Graduate Education in Brazil

Introduction top

The development of scientific and technological infrastructure and the formation and expansion of the academic community in Brazil has been focused on three different strategies over three periods (Marcuschi 1996).

  1. During the 1950s and 1960s, research activities began to be formally organized and received great incentives from the Federal Government. In this period, the most important scientific and technological funding institutions were established in the country, among them the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq, linked to the Ministry of Science and Technology) and the Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Education Personnel (CAPES, linked to the Ministry of Education). In other words, during these 2 decades, Brazil invested in building up an infrastructure for science and technology.
  2. In the 1970s and 1980s, public policies focused on the expansion of graduate programs. During this period, CNPq and CAPES gave significant financial support to master’s and Ph.D. programs and offered fellowships for graduate students. The focus was on the training of human resources for science and technology.
  3. At the beginning of the 1990s, Brazil recognized the importance of addressing the scientific education of undergraduate students in order to improve their later performance in graduate schools. In this context, CNPq moved to reinforce the Initiation in Science (IC)[1] Fellowship Program, which consists of stimulating the involvement of university students in research being carried out by faculty members.

In this report, we analyze national policies for science and technology and their effects on graduate programs in Brazil. The discussion examines the accomplishments and failures of the federal government as it has attempted to train capable human resources for science and technology. It points out some of the difficulties Brazil still faces regarding the return on investments in personnel for scientific and technological activities. In addition, we discuss the sources and scope of investments in research and development (R&D), which present a great challenge for the country.

Brazilian Graduate Programs: Origin and Main Features top

In the period between 1950 and 1980, Brazil experienced great changes, shifting from an agrarian to an industrial economy. A large part of the population migrated from small towns to urban centers, generating serious local and regional imbalances.

Since 1951, CAPES and CNPq have assumed the responsibility for training both scientists and technologists for R&D activities and academic personnel to teach in institutions of higher education. The importance of both agencies in the support of graduate studies was discussed in a recent report by Guimarães and Humann (1995). According to the authors, in 1992-93, these two agencies granted 96.6 percent of all national fellowships;[2] the remaining 3.4 percent was granted by the state agency of São Paulo (FAPESP).

During the 1960s, the industrial complex expanded under the protection of policies that favored domestic, multinational, and state-owned companies resident in Brazil, insulating them from foreign competition (Schwartzman 1995). The policy of protecting internal industry was accompanied by an important public commitment to the development of an infrastructure for scientific and technological activities. Brazil, at this point ruled by a military government, invested in science and technology and created the Second National Development Plan, which protected nascent industries, invested significantly in research, and established the National Program for Graduate Studies (PNPG). According to Guimarães and Humann (1995), “the PNPG was designed as a route for accelerating the training of human resources suitable to supply the urgent need for qualified personnel capable of improving the quality of teaching and strengthening the research activity at universities and other institutions.” As a result, graduate programs were launched in public universities, and a dynamic fellowship program was established by CNPq and CAPES. Unlike in other countries, to be enrolled in a Brazilian graduate program, students must hold a degree from any of the 922 institutions of higher education established in the country. These students may require first a 2.5-year fellowship to attain a master’s degree; after graduating, a 4.5-year fellowship may be required by the student to attain the Ph.D. degree. These are the maximum durations of the fellowships granted by CAPES and CNPq for graduate students.

Having received strong support from the military governments during the 1970s and 1980s, R&D faced a significant drop in federal funds in the early 1990s (figure 1B). Government policy concern is now directed toward developing and strengthening the links between academic research (at universities and research institutions) and private companies.[3]

Figure 1

In spite of problems with funding and the lack of investments from the productive sector, Brazil has succeeded in setting up a significant infrastructure for scientific and technological development. Today, the country has the largest R&D system in Latin America, with 4,402 research groups and about 15,000 active scientists and researchers (Schwartzman 1995). The number of publications appearing annually in international journals has increased steadily (figure 1A). In the last few years, the bulk of CNPq’s expenditures, which represent approximately 10 percent of total federal investments (compare table 5 with appendix table 1), has been allocated to fellowship programs rather than to grants in aid (which pay for infrastructure and equipment) (figure 2 and appendix table 1). Leta, Lannes, and de Meis (1998b) point out a correlation between support for training human resources (figure 1C) and the annual increase in the number of Brazilian publications (figure 1A). They conclude that investment in the education of qualified personnel is a key variable in determining level of scientific production.

