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Brazil on the Top 10 in the QS University Rankings: BRICS 2014

London, 18th of June 2014 - The acronym BRICS has become standard shorthand for the idea that the world’s economic future is not in the hands of traditional players such as the US, Europe and Japan.  However, to compete in a global scene these fast growing economies need world-class university systems.

QS University Rankings: BRICS, which compares the Top 200 institutions in Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, identifies China as the most likely of the BRICS nations to achieve its goal of developing world-class universities.

China claims six of the top 10 places, ahead of Brazil (2), Russia (1) and South Africa (1).  Russia with 53 institutions in the top 200 is second only to China (71). Yet only seven Russian institutions make the top 50, fewer China (21), Brazil (10), and India (9).

Riding the wave of the Chinese boom, in the first decade of the century Brazil experienced rapid growth, overtaking the UK as the world’s sixth largest economy in 2011. Yet the growth of the Brazilian higher education sector has not been without its teething problems. For one thing, even as government investment has increased, there have been widespread concerns over the efficiency with which funds are being administered.

Quality and accessibility remain issues, with much of the increase in participation coming through the proliferation of private institutions, of varying levels of accreditation.

Universities in Brazil are good at attracting international faculty, perhaps because of its fast-growing research budgets, but poor at bringing in overseas students. The Brazilian government is keen to send many more students abroad. One effect of their presence on campuses around the world may be growing visibility for Brazil as a place to study.

Brazil’s results are also the polar opposite of those for Russia, whose universities bring in many foreign students, but far few foreign staff. It is also notable that the methodology of these rankings brings out the high quality of Russia’s  specialist institutions in fields such as science, business and engineering, which overall world rankings often fail to capture.

So what can the QS rankings tell us about the progress of Brazilian universities and the challenges they face in the coming years?

The volume of research produced by leading Brazilian institutions has grown significantly in recent years, and QS University Rankings: BRICS shows that they are fairly dominant in terms of research productivity.

Yet, as China and India have found out, quantity does not necessarily translate into impact. Both China and India have vastly improved the research productivity of their leading universities in an attempt to drive innovation, particularly in the STEM disciplines.

However, for students, the comparative weakness of Brazilian institutions in terms of student/faculty ratios is perhaps of more immediate concern than research citations.  Brazil has started to take steps in recent years to increase levels of global engagement through research collaborations and programs to attract international students and academics.

As these metrics suggest, while the likes of USP and Unicamp have started to develop a global reputation among academics and employers in several discipline areas, as large public institutions in a historically underfunded system they remain subject to some of the infrastructural shortcomings of their less academically recognized peers.

Before its leading institutions can aspire to compete on the global stage, the Brazilian sector as a whole has domestic issues to address, not least ensuring that the growth in participation does not outstrip its ability to maintain quality provision.

 

 


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