Higher education in Brazil



Historical, legislative trajectory and current challenges of Brazilian universities

“What gives universities greatness is not what is done within them – it is what is done with what they produce” (Florestan Fernandes).

The role of Jesuit priests in colonial Brazil is an important part of the country's history of formal education. Marked by the interest in the dissemination of European culture and religious dominance, Jesuit activity was linked to classical intellectual training, based on an education in morals and good manners. In this context, the offer of the theology course, aimed at ecclesiastical education, can be considered a precursor to the higher education experience in Brazil.

However, it would not be in the 2005th century that the country would be able to offer higher education courses, since the country's dependence on the Metropolis did not allow for such an educational apparatus in colonial Brazil. In this sense, Teixeira states: “There was, therefore, no difference between the Metropolis and the Colony in terms of the level or content of intellectual education, as all local education taught by the Jesuits would be completed with university education in the Metropolis. Until the middle of the 135th century, the university in Brazil was the University of Coimbra, where Brazilians went to study, after courses in Brazil at real Jesuit colleges”. (TEIXEIRA, 136, p XNUMX-XNUMX).

Although it was not through Jesuit influence, it was still during the colonial period that the country had its first higher education courses. The arrival of the royal family in Brazil in 1808 marked the beginning of the establishment of higher education courses outside the court, with a view to training professional staff for State business.

In this context and under full State control, the School of Surgery was created in Salvador and Rio de Janeiro (today, respectively, the Faculties of Medicine of UFRJ and UFBA) and the Royal Military Academy (currently the National School of Engineering of UFRJ).

In independent Brazil, in 1827, two Law courses emerged (Olinda and São Paulo). Still from the perspective of offering training to a cohesive elite aligned with the State, the university model was not part of the empire's proposal, which continued with the proposal of training for professions, in isolated schools.

The Federal Constitution of 1891, given the social context after the abolition of slavery, brought advances at the time also in higher education, which was no longer linked only to the central power. Under the possibility of state control and the creation of private institutions, new higher education schools are created in the country, still in the format of technical-professional training and far from a university character.

The expansion of higher education in this period was marked by the presence of confessional and private institutions and represented a rupture in the model of professional schools. In the first three decades of the 1900s, the country had 109 institutions offering higher education courses (SAMPAIO, 2000).

Unlike other countries in Hispanic America, such as Mexico, which in 1553 already had its first university, Brazil only had isolated professional training schools. It was only in the 1920s that a University project began in the country, led by an intellectual elite who understood it as a promoter of science and research.

In this sense, Teixeira pointed out: “The university will thus be a center of knowledge, destined to increase human knowledge, a novitiate of culture capable of broadening the mind and maturing the imagination of young people for the adventure of knowledge, a training school for professionals and the broadest and deepest instrument for the elaboration and transmission of common Brazilian culture. These are the University’s ambitions. Deeply national, but closely linked, by this broad concept of its purposes, to universities around the world, to the great international fraternity of knowledge and learning” (TEIXEIRA, 1969, p. 236).

Anísio Teixeira was one of the exponents of the Escola Nova movement, which defended universities as “disinterested centers of knowledge”. The broad debate about the creation of a university in the country began a major educational reform, promoted by the newly created Ministry of Education and Health of the provisional government of Getúlio Vargas.

The structuring of higher education in Brazil

With the new government in 1930, under the command of Getúlio Vargas, the cycle of coffee with milk policy in Brazil was broken, which was characterized by alternation in power between Minas Gerais and São Paulo. São Paulo residents offered great resistance to the new system in force. However, due to its great importance in the country, solutions were sought so that the elite of the state of São Paulo would also have certain benefits from this new government.

The University of São Paulo is part of this process of reconciliation between the government and the São Paulo elite, having been created in 1934, meeting the university criteria of the recent reform at the time of Francisco Campos, but with its particular characteristics, such as internal autonomy, distinct from other institutions. Thus, the creation of USP took up this space of reconciliation, precisely because its objective was to form a new elite, prepared for the changes that would occur in the country and ready to maintain and strengthen itself as a dominant elite (FÉTIZON, 1984 ).