Table 5

Figure 2

Reforms in Graduate Education top

Current reforms in Brazilian education are mostly focused on the elementary and secondary levels. With respect to higher education, some important reforms are (1) the creation of shorter courses in which a student attains a degree in only 2 years, (2) annual evaluation of all institutions of higher education, and (3) a more accurate evaluation of graduate programs every 2 years.

The present system of graduate programs in Brazil dates back to the 1960s when the PNPG was established. Although Brazil has been able to expand its scientific and technological activities, the sector still faces significant problems. One of the difficulties concerns the efficiency of graduate programs, which have been evaluated by CAPES every 2 years. The evaluation process takes into account a series of indicators, among them the curriculum vitae of each faculty member and the average time students enrolled in the program take to graduate. Until 1997, CAPES rated graduate programs in five categories from A to E, with A being the best. In the 1998 evaluation, this scale changed from 1 to 7—the higher the number, the better the program. With this new evaluation, programs rated 2 or below are not allowed to register new enrollments until they achieve a better performance. Among the almost 1,800 programs established in the country, only 23 achieved a rating of 7; of these, 21 were in public universities, 1 was in a federal research institution, and the remaining 1 was in a private university. A national average time required for students to graduate is not available, either using the old or the new qualification scales.

We here present data on the best-rated graduate programs, according to the 1994-95 national evaluation, at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), the largest Brazilian federal university in the country. Tables 1A and 1B show how long it took students graduating in 1995, 1996, and 1997 to conclude their master’s or Ph.D. coursework. In 1995, none of the “A”-rated master’s courses had reached an average of 30 months (2.5 years); in contrast, in 1996 and 1997, the number of master’s programs that attained this average increased to 4 and 6, respectively (table 1A).

Table 1

The performance of the Ph.D. programs was similar. In 1995, only two of the best-rated Ph.D. programs had an average of 54 months for completion (i.e., students in these concluded their studies in 54 months or less—4.5 years). In 1996 and 1997, a larger number of Ph.D. programs achieved this average (table 1B). (For more details about UFRJ’s A-rated graduate programs, see appendix tables 2 and 3.) In spite of the improvement in time students spend in UFRJ’s A-rated graduate programs, one additional point has to be considered: these courses represent only 33 percent and 23 percent of the total number of master’s and Ph.D. programs, respectively.[4]

To improve student performance in graduate programs, during the 1990s, CNPq greatly expanded its IC Fellowship Program. This program allocates to each investigator a number of scholarships to be awarded to undergraduate students who are engaged in research projects for 20 hours a week. The main goals of the IC program are to:

The number of IC fellowships increased greatly after 1992, rising from 7,548 in 1990 to 11,440 in 1992 and 18,789 in 1995 (CNPq 1995). This significant expansion in the number of IC fellowships made this program one of the most important initiatives undertaken by the Brazilian government in an attempt to improve the training of scientists. During the last 2 years, CNPq has granted more fellowships to Ph.D. students than to master’s. As a result, CAPES is now the main federal agency to grant master’s programs.

Trends in Graduate Education top

Enrollment and Degrees

Research and technological development in Brazil is carried out at 136 universities (of which 72 are public and 64 private) (INEP 1997); federal research institutions;[5] research institutes linked to state-owned companies; research institutes linked to state governments; and a few private enterprises (mainly in the fields of paper and pulp, computers, automobile suppliers, and steel).

In spite of this apparently diverse group of research establishments, most research in Brazil is concentrated in the public universities. Out of the total 922 institutions of higher education, only 10 public universities (0.01 percent) were responsible for 52.5 percent of all Brazilian publications indexed in the Institute for Scientific Information database during the 1981-93 period (Leta and de Meis 1996). Further evidence of the predominant role of the public universities is the distribution of graduate programs. In 1996, 91.3 percent of graduate programs were offered by public universities; the great majority of graduate students were later hired by these institutions. The growth in the number of graduate courses from 1987 to 1996 is shown in table 2. In this period, the number of master’s and Ph.D. programs in the country increased by 37 percent and 63 percent, respectively. As a result of this increase, the total enrollment and the number of graduate degrees awarded annually have also grown (figures 3A and 3B), as has the number of scholarships allocated by CNPq and CAPES within the country (figure 1C).

Table 2

Figure 3

Although the number of students enrolled in and graduated from master’s programs is higher than for the Ph.D., there is a trend toward a decrease. This is suggested by the decreasing ratio of enrollment in master’s versus Ph.D. programs (inset, figure 3A). The same is true for degrees awarded (inset, figure 3B). It is important to note that Ph.D. enrollment increased over the 10-year period by 176 percent (from 7,960 to 22,004), while Ph.D. degrees rose by 240 percent (from 872 to 2,972); this indicates an improvement in national capacity for training new Ph.D.s. This tendency is seen across various fields, as shown in appendix tables 5 and 7.

