By Richard Mann, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Education Minister Abraham Weintraub has for the first time linked the reversal of the 30 percent cut in federal university funding to the approval of the pension reform.
Approved by the Committee on Constitution and Justice (CCJ) last month, the proposal should proceed for analysis by a Special Commission and then follow to Parliament.
During a hearing in the Senate Education Committee, on Tuesday 7th, to introduce the priority guidelines and programs, the minister denied that there would be any cutbacks for the institutions.
“There was no cut, there’s a contingency. If the economy experiences growth with the approval of the new Pension Plan, if we resume the tax collection dynamic, we will revert it. We need to comply with the fiscal responsibility law,” he said.
Questioned on the situation of federal universities which have already announced difficulties in maintaining ongoing activities with the blockage on their budgets, the minister asked: “Nothing was cut from the payroll. The whole country’s fastening its belt, can’t we cut anything? Is the budget sacrosanct? A university costs, on average, one billion reais, can’t we get anything?”
He suggested that university deans use their figures to show the difficulties and is prepared for a conversation with deans, the Minister of Economy, Paulo Guedes, and President Jair Bolsonaro.
The minister again reaffirmed his intention to “prioritize” investments in basic education, especially considering Ideb’s indicators for secondary education – “we have been stagnant for ten years” – and in the case of technical education which, according to him, has been decreasing in Brazil.
Basic Education as top Priority
Basic education has already been frozen to the tune of 2.4 billion, according to an Andifes survey. Andifes, the National Association of Directors of Higher Education at Federal Institutions which unites rectors of Brazilian universities, shows that half of the students in Federal entities are from low-income families.
“Half of all high school openings in the world are technical. Whoever learns a trade does not experience need. A technician in accounting, IT, nursing, a carpenter, a mechanic. They leave school with a job for income and help their family.”
He said that part of the strategy is to reinforce professional and technological education with links and partnerships which will include the private network and companies.
Weintraub again compared the situation in the country to that of South Korea. “There they began with basic education, they alphabetized everyone. Then they universalized, they lowered the technical level and increased the engineers. You start with the foundation, then the walls and only then do you get to the roof,” he said, stating that Brazil has skipped steps in this direction. “We put a lot of resources on the roof before we build the foundation.”
The minister said that the MEC today directs most of its resources to higher education and that expansion of the sector has been driven by the private network: “Seventy-five percent have come from the private network, it was not the public network that has expanded.”
He also justified the Ministry’s guidelines with the granting of scholarships via the Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Level Personnel (CAPES), which aims to expand and consolidate the postgraduate sensu stricto (master’s and doctorate) in all states of the Federation.
“Ninety percent of national scientific production, measured not only by publication but also by the impact on scientific production, with reusability, comes from Health, Biology, Exact Sciences, and Agricultural and Multidisciplinary Engineering. Thirteen percent with scientific relevance come from Applied Social Sciences, Humanities, and Linguistics.”
Recently, President Jair Bolsonaro stated that Weintraub is contemplating the decentralization of investments in the Faculty of Philosophy and Sociology.