Are There Upsides to the End of Brazil’s Science Without Borders Program?

May 11, 2017 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

Brazil’s Ministry of Education announced last month that it would officially end Science Without Borders (“(Ciência sem Fronteiras), a national scholarship program which sought to support 100,000 Brazilian students and researchers in the pursuit of international studies at leading international universities. While the shuttering of the program may initially seem like a step backward, plus55 recently pointed out several ways in which the mobility scheme failed to deliver on its promise. Here’s a closer look.

Poor Design = Poor Outcomes?

“While Science Without Borders was a splendid idea, it never quite lived up to the hype,” asserts plus55. For starters, because the program originated as a presidential initiative without outside consultation or public deliberation, it came up sorely lacking from a policy design perspective.

Says plus55: “Its most striking feature was the focus on undergraduate students, who were sent to study abroad for one year and then finish their college degrees in Brazil. However, there was no real connection between Brazilian universities and their foreign counterparts. Students often studied in fields other than their own and sometimes did not have their courses recognized by home institutions.”

This is in line with Brazilian researcher Creso M. Sá’s assessment of the program, “The Rise and Fall of Brazil’s Science Without Borders,” which argued that “Science Without Borders provides a stark example of lacking policy capacity in the Brazilian government to design and implement effective public policy. Opaque decision-making about key program features, absence of consultation with key stakeholders, and top-down implementation have resulted in a poorly designed program.”

A New Focus

The program, which also faltered when it came to promoting foreign language skills among Brazilian students, did not only underachieve, but did so at the extremely high cost of more than $1 billion, money which the Ministry of Education contends could be spent in more effective ways. To that end, the government announced the addition of 5,000 scholarship in 2017 geared to supporting advanced studies and research experience abroad with the specific aim of boosting the quality of the country’s higher education institutions through stronger faculty and staff.

But the Ministry of Education also noted that it isn’t completely abandoning Science Without Borders: It will continue to support the 4,000 students currently participating in the program.

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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