Despite efforts on the part of the Brazilian government to develop a diversified R&D system, the percentage of the population that receives a graduate degree is still very low compared to some other developed countries. In 1996, Brazil’s population was 157,070,163 (IBGE 1996)—larger than that of either Germany or the United Kingdom. However, the total numbers of Ph.D. degrees awarded in these latter countries were, respectively, 7.5 and 2.7 times higher than the number awarded in Brazil. Compared with the United States, the difference is even higher: 7.8 times (figure 4A). If we compare the ratio of Ph.D.s awarded annually to the total population, Germany stands out among the other countries, with almost 30 Ph.D. degrees per 100,000 inhabitants in 1992 (figure 4B). Although this ratio is increasing in Brazil, it is still far below the ideal for a competitive R&D system. It is worth mentioning that, unlike in most developed countries, 41.4 percent of the Brazilian population consists of young people aged 5 to 24 (IBGE 1996). This fact reveals a great challenge for the country’s modern education: a small scientific community is responsible for promoting science education to a very large young population (de Meis and Leta 1997). This challenge is a common feature among most developing countries. An effective science education would provide youngsters with the sophisticated scientific and technological skills required to enter the workforce today.

Figure 4

The Overseas Fellowship Graduate Program top

Throughout the last decades, CNPq and CAPES have allocated scholarships for students to pursue their studies outside the country as well as within it. Table 3 shows the growth in both types of fellowships awarded by these agencies in 1990-95. It is worth noting that, while the number of fellowships for study within Brazil increased over that time, the number of fellowships for study abroad remained constant.

Table 3

The master’s and Ph.D. students awarded scholarships to study within Brazil receive monthly stipends of about US$600 and US$900, respectively. Students enrolled in public institutions are not charged tuition or laboratory fees. However, in recent years (1993-97), CNPq and CAPES allocated an additional sum—equivalent to a third of the value of each student’s stipend—to the graduate program. These resources are called “bench fees.” Considering both stipends and bench fees, the total expenditure for a Ph.D. student enrolled in a graduate program within the country in that period amounted to approximately US$58,000 for a 4-year course.

A Brazilian graduate student who pursues a degree in a foreign institution receives a monthly stipend of US$1,100 and has his or her tuition and other fees paid by one of the two Brazilian agencies (an average of US$10,000 per year). The scholarship can be renewed for a maximum of 4 years. Therefore, at the end of the course, the total cost of educating these students amounts to approximately US$93,000. In addition to the higher costs of studying abroad, the Brazilian government is concerned about the risk of a “brain drain.” As noted before, Brazil is still struggling to increase the number of investigators within the country; hence the importance of having the young Ph.D.s return to Brazil after they graduate. Moreover, de Meis and Longo (1990) observed that Ph.D. students studying abroad or within Brazil present similar profiles in terms of number of publications and citations during their thesis work and in their professional life after degree award. This suggests that training in Brazil is not very different from that received abroad.

To minimize the emigration of talent and, at the same time, offer Brazilian graduate students the opportunity to work in important research centers abroad, CAPES and CNPq have developed a special program called the “sandwich” Ph.D. Graduate students engaged in this program begin their training in a Brazilian institution and then spend 1 to 2 years doing research abroad. After this period, they return to the Brazilian university in which they are enrolled to conclude their work. The degree is conferred by the Brazilian institution. In this program, the chances of losing the student to a foreign research center are diminished. From 1992-95, enrollment in CNPq’s sandwich program doubled, rising from 158 to 305 (table 4). In spite of this new program, however, almost 70 percent of CNPq scholarships abroad are still allocated to Brazilian Ph.D. students enrolled for a full 4-year program in a foreign university.

Table 4

The majority of students abroad are pursuing their degrees in American institutions (figure 5). This share is almost the same as that observed by Meneghini (1996) for international collaboration in Brazilian scientific publications. In this study, the author reports that the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Canada were the countries that tended to collaborate with Brazil on international publications, with shares of 37.9 percent, 13.3 percent, 10.9 percent, 8.9 percent, and 6.6 percent, respectively. The data suggest that the choice of students for the foreign institution reflects the collaboration established by the Brazilian research group in which the students are engaged.

Figure 5

There are no official data available regarding foreign graduate students enrolled in Brazilian programs. Most probably, however, the majority of these students come from other Latin American countries.