The creation of the University of São Paulo at that time reflects the vision of the São Paulo elite for identifying the country's growth and the need to reinvent itself to maintain its influence. This is the moment when the growth of Higher Education begins, mainly with federal institutions, due to the expansion of public secondary education, resulting in a new demand. In this process of expanding population schooling, this demand for higher education arises, starting the growth of private education as an alternative to serve the growing educated population. Furthermore, this period, between the 1940s and 1960s, marked the rupture of the pact between State and Church, with the creation of the Pontifical Catholic University (SAMPAIO, 1991).

This growth in higher education also made it possible to expand the offer of other courses, as until that moment the so-called imperial careers predominated: Law, Engineering and Medicine (Schwartzman, 2015).

It is in this context that regulatory standards and guidelines for higher education policies occur for the following decades. The first of these is the National Education Guidelines and Bases Law (LDB), of 1961, which established the provision of this level of education preferably in university models, based on the tripod of teaching, research and extension. However, it also favors private higher education, determining the freedom of the private sector to operate at all levels, for profit.

Another important movement in the trajectory of the expansion of Brazilian higher education was the University Reform of 1968, in which the models we know today were established, establishing departments, the credit system and semester payments.

However, this growth was not enough to meet the new demand, arising from the completion of secondary education. However, not all candidates were able to study in public institutions, despite being approved, as there were not enough places – so-called surpluses were formed. Thus, by decree, the classificatory entrance exam was instituted, which selected and limited the number of students admitted.

Another characteristic of this growth process that we discuss here is the privatist front of higher education, leveraged by the failure to meet demand by the public entity and the consequent expansion of permissions for private education, going from around 40% of total enrollments in 1960, to 63 % in 1980. According to the Higher Education Census (2020), 77% of Brazilian students today study undergraduate courses offered by private institutions.

This movement that occurred in higher education in the country was characterized by a “perverse manifestation of the growth and diversification of the Brazilian educational field and the antithesis of its real democratization”, as there was no concern with offering quality training, but rather a focus for massification and service alone, generally more focused on profit than on teaching (MARTINS, 1988, p. 3).

Public policies for contemporary higher education

Contrary to what happened at universities in the 1970s, with the significant increase in infrastructure, creation of new units and increase in vacancies, the following decade can be characterized as almost stagnation in relation to the number of enrollments. In the 1990s, the panorama was different, reaching average expansion rates of 7%. At the same time, and as a result of the expansion of vacancies, the phenomenon of emergence of different types of academic establishments occurred, with different formats, vocations and different practices, which favored the heterogeneity of the system, but diverted attention from the ideal of a university as an institute of to know.

However, what remained was the unequal distribution of higher education institutions (HEIs) across the country, with a concentration of a significant 59% of establishments in the Southeast region and a tiny 4% in the North region,[I] a portrait of existing regional inequalities.

The late higher education experienced by Brazil still has effects compared to other Latin American countries: in 2019, the enrollment rate for the population in the age group of 25 to 34 years of age (in addition to the period from 18 to 24, which represents the net rate), is 21%, lower than other Latin nations, such as Colombia (30%) and Chile (34%), which have an eminently private higher education, and lower than Argentina (40%), whose teaching characteristic higher education is eminently public (80%), which even attracts many Brazilians, who avoid the selectivity nature of the most coveted undergraduate courses, such as medicine[ii].

According to Senkevics (2019), the rates could have been much lower if we had not experienced significant growth between the 1960s and 1980s and, from the 1990s onwards, cycles that had notable repercussions not only on higher education institutions themselves, but also with high social impact.

In the midst of these cycles of leverage, there was also the University Reform of 1968 (Law no. 5.540/1968), which brought modernization and flexibility to university models, which ended up fostering the advancement of the secular private private sector in the sector, in contrast to to non-profit confessional institutions. In 1995, around 76% of higher education institutions were private, with an eminently white, elite clientele, in face-to-face courses, with female protagonism in a large part of them, with a massive concentration in the Southeast region of the country (SENKEVICS, 2019).

Massification and democratization of access to higher education accompanied by control and supervision

The massification process, in addition to being a phenomenon, constitutes an objective/goal that has become part of university institutions which, based on the assumption that this level of education is a social good, a right, and that specialized training provides material possibilities for social mobility and the elevation of human intellectual capacity, it is necessary to open the gates of the university to different social groups, with their most diverse trajectories, expressions, identities, motivations and financial resources, in order to break the elitist and selections that supported the pillars of the academy for a long time.

