Culture or wealth?

Bill Woodrow, Phosphorus, 1994.


When the president describes Northeastern voters as “illiterate”, he reveals not only impoliteness or rudeness. First of all, he demonstrates his ignorance

Who thinks he's… superior?! If it is because of personal wealth, it will be seen as poor in spirit. If it is due to the feeling of being more cultured, he will be criticized as a snob, characteristic of an arrogant and lacking in humility.

Those who feel superior to others, in fact, are just equal to other human beings in this feeling of pride – and make a logical mistake: everyone cannot be above average… Worse, they adopt the bias of perseverance with an illusory validation: only talk to your class, that is, with someone who doesn't threaten you with questions.

Who compares, loses... You will always find someone with greater culture, wealth, other merits or personal virtues.

When President Chucro describes Northeastern voters (who were wise not to vote for him) as “illiterate”, he reveals not only impoliteness or rudeness. First of all, he demonstrates his ignorance!

In such a position, given his ignorance of the cause, before appointing a series of disqualified Ministers of Education, he should have a basic notion of the different regional needs for public policies. Instead, he appointed a guy connected to the private Presbyterian University to cover up yet another corruption in his government: pastors charging gold bullion in exchange for budget release.

You should know: according to the last demographic census of 2010 (your government proved unable to fulfill this institutional obligation), the Northeast region had 2,215 million graduates in Higher Education. This number surpassed that of the South region with 2,203 million and that of the Midwest and North regions combined: 1,790 million.

Evidently, all these people together were still a smaller number than the Southeast with 7,280 million or 54% of the total. The relative participation of the population in this region is 42% of the total, evidencing the higher educational concentration.

In 2020, the Northeast had 1,829 million students enrolled in higher education, a higher number than the South (1,520 million), Midwest (770 thousand), North (678 thousand). Just below the number in the Southeast (3,882 million). Someone could counterargue: but in relation to the population of each region… Everything would prove to be relative, but one cannot fail to consider the higher absolute number. Doesn't it mean "cultural mass"?

Together, three states in the Southeast region, São Paulo (2,075 million), Minas Gerais (857 thousand) and Rio de Janeiro (785 thousand), have 42,8% of total higher education enrollments in the country. In absolute numbers, Bahia (414 thousand) in sixth place surpasses Santa Catarina (408 thousand) in seventh place, that is, the Northeast does need the presence of the Brazilian State!

But, against fact, there is argument. Three states in the North region, Rondônia (86%), Amazonas (84,7%) and Pará (84,4%), have the highest percentage of students enrolled in private HEIs. Rio Grande do Norte is the state with the lowest percentage of students in the private network (57,8%), just below Paraíba (59%) and Piauí (61%). Question: isn't public higher education of better quality? Is the private network not interested in the poorest people in the Northeast? So the public network replaces it.

In the 2022 annual ranking of the world's best universities in Times Higher Education, a British magazine specializing in Education, lists 70 Brazilian institutions among 1.662 institutions from 99 countries. The ranking is based on 13 performance indicators of institutions in four areas: teaching, research, knowledge transfer and international recognition.

In Brazil, USP (University of São Paulo), UNICAMP (State University of Campinas) and UFMG (Federal University of Minas Gerais) lead in that order. The UFS (Federal University of Sergipe), in 5th. place, surpassed UFSC (Federal University of Santa Catarina) in 6th. Unifor (University of Fortaleza) rose to 8th, above PUC-Rio (Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro) in 9th. UNB (University of Brasilia) and Unesp (São Paulo State University) fell and are no longer among the top 10. Parodying: “the world turns, Brazil rotates”…

Higher Education Diploma offers social status, but does it imply greater culture? For example, the business, administration and law area led the number of graduates in 2020, with 283 in on-site courses (32%) and in Distance Education. In total, distance learning reached 400 completions, while on-campus totaled 878, including 692 in the private network and 186 in the public network.

In 2021, 1,351 million students enrolled in some specialization (84% in private schools), 271 in masters (64% in public schools) and 170 in doctorates (76% in public schools). The quality of public education is more attractive to the non-resentful.

