Despite current economic and political challenges, Brazil remains the largest higher education market in Latin America, with education expenditures for 2021 reaching approximately $25 billion and a total enrollment of 46.7 million students in Brazil’s basic education system. Education is a high priority for the Government of Brazil, and the Brazilian Ministry of Education’s budget for 2022 is projected to grow to $26.5 billion.
Included in Brazil’s 46.7 million basic education students are 8.3 million students enrolled in pre-school, 26.5 million in elementary school, 7.7 million in high school, and 4.1 million in other forms such as young and adult education programs. Further, the higher education sector includes 8.4 million enrolled students with approximately 75% of higher education students attending private institutions.
The internationalization of higher education is a subject that is becoming increasingly relevant for both public and private Brazilian higher education institutions. Brazilian federal research agencies have a long history of supporting international research partnerships with several bilateral agreements with countries in Europe as well as both North and South America that have existed for decades. However, available English language courses at Brazilian universities remain limited and quality varies.
In contrast to primary education, higher education in Brazil is dominated by private institutions. Public institutions are comparatively small and incapable of meeting the overall demand for higher education courses. Public higher education institutions are directed to serve as centers of excellence and research, with extremely competitive admissions standards and a limited capacity for expansion. Private higher education institutions have carved out a separate niche and primarily focus on meeting the professional requirements of the labor market. For this reason, they have developed flexible programs to meet the needs of the working population.
Industry experts, such as the Brazilian Association of Higher Education Maintainers (ABMES), expect that the education sector in Brazil will continue to grow in the near term, particularly demand for distance-learning as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lower monthly distance-learning tuition fees are expected to increase higher education enrollment and the Brazilian Association of Distance Learning (ABED) estimates that there are approximately 355 institutions that currently offer distance-learning classes. It is expected that the number of registrations for distance learning will surpass those of in-person courses for the first time in 2023.
Brazil ranks eighth as a country of origin for foreign students studying in U.S. universities. In the 2020-21 academic year, 14,000 students from Brazil were studying in the United States. The breakdown was as follows: 52% undergraduate; 29.7% graduate students; 3.7% non-degree, 14.62% OPT (Optional Practical Training).
Non-automatic recognition in Brazil of foreign university credits is a major barrier to U.S. education exports. The Ministry of Education is in the initial stages of populating a system called “Plataforma Carolina Bori”, which processes all validation requests for undergraduate and graduate degrees. Although this portal aims to accelerate the validation process by establishing precedents, it is still in the early phases of development.
Despite the bureaucratic challenges of U.S. degree recognition in Brazil, the number of Brazilian students choosing U.S. education is significant. The economic impact of Brazilian students in U.S. colleges and universities contributed $758 million to the U.S. economy during the 2020-21 academic year.
Approximately 80% of Brazilian students who study abroad come from the southern and central eastern states of São Paulo, Santa Catarina, Rio Grande do Sul, Paraná, Rio de Janeiro, Brasília, and Minas Gerais. Among these, São Paulo, Brasília, and Rio de Janeiro represent the three best locations to recruit Brazilian students for study in the United States. São Paulo has the largest applicant pool (33%) and attracts the most talented students to its own university campuses. The capital city of Brasília (11.6%) has the country’s highest GDP per capita at approximately $14,100, over twice that of the second-highest, São Paulo. The applicant pool within the state of Rio de Janeiro (13.4%), Brazil’s hub for the oil and gas industry, attracts many engineering and science majors.
Brazil recognizes the need to improve English language skills across the country. Most of the population, including those employed in the tourism sector, lack basic English language skills, which is the primary challenge for many Brazilian students applying for study abroad programs. Institutions that can address this issue by providing conditional acceptance tied to English language training or other such “pathway programs” may have a competitive advantage in attracting Brazilian students.
Although private English language schools are abundant, student exchange programs are a huge market in Brazil, especially short-term and part-time programs. Examples of exchange programs currently popular in Brazil include part-time study programs combined with tourism and outdoor sports; teen vacation (specifically for teenagers with a mix of classes and leisure activities), and English language programs designed for students 50 years of age or older.
U.S. schools interested in Brazilian recruitment should provide creative financing options, including options to pay in installments since price will continue to be a challenge for Brazilian students studying abroad. Installment payments are widely offered and very popular throughout Brazil, from personal care to larger purchases such as computers.
EdTech is a growing market in Brazil. According to the Brazilian Association of Startups (ABSTARTUPS), there are approximately 566 EdTech startups in Brazil. São Paulo is the leading city for the Brazilian EdTech industry, with a focus on the domestic market. A large portion of EdTech companies (37.8%) are based in the State of Sao Paulo. The SaaS business model is utilized by half of the Brazilian Edtechs.
For the next decade, the fastest growing segment of the educational market in Brazil will be English learning courses, followed by language courses with temporary work and teen vacation courses (July and January school holiday periods), and short-term vocational courses.
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