This does not mean that such diversification leaves aside aspects of quality, standards of excellence in research, but that the extension element, which makes up the university tripod that must be inseparable from the others, has begun to intensify.

From the 1980s onwards, important movements occurred in the private sector of higher education, as pointed out by Sampaio (2000): stability in the relative participation of enrollments in this sector; reduction of isolated institutions, with the increase in the number of universities; regional deconcentration and internalization of enrollments and growth in the number of courses and careers offered.

Legal advances in the years that followed gave great dynamism to the Brazilian higher education system. The 1988 Federal Constitution regulated the principle of autonomy for universities and separated the private system from the bureaucratic control of the Federal Education Council.

With the establishment of the National Education Guidelines and Bases Law in 1996, universities were given the authority to create and terminate courses, so that they could quickly meet mass demands for higher education (Sampaio, 2010). According to Ristoff, “the expansion of access takes us to the fact that the expansion of higher education did not only have a sense of geographic expansion, but also a sense of expansion of access opportunities for sectors of the middle class until then excluded from this level of education. . This expansion of access is largely confused with the privatization process itself, as it occurred mainly as a result of the strong exclusion historically prevailing in public universities”. (RISTOFF, 2008, p. 43)

In the early 2000s, with the entry of the PT government into the presidency of the Republic, a set of laws were enacted that established a public policy environment at both government and state levels,[iii] partly also as a result of our country's participation in the Durban Conference in 2001, which favored the environment for the development of actions aimed at the most deprived segments of Brazilian society, especially the black and indigenous population.

The University Diversity Program (Law No. 10.558/2002), whose objective was to evaluate implementation strategies to promote access to higher education for people belonging to socially disadvantaged groups (notably the black and indigenous population), provided for the transfer of resources to public and private institutions, accompanied by the granting of maintenance grants and prizes – a short law without many details, which did not have immediate repercussions until the creation and implementation of the University for All Program (Prouni, Law nº. 11.096/2005), which provided for the granting of full and partial scholarships for undergraduate and technical training courses in private higher education institutions, whether profit or non-profit.

Prouni consisted of an immediate attempt to boost entry and enrollment rates in higher education, making use of the already consolidated private infrastructure, of an eminently business nature, in addition to the transfer of resources from the Higher Education Student Financing Fund (FIES). ). This allowed and expanded the possibilities for students from public schools (throughout high school) or full scholarships from private schools.[iv] A difference of the program was that within the vacancies allocated to public school students, part of the vacancies was allocated to black, mixed-race and indigenous students and also to people with disabilities.

At the same time, supervision and control systems were regulated, such as the National Higher Education Assessment System – SINAES (Law no. 10.861/2004), which aims to promote the culture of periodic assessment of public higher education institutions (HEIs). and private institutions, as well as establishing the evaluation processes of undergraduate courses and student performance, which has consolidated over time as an essential 'accreditation' tool for higher education institutions, as well as their products and services offered to the population through ranking – common in the private sector, in a broad aspect of regulation, monitoring, evaluation of the educational system arising from the tutelary nature of the Ministry of Education (BRASIL; SOUZA, 2013).

From the perspective of Brasil and Souza (2013), the evaluation produces results and information that serve as subsidies and parameters for managers to carry out planning actions that can contribute to improving the functioning of institutions as a whole. This set of data 'inculcates' a solid evaluation culture, which reinforces and consolidates the institutional identity itself (BRASIL; SOUZA, 2013).

The evaluation process of higher education institutions (public and private) occurred through different forms, always articulated among themselves and carried out by the Ministry of Education, through the National Institute of Educational Studies and Research Anísio Teixeira (Inep): Evaluation of Higher Education Institutions Higher Education (Evaluations, which generates the General Course Index – IGC)), Assessment of Undergraduate Courses (ACG, which generates the Preliminary Course Concept – CPC)) and Student Performance Assessment through its own exam, which generates the ENADE index.[v]

After the opening of public resources to private institutions and the legislative framework that initiated the culture of evaluation of higher education, government action turned to federal universities, – whose scrapping process began in the first government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso. The Support Program for Restructuring and Expansion Plans of Federal Universities (REUNI) was created by Decree no. 6.096/2007, that is, a government policy that provided for the creation of structures (micro and macro) and minimum necessary conditions in IFES, in order to facilitate the expansion of access and permanence of students in higher education at undergraduate level, taking advantage of existing infrastructure and personnel.