The Role of Government, Industry, and Academic Institutions in Supporting Science and Technology and in Employing Graduates top

Despite the fiscal incentives established to encourage the private sector to invest in R&D during the 1960s, most of the resources for this activity come from the public sector (state and federal governments). There is, however, some evidence that industry’s contribution to total R&D costs may be increasing. In 1959, only two Brazilian companies invested in R&D. By 1988, this number had risen to 81 (de Meis et al. 1991). According to Schwartzman (1995), only 6 percent of the investment in science and technology came from private sources during the period 1981-89. More recently, however, data compiled by the Ministry of Science and Technology indicate that Brazilian firms increased their participation to 22 percent of the total amount allocated to this activity (table 5).

From 1990 until 1996, the number of Ph.D. degrees conferred annually in Brazil grew from 1,222 to 2,972 (appendix table 4). Subsequently, there has been an increasing demand for academic positions in research institutions for these recent graduates. In this context, CNPq and CAPES created and have been supporting a Program for Recent Graduates. In 1995, the program awarded 561 recent Ph.D.s a 3-year assistantship to work on a research project under the aegis of some established group in a high-quality research center. These 3 years are meant to help the postdoctoral fellows maintain their academic research activity, keeping them in an academic environment while at the same time allowing them time to look for a permanent position.

As noted before, the bulk of Brazilian scientific activity takes place in public universities. As a result, they are the primary source of jobs for new graduates. In a preliminary study, it was found that, out of a group of 519 alumni in the life sciences (Ph.D. students graduated from UFRJ whose employment could be identified), 64.4 percent have an academic position at UFRJ and another 16 percent are teaching at other public universities (table 6). In contrast, only four alumni from this group are employed in private universities and only one in industry.

Table 6

The contrast in distribution between public and private schools is also observed among professors employed at institutions of higher education. In 1996, a total of 148,320 faculty members were almost equally distributed among public and private institutions (table 7). However, teachers employed at public institutions are better qualified than those at private universities: the percentage of faculty members holding a master’s or Ph.D. degree is two times higher at public institutions. The discrepancy is still greater if we take into account only faculty with a Ph.D. degree: they comprise 24.8 percent of the total at public institutions, as opposed to 7.4 percent at private institutions. From these data, it appears likely that a majority of new Ph.D.s begin their careers in public universities.

Table 7

The growth in the number of graduate degrees among university faculty is also an indicator of employment trends for new graduates. From 1990 to 1996, this number rose by 33.2 percent for master’s degrees and 41.7 percent for Ph.D.s (table 8). This increment is in accordance with a strong governmental policy of stimulating university faculty to obtain a Ph.D. degree. Faculty academic credentials are a major component in the current evaluation of Brazilian universities and graduate courses.

Table 8

Conclusion top

During the last 3 decades, the Brazilian scientific and technological system has experienced significant changes. In the 1960s, the National Program for Graduate Studies was established, representing an important step toward structuring a national academic community. In the 1970s and 1980s, graduate programs were established throughout the country. A significant increase in the quality and quantity of human resources engaged in scientific and technological activities has facilitated the consolidation of a national infrastructure for research. However, there are still many challenges to be faced. These include:

Policies that respond adequately to these challenges will depend on the engagement not only of the federal government, but also of the state and municipal governments as well as the private sector. Improvements in quality and expansion of graduate programs will require an increase in the number of academic positions offered by research centers throughout the country. The performance of graduate students may be improved if more undergraduates are given the opportunity of working under the IC Fellowship Program. By working on research projects at an early stage of their education, more talented students will be attracted to pursue careers in science and will also enroll in graduate programs with skills already acquired, allowing them to conclude their studies more rapidly. Another important issue to be considered is the role of master’s programs. Today, students are required to complete a master’s degree in order to enroll in most of the Brazilian Ph.D. programs. This requirement extends the amount of time and money spent on their education.

Recent advances in science and technology, together with a trend toward a globalized market, have reinforced the relationship between knowledge and economic gains. Knowledge and creativity are highly valued by different sectors, and science is increasingly significant to industrial production. As a result, scientists in developed and developing countries are positioned as central actors in the struggle for economic growth (Schwartzman 1995, Perez 1983, and Fransman and King 1984). In this context, widespread public debate has reinforced the importance of training scientists for the challenges presented by the new “information age.” Brazil has engaged in this debate, focusing on the implementation of effective policies for educating scientists capable of responding to the dynamic challenge of the global market.


[1] “IC” from the Portuguese Iniciação Científica.

[2] This includes fellowships for specialization and master’s, Ph.D., and postdoctoral programs abroad and within Brazil.

