The dismantling of public higher education

Christiana Carvalho's photo


The budget destruction of universities and research in Brazil.

With the approval, in 2016, of Constitutional Amendment 95 (EC 95), the so-called 'Ceiling Law', it was possible to predict with reasonable accuracy the consequences that would result from it for education, health and other social areas .

Graph 1, published in 2016[1], and based on data from the document “Impacts of the New Fiscal Regime – Subsidies for the analysis of the Proposed Constitutional Amendment, PEC 241/2016”, by the Budget and Financial Inspection Consultancy of the Chamber of Deputies (“Technical Study No. 12/2016”) , showed, almost five years ago, projections of what would happen with the total investment in education, in two scenarios: 1) if the PNE (National Education Plan) is fulfilled; and 2) if PEC 241 was maintained (later transformed into EC 95), which would necessarily result in the violation of that same PNE.

graphic 1

Today, in 2021, one can compare these projections with what actually happened to the funding and investment budgets of the Federal Universities – regrettably confirming the second alternative.

graphic 2 Source: The budget of universities and federal institutes since 2000, Caroline Souza, Gabriel Zanlorenssi and Rodolfo Almeida, available at The budget of universities and federal institutes since 2000 | Nexo Jornal (plus data for 2020 and 2021)

The investment funding budget of the Federal Institutes followed the same path:

graphic 3 Source: The budget of universities and federal institutes since 2000, Caroline Souza, Gabriel Zanlorenssi and Rodolfo Almeida, available at The budget of universities and federal institutes since 2000 | Nexo Jornal (plus data for 2020 and 2021)

CAPES, CNPq, FNDE and FNDCT budgets, 2014-2021

It is not just Universities and Federal Institutes that have been affected by the policies in force. Graphs 4, 5, 6 and 7 show a similar impact on CAPES, CNPq, FNDE and FNDCT budgets. With the continuation of the current trend, most of the values ​​transferred to these institutions will tend to zero in the coming years.


graphic 4 graphic 5


graphic 6 graphic 7

    Source:, values ​​corrected for IPCA

It is thus clear that, after 2014, a diametric change took place in Brazil in the direction of financing higher education, science and technology.

It should be noted that, in federal educational institutions (IFEs), the expansion of funding, between 2002 and 2014, was accompanied by an increase of more than 100% in the number of enrolled students, which rose from 531.634, in 2002, to 1.083.586. 2014, in 2014 – INEP/MEC data. In addition, the profile of these students changed: more and more students from economically disadvantaged classes began to be included. Between 2019 and 15, the number of students at IFEs continued to grow, although at a much lower rate, of 1.254.065% (in the period): there were 2019 in 17, according to INEP/MEC. However, in these five years, funding and investment transfers to these institutions fell from almost R$11bn to values ​​around R$2021bn, dropping even further in 9, when they reached around R$2014bn, approximately half of what had been passed on in XNUMX.

In the same direction, the budgets of research funding institutions, such as CAPES and CNPq, were reduced, after 2014, to (about) 30% of their peak values, while, in the case of the FNDCT, the decrease was even worse, to (about) 25%.

Simultaneously, spending on financial resources to refinance the Brazilian public debt rose, between 2014 and 2021, by almost 50%, as shown in Graph 8.

graphic 8

* Values ​​corrected for January 2021, by the IPCA
Nelson Cardoso Amaral, A quantitative balance of the degree of destruction resulting from various government actions, available at

The past: 'A bridge to the future'

These transformations could be fully anticipated, under the assumption that the future (now present) predicted by the document “A bridge to the future”, written in 2015, would someday come to fruition. The text intended to indicate to attentive ears the parameters indicating the economic policy to be followed, if the movement led by then Vice President Temer were successful, as soon as the process in which, with the help of multiple actors, he betrayed the acting president and the program that both had championed.

The 'Bridge to the future', when dealing with economic matters, had Davos as a reference (cited several times), who since 1971 has defended neoliberal policies: “As the World Economic Forum report showed, our business environment is not favorable and deteriorating over time. Recreating a stimulating economic environment for the private sector must be the guideline of a correct growth policy (...) we have to make possible a more effective and predominant participation of the private sector in the construction and operation of infrastructure, in business models that respect the logic of the private economic decisions”. Based on this logic, it is suggested that, in order to create a 'stimulating economic environment' for the private sector, “any long-term adjustment should, in principle, avoid tax increases”, since “the Brazilian tax burden is very high ” and its increase would result in unacceptable impacts on the private sector and, as a result, more unemployment.

Hence, he concludes that, with the objective of resolving what he calls the 'fiscal issue', balancing the Union's budgetary revenues and expenditures, the solution is to reduce the latter, to which several alternatives are indicated.

One would be to put an end to what one mainstream newspaper called the “civil service wage spree”. According to 'A bridge to the future', there would be a good justification for this: “The indexation of public spending aggravates the adjustment in case of high inflation. We must never lose sight of the fact that the majority of society does not have their income indexed, always depending on the level of economic activity to preserve their consumption power. The indexation of rents paid by the State carries out an unfair transfer of income, most of the time harming the poorest layers of society. When indexation is based on the minimum wage, as is the case with social benefits, the distortion becomes more serious, as it ensures them a real increase, to the detriment of all other items in the public budget, which will necessarily have to give way to this increase". And further on: “Another element for the new budget must be the end of all indexations, whether for salaries, social security benefits and everything else (…) indexing”.