It is important to note the guidelines that involved the program, which presupposed the assumption of commitments by the participating institutions to comply with optimization goals for the entire academic equipment, namely:

Art 2o The Program will have the following guidelines:

I – reduction in dropout rates, occupation of unused vacancies and increase in admission vacancies, especially at night;

II – expansion of student mobility, with the implementation of curricular regimes and title systems that enable the construction of training itineraries, through the use of credits and the movement of students between institutions, courses and higher education programs;

III – review of the academic structure, with reorganization of undergraduate courses and updating of teaching-learning methodologies, seeking to constantly increase quality;

IV – diversification of degree modalities, preferably not aimed at early and specialized professionalization;

V – expansion of inclusion and student assistance policies; It is

VI – articulation of undergraduate with postgraduate and higher education with basic education (BRASIL, 2007).

These guidelines were based on the rates that higher education presented at the time of the preparation of the National Education Plan (2001-2010), through Law nº. 10.172/2001, that is, the insignificant representation of public institutions compared to private ones, and the timid expansion of vacancies in federal institutions. It recognized the role of the Union as the main financier of the federal education system and an essential activity that contributes to the development of the State.

The volume of resources made available to REUNI decreased over the years, but the repercussion and effect of the first ten years (2008-2018) after the program's implementation were considerable. The process of interiorization of universities resulted in the multiplication of campuses, with 100 (one hundred) new extensions being incorporated into existing universities, taking public higher education to interior cities, avoiding the migration of students to the capitals or to the few cities that they constituted a university campus, in addition to encouraging the development of local economies. There was also notable growth in the provision of evening courses, one of the objectives of the program.

Concomitantly with the expansion, there was the creation of 14 (fourteen) new federal universities, arising from the dismemberment of others, or the elevation of large fields universities, which became the headquarters of new institutions, as was the case with fields located in the cities of Campina Grande (PB), Santarém (PA), Juiz de Fora (MG), among others. There was also the creation of specialized institutions, with peculiarities and different vocations for technological development and Latin American integration.[vi]. Regarding enrollments, there was a doubling of the number in the federal system[vii], with 53% of vacancies offered in cities in the interior of the country, a factor that deconcentrated university resources and facilities at headquarters, an important characteristic of the objective of reducing regional disparities in this segment (SENKEVICS, 2018).

The intense demand for places in higher education was also due to the increasing universalization of free secondary education. Cury (2002) understands that the inclusion of secondary education in Brazilian legislation as part of compulsory basic education made the right to basic schooling a subjective right, that is, one that can be demanded from the State, regardless of any condition of the citizen, which causes or it must provoke immediate state action to ensure the enjoyment of the right, with the possibility of sanctions when denied.

New demands, new repercussions: affirmative actions in public universities

Due to Brazil's history of late attendance in basic education and the predominance of elites in higher education and, in particular, public universities, at the end of the 2005th century movements began in defense of the implementation of affirmative actions to ensure representation compatible with the Brazilian population at the university, as portrayed by Piovesan (7, p. XNUMX). These are “special and temporary measures that, seeking to remedy a discriminatory past, aim to accelerate the equality process, with the achievement of substantive equality for vulnerable groups”.

The development and implementation of affirmative action policies in Brazil were accentuated following the participation of the Brazilian state in the III World Conference of the United Nations Organization to Combat Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, held in Durban (2001), Africa of the South, an occasion in which there was recognition of structural racism, a legacy of the colonial past, with the Brazilian government making a commitment to act to reduce the disparities highlighted, which significantly changed the outlook and state action aimed at confronting the racial problem in the Country.

Then, with the demands of social movements and the election of a new president from 2003 onwards, the implementation of public policies aimed at specific groups, especially marginalized ones, intensified in Brazil. Such policies are now guided by actions with redistributive characteristics and combating social inequalities.

