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• Lula’ speech at the ProUni launch ceremony - 2005
Despite there being so many former presidents with college degrees, for many years not a single federal university was built in Brazil. The limited number of vacancies was reserved for the privileged few (usually residents of state capitals or large cities). The Lula government broke this drought, spreading 14 new universities and 126 new campuses across the country.
Dilma has continued this bold policy. And so it was that Brazil created no less than 18 new federal universities and 173 new campuses in just 12 years. Between 2003 and 2013, the number of municipalities with federal higher education institutions doubled, from 114 to 237. The expansion has widened and democratized access to the university and is helping to tackle regional inequalities with a powerful weapon: knowledge.
If you are younger, ask the veterans: there was a time when the federal universities didn’t have the money to pay their light bills or buy toilet paper. This situation changed with the Lula government, especially as of the Support Program for Restructuring and Expansion Plans of Federal Universities (Reuni). Upon joining the program, universities began to rely on an unprecedented volume of resources to invest in the production of knowledge. In turn, they expanded the number of vacancies in evening courses created (for those who work during the day and must study at night), among other actions that are helping to reduce historical inequalities.
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• Expansion of the higher public education sector
Critics said the level of education would decline. And that quota beneficiaries, unable to keep pace with their peers, eventually would throw in the towel. Ten years after the start of implementation of social and racial quotas in the public university system, however, just the opposite has been proven — the absenteeism rate fell and the quality of education increased. It was so successful that in 2012 it was enacted and signed into law by President Dilma. The Social Quotas Law reserves 50% of positions in federal universities for those who graduate from public schools. These slots will be distributed among Afro-Brazilian, mixed race and indigenous candidates, in proportion with the ethnic composition of the population of each state.
• University inclusion through quotes is the law
"The poor will go to college. And the door is Enem." With this determination, President Lula transformed the National Middle School Exam — previously an instrument for assessing the quality of education — into the passport for entry of young people into higher education through the Unified Selection System (Sisu). An alternative to college entrance examinations, Sisu made access to higher education a more democratic process: 95% of federal universities use the Sisu grading results as a selection mechanism. The exam is also a criterion for entry into ProUni (scholarship distribution program for private colleges), access to the Student Financing Fund (Fies) and a Science without Borders scholarship (for entering exchange programs at top foreign universities). In 2014, 8.7 million youths registered to take the Enem exam.
Created by Lula's government in 2009, the Unified Selection System is now one of the main ways to gain access to a university. In each edition, public higher education institutions that are part of Sisu save a number of places for Enem participants. The candidate chooses the registration options from among the vacancies offered anywhere in the country. At the end of the registration stage, the system automatically selects the top-ranked candidates in each course, according to their Enem results. Some 51 institutions participated in the first edition of Sisu. In 2014, the number reached 155. Among the new participants in 2014, there are 15 federal universities and three state institutions.
In the beginning was the dream, along with the vocation and willpower. But there was an ingredient missing that turns dream into reality — lack of opportunity, which came in 2004 upon the establishment of the University for All Program (ProUni). Thanks to ProUni, 1.4 million needy youngsters won scholarships in higher education private institutions and are becoming doctors, engineers, lawyers ... They rewrote their own futures, and are helping Brazil to change its future, too.
• ProUni stories told by those whose live were changed by the program
Besides ProUni, low-income students have another alternative to attend a private higher education institution: the Student Financing Fund (Fies). As of 2010, Fies changed for the better, with interest rates reduced to 3.4% per year, increasing the qualifying period to 18 months (starting from the completion of the course) and lengthening the payback period. In three years, the number of students with Fies support increased more than ten times and in 2013 reached 1.6 million — 83% of them from families with income less than one and a half minimum wage per person. Fies is a tool that helps turn into reality what before was only a dream.
In total, about 40% of private higher education students receive support from the federal government, via ProUni or Fies.
• Fund guarantees the best financing conditions
Obtaining an undergraduate or post-graduate degree in one of the best universities in the world is not just a dream for thousands of young people under the Science without Borders program. It is also an opportunity for the development of industry, economy and research in Brazil. The scholarships (which will total 101,000 in four years) are awarded in areas such as engineering, medicine and biomedical sciences, technology and computer science. To participate, a candidate must have a score of more than 600 points in the National Middle School Examination (Enem). In 2014, Dilma introduced Science without Borders 2, with over 100,000 scholarships for young people who, when they return, will bring new ideas and experiences with them. And the help Brazil reach beyond its borders.