Shining a Light on Student Mobility in Brazil

By Chelsea Robles
Research Specialist, Institute of International Education

As higher education becomes more globally competitive, more countries are seeking to gain an edge by internationalizing their higher education sectors. In recent years, Brazil has invested heavily in international education to increase the visibility and standing of its postsecondary institutions on the global stage.

Image: Rafael Eiji at Natural History Internship
Brazil Scientific Mobility Program participant Rafael Eiji completing Academic Training at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, NY

During the Fulbright Brazil 60th anniversary celebration, held in Porto Alegre, Brazil in December, IIE and local partners brought academics and practitioners together for a workshop, “Becoming an Internationalized Higher Education Institution.” As a workshop panelist, I represented IIE’s Center for Academic Mobility Research and Impact (CAMRI) and shared findings from our recent study, Expanding Vistas: International Academic Mobility in Brazil.

Despite Brazil’s significant investment in this area, existing research about the trends, challenges, and opportunities for internationalization that define Brazil’s higher education sector is limited. Our first-of-its-kind study sheds some light on questions about global mobility in Brazil’s higher education sector and the gaps in institutional data collection processes.

This study offers a foundational understanding of the impact of internationalization on higher education institutions in Brazil. Of the 158 institutions who participated, some were unable to provide consistent data on the indicators measured by this survey, resulting in a somewhat unclear picture of student mobility in Brazil.

We hope that the study might serve as a basis for schools to expand their capacity to gather and report mobility data. As student mobility within Brazil’s higher education sector increases, future iterations of this survey disseminated to a wider pool of institutions will enable them to collect more concrete data, which in turn will help inform and refine their internationalization strategies.

IIE worked with the Australian Department of Education and Training to implement the survey after our Project Atlas ® partners in Australia expressed an interest in exploring Brazil’s rising role as a key player in the field of international education. Australia is one of IIE’s thirty Project Atlas ® partners.

Brazil has undertaken notable efforts to support student mobility recently. One such project was the Brazil Scientific Mobility Program, which sent more than 100,000 Brazilian college students in the STEM fields abroad between 2011 and 2016. Internationalization is not limited to sending students abroad, however – it can take many forms, encompassing a range of initiatives such as joint research projects, faculty exchange, and policies designed to attract international students.

To investigate how internationalization is impacting schools, the report examined select indicators, including the provision of programs and courses taught in English, virtual learning, and initiatives to support the flow of inbound and outbound students. Across all surveyed areas, the country’s federal and private not-for-profit institutions benefited from the highest levels of internationalization, hosting  greater numbers of international students and sending more Brazilian students abroad than other institution types.

Certain areas still require strengthening, the report found, such as providing greater opportunities for graduate study abroad. Our report found that 77 percent of students who pursue study abroad opportunities are undergraduates, the majority of whom are in the STEM fields.

Our analysis emphasized the importance of data collection and the need to conduct future iterations of the study, since many questions still linger. Future research could shed light on the number of academics undertaking short term teaching and research abroad, for instance, as well as students pursuing full degrees outside of Brazil. Quantifying these numbers would provide a more complete picture of academic mobility.

I was excited to see workshop participants indicate a strong interest in better understanding internationalization within the context of Brazil’s rapidly expanding higher education sector. After decades of relative insularity, Brazil is opening its doors to academics and students from across the globe, and is giving thousands of Brazilian students the chance to go abroad. As Brazil’s higher education sector continues to evolve, it is crucial to understand how this new fluidity will shape and impact its schools.