The number of full-time professors working in public schools rose from 113.225 in 2011 to a total of 147.771 in 2020. Part-time teachers increased from 17.418 to 17.819. As for hourly workers, they dropped from 8.941 to 5.740. In contrast, in private HEIs, in 2020, part-time teaching functions predominated (80.744), followed by hourly (63.627) and full-time (50.588).

As for the qualifications of professors at public HEIs, there was a growing and continuous trend towards greater qualifications over the course of the decade, registering a 66% increase in the number of professors with doctorates. You doctors there were 70.990, corresponding to 51% of professors in 2011, and reaching 69%, or 118.353, in 2020. Master professors lost 7 percentage points in participation, remaining with 38.545 or 22,5%.

Regarding the education of the teaching functions in practice in private HEIs, the master's degree predominated (48%), in 2020, followed by the doctorate (30%) and the category up to specialization (22%). Universities had the profile with the highest qualifications, as 64,3% of professors had a doctorate in 2020. In isolated faculties, 27,8% of professors were doctors and 45,5% of masters.

Does the quality of higher education matter little? Is it enough for personal enrichment to have any degree from a “Uniesquina”?

First, the higher the level of education, the higher the average monthly salary of the worker. A professional with complete higher education, in 2019, received an average salary of BRL 6.324 per month (being among the richest 10%), almost three times the average value of an employee with only secondary education (BRL 2.322), this slightly higher than the average received by those who had completed elementary school (R$ 2.040).

Second, with primary education only half found employment, with secondary education about 2/3 were employed and with higher education nearly 80% found employment. Titles and/or professional reputations mattered a lot.

According to the 2010 Census, there were 13,5 million people with complete higher education. In the next ten years, between 2011 and 2020, 11,4 million graduated, only 21% in public schools: 12% in federal, 7% in state and 2% in municipal.

Therefore, two years ago the official estimate was that there were 24,9 million Brazilians with this level of higher education. On average across OECD countries, 39% of adults had a tertiary degree. Among OECD and partner countries, it was 20% or less in Brazil (14,7%), China, Indonesia, Italy, Mexico and South Africa. It was 50% or more in Canada, Ireland, Israel, Luxembourg, Korea, the Russian Federation and the United States.

Data at the national level often hide important regional inequalities. For example, in Brazil, the proportion of adults aged 25 to 64 with less than high school education ranges from 30% in the Federal District to 67% in Alagoas, a difference of more than 35 percentage points. Northeast needs public policy!

In most OECD and partner countries, capital regions concentrate the largest shares of highly skilled people. In the Russian Federation, three out of four adults in the capital region (Moscow) have achieved tertiary education, and in the United States and the United Kingdom two out of three adults have done so. In these countries, the difference in the percentage of people with a higher education between the region with the highest percentage and the region with the lowest percentage exceeds 30 percentage points.

O Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report 2022 presents information on changes in household wealth during the 2021 calendar year. In total, the United States gained $11,4 trillion and second-place China gained $4,2 trillion.

On the downside, Brazil was the biggest loser in 2021 across the board. It lost US$839 billion due to the depreciation of its national currency against the US dollar. This equated to a 24% decline in their average personal wealth.

The report considered 155 million adults in Brazil in 2021. This number was 2,9% of the world total with total wealth of US$3.327 billion or 0,7% of the world total. Wealth per adult was $21.429, adding up to $14.329 of financial wealth (66%) and $11.355 of non-financial wealth (53%), discounting $4.255 of debt (20%). Median wealth was just $3.743, demonstrating their deep social inequality.

To relativize these data, it is enough to compare with the world average wealth per adult of US$ 38.595, being US$ 23.268 financial wealth, US$ 21.693 non-financial and US$ 6.366 debt. Median wealth was $8.360. Poor Brazilians, look at yourselves!

When criticizing, complaining or discriminating against someone, the unprepared president should first study, look at himself and inside the country. Not being able to study, given his busy time on jet skis and motorcycles, he should take into account the popular wisdom through the saying: “before you speak, listen; before acting, think; before criticizing, know. And before you give up, try to improve.”

*Fernando Nogueira da Costa He is a full professor at the Institute of Economics at Unicamp. Author, among other books, of Support and enrichment network. Available in


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