The Growing Ties Between Brazil and British Higher Education

I’m hearing the light from the window

I’m seeing the sound of the sea

Mike Nesmith, “Rio,” 1977

To London to a British Council workshop on Brazil. The intent is to produce more links between British and Brazilian universities. This event comes hard on the heels of another event with which I was involved: a meeting of the vice-chancellors and rectors of all Latin American universities sponsored by Banco Santander which took place in Guadalajara and to which a number of British vice-chancellors were invited.

These events lead me to reflect on the ways in which we can be unintentionally insular without even realizing it. Before these two events, I am ashamed to say to admit how little I knew about Latin American universities, even though Warwick has had a long history of engagement with the continent, typified by the many visits to our campus by one of our honorary graduates and the new Nobel Prize winner, Mario Vargas Llosa.  But my knowledge base is now changing very fast. So my abiding memories of the Guadalajara event were the sheer diversity of institutions to be found in the continent, a meeting between British and Brazilian vice-chancellors and rectors, and a subsequent visit to one of the many constituent campuses of the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education, in Mexico City: the distance learning operations of the Universidad Virtual were particularly impressive in both their scope and ambition. The visit to Guadalajara has already been worthwhile: this week we have eight Brazilian students arriving on campus as part of the Santander TOP programme who will be auditing economics.

Brazil’s remarkable economic performance has been oft times commented upon and it hardly needs me to add to these comments. In spite of a byzantine tax system and a polarized income distribution, Brazil has grown, and grown rapidly. But what is most impressive is the way in which that growth has been supported by an emphasis on innovation. The Brazilian state has reserved a proportion of its oil revenues to invest in innovation. (Would that the British government had done the same when its oil revenues were at their height!) In turn, that emphasis has paid dividends, especially but not only in the life sciences, agriculture, and oil-related activity.

An informal audit in my university already shows significant research tie-ups between scientists in physics and chemistry and Brazilian physicists and chemists. Warwick’s Institute for Employment Research is also bringing together policymakers and researchers in India and Brazil and the U.K. in a research programme to assess the economic impact of graduates on the economy of those three countries. Audits in other major British universities show the same kind of thing. In particular, there is a lot of activity across the sciences between both countries. But most of it is of an informal nature. It is clear that, at this point, things need tying together. What is needed is a bilateral national agreement of the kind that France and Germany already have. The prospects for a sustainable programme of interchanges, perhaps oiled by some extra funding, are equally exciting and the meeting was a worthwhile step towards achieving both of these goals.

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