Affirmative actions for admission to university were not initiated within the scope of the Legislative Assembly of the State of Rio de Janeiro which, through State Law nº. 3.524/2000, authored by the Executive Branch of the time (Anthony Garotinho), established the reservation of places in state universities in Rio de Janeiro in the proportion of 50% for students who completed their secondary education in public schools. At the end of the following year, the percentage of 40% was reserved for the black population (blacks and mixed race), both in the percentage of broad competition, and for the reservation of public school students, through Law nº. 3.708/2001, which was subsequently amended (Law no. 4.151/2003; Law no. 5.074/2007; Law no. 5.230/2008; Law no. 5.346/2008) in order to cover the peculiarities of each institution, including people with disabilities, student financial assistance actions, indigenous population. Currently, the quota system at universities in Rio de Janeiro is in full force, extended for another ten years as of Law no. 8.121/2018.[viii]

Such affirmative actions in the state universities of Rio de Janeiro did not take place voluntarily, using their didactic-scientific, administrative and financial and asset management autonomy granted by the Federal Constitution of 1988. The 'initiative' took place by virtue of state legislation, significantly impacting a new model of inclusion and repair of inequalities to be 'headed' within university academies.

Following this progressive action of inclusion and representation in higher education, the University of Brasília (UnB) was a pioneer with regard to federal universities, by voluntarily and independently establishing, through its Superior Council, affirmative actions for entry into its universities. undergraduate courses, predicting around 20% of vacancies for black candidates and a portion for indigenous people in 2004. This stance was the target not only of internal resistance in the institution, but also external, in social and political spheres, resulting in the filing of the Action for Failure to comply with Fundamental Precept (ADPF) no. 186, by the then Democratic Party (DEM), in 2009, before the Federal Supreme Court (STF) – which in 2012 judged the constitutionality of racial quotas (CARNEIRO, 2018).

The Quota Law (Law 12.711/12) was sanctioned in 2012, establishing a reservation of 50% of places in federal institutions for students who have completed high school in public schools. It was also predicted that among public school students, 50% of these places would be reserved for students from low-income families (1,5 minimum wage per capita). Furthermore, they would have to be completed in a respective proportion of blacks, mixed race, indigenous people and people with disabilities[ix] in the population of the federation unit where the institution is located, according to the latest census by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics – IBGE (BRASIL, 2012). A deadline for reviewing the text of the Law was established after 10 years (2022), which did not occur at the appropriate time and is still being processed – Bill nº. 5.384/2020, already approved by the Chamber of Deputies, is now in the Federal Senate.[X]

The importance of this Law can be understood through the statistical and qualitative analysis of tables and graphs that make up the 2020 Higher Education Census, presented below, which portrays the exponential growth in the number of enrollees in public universities and the distribution by color/race of these students.

Tabela 1 – Evolution of the number of undergraduate students, by administrative category in Brazil (2011 to 2020)

Source: (2022, INEP) 2020 Higher Education Census


From the selection process for entry in 2013, all federal universities were subject to the dictates of the Quota Law. Despite fluctuations in the increase and decrease of enrollments in Brazilian federal universities (2017-2020), on average, around 168 thousand places per year are allocated to affirmative action policies, constituting a universal policy, despite the peculiarities existing in each institution.

In graph 1, it is possible to observe that the representation of black and brown students between 2013 and 2016 still suffers small fluctuations, due to the gradual adaptation made possible by institutions, according to art. 8th of the Quota Law, but from 2019 onwards it is constant.

graphic 1 – Evolution of the percentages of declarations regarding the color/race of students (in relation to enrollment) 2011-2020

Source: (2022, INEP) 2020 Higher Education Census


In the research carried out, information from students who did not declare color/race at the time of enrollment and also records that do not contain such information are not considered, since the data is presented by the HEIs to carry out the Census. There is no application of specific questionnaires to students with the aim of collecting information for this purpose, as occurs in the Survey of the Socioeconomic Profile of Undergraduate Students at Federal Universities organized by the National Forum of Deans of Student Affairs (FONAPRACE). A member body of the National Association of Directors of Federal Higher Education Institutions (Andifes), it presents divergence of data in relation to the socioeconomic profile of students due to the different methodologies applied between the Higher Education Census and the Survey of the Socioeconomic Profile of Students of Degree from Federal Universities.[xi]

graphic 2 – Variation in students entering public higher education institutions in relation to the previous year, from 2010 to 2020