[3] Jose I. Vargas, in a speech given during the meeting with state ministers on the announcement of a new economic plan coordinated by Fernando Henrique Cardoso, minister of Finance, June 14, 1993; cited in Schwartzman (1995).

[4] At present, UFRJ offers 86 master’s programs and 67 Ph.D. programs.

[5] Institutions linked to the Ministry of Science and Technology are: the National Institute for Space Research, the National Institute for Research on the Amazon, and the National Institute of Technology; those linked to CNPq: the Brazilian Center for Physics Research, the Center for Mineral Technology, the Institute of Applied and Pure Mathematics, the National Observatory, the National Laboratory of Synchrotron Light; those linked to the Ministry of Agriculture: the Brazilian Corporation for Agricultural Research; and those linked to the Ministry of Health: the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation.

Acknowledgments top

The authors are very grateful to Dr. Martha M. Sorenson from the Department of Biochemistry at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro for helpful discussion and revision of the manuscript, to Giovani Borher from the Pro-Rectory of Graduate Programs and Research at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro for UFRJ graduation data, and to Dr. Carlos Alberto Torres from the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.

References top

de Meis, L., and J. Leta. 1996. O perfil da ciência no Brasil. Rio de Janeiro: UFRJ.

———. 1997. Modern Science and the Explosion of New Knowledge. Biophysical Chemistry 68: 243-53.

de Meis, L., and P.H. Longo. 1990. The Training of Brazilian Biochemistry in Brazil and the Developed Countries: Costs and Benefits. Biochemical Education 18: 182-88.

de Meis, L., R.C. Machado, F. Lessa, and V. Rumjanek. 1991. Science and Industry in Developed Countries. Ciência e Cultura 43: 278-81.

Fransman, M., and K. King. 1984. Technological Capability in the Third World. London: Macmillan Press.

Guimarães, J.A., and M.C. Humann. 1995. Training of Human Resources in Science and Technology in Brazil: The Importance of a Vigorous Post-Graduate Program and Its Impact on the Development of the Country. Scientometrics 34: 101-19.

Guimarães, R., G. Galvão, G.M. Martins, R. Lourenço, and R. Prudente. 1995. A Pesquisa no Brasil. Ciência Hoje 19: 72-90.

IBGE. 1996. Anuário Estatístico do Brasil. Rio de Janeiro: Fundação Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística.

INEP. 1997. Censo Educacional: Evolução das Estatísticas do Ensino Superior no Brasil 1980/1996. Brasília: MEC/INEP/SEEC.

Leta, J., and L. de Meis. 1996. A Profile of Science in Brazil. Scientometrics 35: 33-44.

Leta, J., D. Lannes, and L. de Meis. 1998a. A formação de recursos humanos e a produção científica no Brasil. In M. Palatnik, et al., A Pós-Graduação no Brasil. ISBN 85-900550-2-7. Rio de Janeiro.

———. 1998b. Human Resources and Scientific Productivity in Brazil. Scientometrics 41: 313-24.

Marcuschi, L.A. 1996. Avaliação do programa institucional de bolsas de iniciação cientifíca (PIBIC) do CNPq e Propostas de Ação. São Paulo: Relatório.

Meneghini, R. 1996. The Key Role of Collaborative Work in the Growth of Brazilian Science in the Last Ten Years. Scientometrics 35(3): 367-73.

National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq). 1993. Informe Estatistico. Brasília: CNPq/MCT 4 (2):13.

———. 1994. Relatório Estatístico 1993. Brasília: MCT/CNPq/IBICT.

———. 1995. O CNPq e a formação de recursos humanos de C&T para o Brasil, estatísticas de bolsas no pais e no exterior, 1980-95. Brasília: MCT/CNPq.

———. 1996. Indicadores Nacionais de Ciência e Tecnologia 1990-1995. Brasília: MCT/CNPq.

———. 1997. Resolução Normativa 014/97. Brasília.

National Science Foundation, Division of Science Resources Studies (NSF). 1993. Human Resources for Science & Technology: The Asian Region. NSF 93-303. Arlington, VA.

———. 1996. Human Resources for Science & Technology: The European Region. NSF 96-316. Arlington, VA.

Perez, C. 1983. Structural Change and the Assimilation of New Technologies in the Economic and Social System. Futures 15(4): 357-75.

Schwartzman, S. 1995. Science and Technology in Brazil: A New Policy for a Global World. In S. Schwartzman et al., Science and Technology in Brazil: A New Policy for a Global World. Rio de Janeiro: Fundação Getúlio Vargas.

Previous Section Top of page Next Section Table of Contents Help SRS Homepage