, factors likely to impact the number of students studying abroad. In 2013, 32,051 Brazilian students were studying tertiary programmes abroad – up from 17,274 in 2000 (UNESCO). Considering short-term courses, most of which are language learning, the Brazilian Educational and Language Travel Association reports that 232,000 studied abroad in 2014. Considering its population size, Brazil is believed to be underrepresented in terms of international students and has been identified as a high-potential market, particularly for short-term study and language programmes.

Education Intelligence publishes a series of Country Brief market reports to supply our readers with on-the-ground education issues and updates, as well as economic and demographical analyses and forecasts to support market evaluation and grasp market opportunities. For a more comprehensive perspective on the education landscape in Brazil, a 2016 Country Brief is available for your reference.


20/02/2017 - 04:51