Source: INEP/Census of Higher Education 2010-2020


The graph above shows the increase in black, brown and indigenous entrants to public universities (includes state and municipal institutions), leveraged by the Quota Law in federal universities. From these data we can observe that there was a reduction in the number of entrants to public universities over these 10 years, with the highest growth (15%) in 2017. However, when analyzing the cut-off established by this Law, it is observed that the variation in the number of entrants from these profiles becomes more significant over the years following the Law (2012), especially in its first two years.

Analyzing the profiles of incoming students can even show us their quantitative impacts on barriers to accessing university. However, can we conclude that it affected the distribution of student profiles within universities?

graphic 2 – Historical evolution of the percentage of students enrolled with secondary education in public schools in relation to the total number of students

Source: INEP/Census of Higher Education 2010-2020


In the first year of analysis, in 2010, it appears that the overwhelming majority of students at public universities had completed secondary education in private schools, with students with secondary education in public schools representing less than 1/4 of those enrolled. In turn, in 2020, 66% of the student body came from public secondary institutions, which shows the positive impact on the access of these students, through the places guaranteed by law.

graphic 3 – Historical evolution of the percentage of black, brown and indigenous students enrolled in relation to the total number of students

Source: INEP/Census of Higher Education 2010-2020


The same effect seen regarding students with high school education in public schools is observed when it comes to black, brown and indigenous students, whose representation has tripled in this 10-year period, reaching 44% of enrollments at Universities in 2020.

One of the biggest challenges today, following access and democratization policies in higher education, is the issue of student retention, given that a state public policy has not yet been established (through Law) that provides for and ensures resources necessary for the training of students, a clientele that is increasingly needy.

The National Student Assistance Program (PNAES) was established by Ordinance MEC No. 39, of December 12, 2007, with application in universities from 2008 onwards, with the aim of combating social and regional inequalities in order to enable conditions of access and retention in courses through actions in the following areas: student housing; food; transport; health care; digital inclusion; culture; sport; nursery; and pedagogical support (MEC, 2007), later regulated by presidential decree. To date, PNAES is regulated by Decree no. 7.234/2010, without a law that establishes it as a state public policy approved by the National Congress.

Below, we present a table referring to the PNAES budgetary resources distributed by the MEC to universities, as of 2008:

Tabela 2 – Evolution of PNAES budget resources from the Ministry of Education (2008-2023)

2008 R$ 178.175.071 Program Start
2009 R$ 220.667.463 + 23,85 %
2010 R$ 320.235.978 + 45,12 %
2011 R$ 415.528.735 + 29,76 %
2012 R$ 579.847.776 + 39,54 %
2013 R$ 682.920.732 + 17,78 %
2014 R$ 802.207.316 + 17,47 %
2015 R$ 985.514.405 + 22,85 %
2016 R$ 1.006.674.625 (billion) + 2,15 %
2017 R$ 992.394.617 -1,42%
2018 R$ 961.604.278 -3,10%
2019 R$ 1.060.913.499 (billion) + 10,33 %
2020 R$ (billion) -3,08%
2021 R$ 849.772.452  - 17,36%
2022 R$ 1.030.486.213 (billion) + 21,27 %
2023 R$ 1.084.864.228 (billion) + 5,28 %

Source: Integrated Planning and Budget System database (SIOP-2023)

From the analysis of Table 2, it can be seen that the budgetary resources allocated to the PNAES showed growth from the beginning, in 2008, until 2016 when, for the first time, it reached the level of billions of reais, despite the technical stagnation that occurred between the years of 2015 -2016. In 2021 it suffered a drastic decline, at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic was still causing social isolation and reducing the income of the poorest families. This impact was also felt among university students assisted by PNAES, as from 2017 onwards half of the vacancies at federal universities were obligatorily allocated to students from public schools, with a profile conducive to the need for student assistance.