Another way to cut costs, says the booklet, would be to eliminate constitutional constraints, such as those that exist in relation to education and health: “For a new fiscal regime, aimed at growth, and not at impasse and stagnation, we need to of a new budget regime, with the end of all established constitutional obligations, as in the case of health and education expenditures”.

A third way to reduce expenses would be to implement a new Social Security Reform. The following considerations are made on this subject: “The truth is that the system no longer supports the rules in force. (…) It is necessary to introduce, even if progressively, a minimum age that is not less than 65 years old for men and 60 years old for women, with forecast of new future escalation depending on demographic data. In addition, it is essential to eliminate the indexation of any benefit to the minimum wage. (…) Social security benefits depend on public finances and should not have real gains linked to GDP growth, only the protection of their purchasing power.” The document justifies these proposals by comparing Brazil with “developed countries”, where the minimum age of 65 years and even 67 years has already been implemented. However, in these countries, the structure of the age pyramid is different from ours, with more elderly people and fewer young people (and this, obviously, is not mentioned).

Finally, 'Ponte' informs that “To crown this new regime, we are going to propose that the long-term fiscal balance is one of the constitutional principles that must oblige the Public Administration, approving a complementary law of budgetary responsibility in terms that make adaptability to exceptional circumstances as possible.

The document then deals with “An agenda for development”. Also according to 'Ponte', in recent years growth was driven by “(…) increased household consumption, fueled by growth in personal income and the expansion of consumer credit. These engines have run out and a new cycle of growth should be supported by private investment and gains in competitiveness in the external sector, both in agribusiness and in the industrial sector”. In other words, development accompanied by income distribution and consumption must be replaced by another model, with a new and distinct focus.

At the end, a summary of the proposals is presented, some of which we highlight below.

One of them defended policies that, once put into practice, would directly affect universities and federal institutes: “establishing a limit for funding expenses lower than GDP growth, by law, after eliminating the linkages and indexations that stifle the budget".

Another refers to the resumption of privatizations and the end of the pre-salt exploration sharing regime, with a return to the policy of concessions to the large oil multinationals: “executing a development policy centered on the private initiative, through transfers of assets that may be necessary, broad concessions in all areas of logistics and infrastructure, partnerships to complement the supply of public services and return to the previous regime of concessions in the oil area, giving Petrobras the right of preference”.

The balance of everything that happened after 2016 shows two facts: the total discontinuity between the public policies in force in the period 2003-2015 and those subsequently adopted by the Temer government; and the complete continuity between these last policies and those that followed, until the present moment. The turning point was the removal of President Dilma, which, therefore, characterizes a break that was not sustained by the democratic expression of the popular choice; each one can choose what name they want to give to this process – this is a mere semantic question whose content, however, is crystal clear.

The gift

Everything that was lined up in 2015 happened.

The Social Security Reform removed – in the medium and long term – more than R$1 trillion from pensions.

EC 95 established the background for all subsequent legislative changes, and imposed a progressive reduction in contributions to social areas, notably health and education.

The minimum wage had stopped its real growth; and the other salaried incomes of public servants were progressively eroded, without even recompositions that would restore the inflation that had occurred.

The attacks on constitutional bindings are repeated successively.

The proposal to subjugate the public administration to “a supplementary law of budgetary responsibility in terms that make it possible to adapt to exceptional circumstances” is in full progress and execution, and finds follow-up in the Administrative Reform currently being debated.

Growth based on “family consumption, fueled by personal income growth and credit expansion”, considered a “depleted engine” (A bridge to the future), was stagnated, and, thus, millions of Brazilians, reversing the movement of previous years, they returned to poverty and misery.

Spending on the Brazilian public debt soared, as did the dollar, making our country a paradise for rent seeking, financial speculation and an export sector that does not add value – these segments being among the political pillars of the inflection to which Brazil was subjected.

For this type of 'growth', which does not prioritize respect for national sovereignty or the defense of scientific, technological and social development in Brazil, the production of knowledge and the training of professional staff of excellence are not necessary. Consequently, we witness a trajectory of unacceptable dismantling of public higher education, and the depletion of funds for CAPES, CNPq, FNDE and FNDCT.

The future

Brazil will only have a dignified future if we manage to reverse the disaster that has befallen us. It is time to democratically build the foundations for this fundamental shift, which leads us back to the path of valuing essential public services, to development with income distribution and reduction of inequality, to investment in fundamental areas such as health, science, technology and education: we cannot allow the continuation of the current process of destruction of Universities and Federal Institutes, historical heritage of the Brazilian people.

*Gil Vicente Reis de Figueiredo is a telecommunications engineer, PhD in mathematics from the University of Warnick (England) and retired professor at the Department of Mathematics at UFSCar.


[1] Published in 'PEC 241: only unity in the resistance struggle will prevent a political coup', Gil Vicente Reis de Figueiredo, September 05, 2016, available at pec-241-gil-vicente.pdf (

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