Since its implementation, the PNAES has served a relatively small number of students, whether quota holders or not, and the resources made available to universities have not kept up with the increasing rate of entry from a needier public, who require student assistance in a fundamental way to their permanence and development in the course, until completing it.

The advancement of distance education in Brazil: regulatory frameworks and contradictions

Concomitantly with the process of massification and democratization of higher education in Brazil, distance higher education has also consolidated itself as a public policy of expansion, however, with greater repercussion and advances since the last decade, through specific regulatory frameworks that fostered development and operations in the different regions of the country. It was the strategy found to redistribute this level of education, which was basically concentrated in the state capitals and in a few cities where there were university campuses.

Distance learning was foreseen in the LDB/1996 in a programmatic way, with timid legal provisions, but ensuring that the Union regulates standards for production, control, evaluation, authorization and other provisions relating to the 'special regime' of education (art. 80, BRAZIL, 1996). The regulation took place through Decree nº. 5.622/2005,[xii] which was very comprehensive regarding education levels (regular basic education, youth and adult education, special education, professional education, higher education), with the possibility of even offering postgraduate courses stricto sensu in the modality.

The regulation of distance education in a general and comprehensive manner provided a legislative environment for the Brazilian Open University System (UAB) to be created in the following year, by Decree no. 5.800/2006, whose objectives were closely compatible with other programs and projects for the expansion and consolidation of higher education in force at the time, namely, offering, as a priority, undergraduate courses and initial and continuing training for basic education teachers; higher education courses to train leaders, managers and workers in basic education in the States, Federal District and Municipalities; higher education courses in different areas of knowledge; expand access to public higher education; reduce inequalities in the provision of higher education between different regions of the country; establish a broad national distance higher education system; and foster institutional development for distance education, as well as research into innovative higher education methodologies supported by information and communication technologies (BRASIL, 2006).

The regulation and the very creation of the UAB System encouraged not only the offering of higher education at a distance, but also its wide offer in private institutions. According to Senkevics (2018), higher education distance learning reached its peak between 2007 and 2008, expanding by around 97%, still boosting the number of enrollments even after the decline in face-to-face education, between 2015 and 2018.

Amid the constant growth of higher education, especially in the private sector, Decree nº. 9.057/2017, streamlined the provisions of the previous decree, bringing greater flexibility to the offering of courses and favoring the expansion and entry into the 'market' of institutions that did not have tradition/experience in the segment of in-person undergraduate courses. In other words, the accreditation of institutions exclusively intended to offer distance learning, undergraduate and postgraduate courses was allowed (art.11).

Despite the legislative and regulatory advancement of distance higher education, also associated with the beginning of the evaluation culture established by the Ministry of Education, it is possible to see that its expansion has not presented the minimum quality established by educational indices. In 2017, of 2.083 institutions evaluated in the General Course Index, 1,63% of them achieved the maximum score (5); 18,77 obtained grade 4 and 65,43 grade 3, that is, the minimum grade to remain in operation (HAAS; MOUTINHO NEVES; DE PAULA STANDER, 2019). The remaining approximately 15% failed and were prohibited from opening new classes until the minimum operating requirements were met.

The deliberate offering of distance education higher education courses unaccompanied by the control and evaluation necessary to establish quality education draws attention, not only because of its representativeness in relation to face-to-face teaching, but because of the migration of enrollments in courses aimed at training teachers (degrees), which grew 109% in the private network in the decade from 2010 to 2020, representing around 61% of graduates in degree courses in 2020 (TODOS PELA EDUCAÇÃO, 2022).

The objectives of the UAB System of offering degree courses and continuing teacher training at a distance, which should be applied notably to public institutions as a priority, have become one of the main channels of support for private higher education which, with flexible costs ( unmissable promotions, easy payment methods), full autonomy in developing studies and carrying out assessments, among other factors, became the majority in the decision to choose not only the institution but also the type of offer.

Final considerations

Highlighting the state situation in colonial Brazil that motivated the creation of the first higher education courses in the country and which was in no way related to the idealization of a university project as a space for disseminating science and producing research, is fundamental to understanding the path taken by Education Superior to the present day.

The late organization, aimed at the training of Brazilian elites, made higher education inaccessible to the broad masses for many decades. The democratization of access to higher education courses through affirmative public policies is a step towards understanding the University as transforming the relationship between society and power relations.

The data[xiii] show that we still have a long way to go to ensure compliance with what is established by the National Education Plan which, in its target 12, foresees the expansion of the higher education system in order to reach 33% of the population between 18 and 24 years old. The challenges of reducing the imbalance in access to higher education are still largely related to the basic education system, based on a meritocratic model that reinforces the production of inequalities and exclusions.

Brazil has advanced in policies that favor the provision of more accessible and more diverse higher education, but there is still a need to evaluate such policies to identify their progressive points and consolidate their institutional changes. Allied to this, it is necessary to look not only at guaranteeing the universality of the system, but also at the quality of this process, so that the aims and objectives of Education are ensured that guarantee the full development of human beings, the exercise of citizenship and the preparation for work, without distinction of any kind.

*André Luiz Pestana Carneiro is a doctoral candidate in the postgraduate program in Humanities, Law and Other Legitimacies at FFLCH-USP.

*Guilherme Silva Lama Camargo is studying for a master's degree in education at the Faculty of Education at USP.

*Lilian Tavares Dias is a PhD student in Education at the Faculty of Education at USP.

*Afranio Catani is a retired senior professor at the Faculty of Education at USP. He is currently a visiting professor at the Faculty of Education at UERJ, Duque de Caxias campus..


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[I] Data made available by MEC/INEP in 1998. Number of Higher Education Institutions by Nature and Administrative Dependence. Available in: https://download.inep.gov.br/download/censo/1998/superior/miolo-Superior1-98.pdf

[ii] CARMO, M. With public colleges and no entrance exams, Argentina is attracting more and more Brazilian university students. https://www.bbc.com/portuguese/brasil-43644403.

[iii] Government public policies have a temporary nature in accordance with the government's objectives. At the federal level, they are, for the most part, regulated through Presidential Decree and Provisional Measures that have the force of law (art.62), in the use of the regulatory power conferred on the President of the Republic by the Federal Constitution of 1988, while State policies have a broader character, being the subject of discussions and debates in the National Congress and are promulgated through ordinary laws, complementary laws, amendments to the constitution, incorporating themselves into the nation's objectives over time, and can last beyond the time of the rulers' term of office. State policies can be proposed by rulers.

[iv] This requirement was made more flexible in 2021 through a Provisional Measure issued by the Bolsonaro Government to include students from private institutions without scholarships or who studied partially in public and private schools, legitimizing the mobility of students between public and private schools for accommodation purposes. in the program and, consequently, reducing the possibilities of public school students. The MP gained support in the National Congress and was converted into Law no. 14.350/2022, being one of the legal provisions that weakened some inclusion policies already consolidated in recent years.

[v] Currently, the functions of regulation, supervision and evaluation of the federal higher education system are regulated in Decree nº. 9.235/2017, which consolidated several instruments related to the topic and included the evaluation of postgraduate courses and limited the functions of the National Council for the Assessment of Higher Education.

[vi] Cases from the Federal Technological University of Paraná (UTFPR), Federal University of Latin American Integration (UNILA), University of International Integration of Afro-Brazilian Lusofonia (UNILAB).

[vii] The Federal Institutes of Education, Science and Technology were created by Law no. 11.892/2008 and are equivalent to federal universities in terms of regulation, evaluation and supervision of these institutions, as well as with regard to the higher education courses offered.

[viii] Source: Legislative Assembly of Rio de Janeiro. Available in: http://www3.alerj.rj.gov.br/lotus_notes/default.asp?id=53.

[ix] People with disabilities were included in the Quota Law in 2016 (Law no. 13.409/2016)

[X] To follow progress in the National Congress: https://www.camara.leg.br/proposicoesWeb/fichadetramitacao?idProposicao=2266069.

[xi] The results of the XNUMXth Survey of the Socioeconomic Profile of Undergraduate Students at Federal Universities are available at: http://www.fonaprace.andifes.org.br/site/index.php/2019/06/21/pesquisa-traca-perfil-de-alunos-das-universidades-federais/

[xii] Currently revoked by Decree no. 9.057/2017.

[xiii] Source: Monitoring of PNE target 12 based on data from PNAD – 2015 and Higher Education Census 2015

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