Brazilian universities are struggling to provide online teaching, as they contend with budget cuts and a government failing to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to the Ministry of Education, 38 of Brazil’s 63 state universities have suspended their activities entirely. 21 are teaching remotely, and 12 are partially open.
The ministry estimates that of the more than 1.1 million students attending federal institutions, approximately half have had their learning suspended.
Speaking to Times Higher Education, academics voiced their concern that the shift to online tuition had been hampered by lack of access to computer and internet connections among Brazil’s poorest students.
There is also a lack of a nationwide plan to support the transition, as current Education Minister Milton Ribiero has expressed no desire to interfere with university autonomy to the extent of his predecessor, Abrahan Weintraub.
Adriana Marotti de Mello, professor of business at the University of São Paulo (USP), said: “[We have] many students, about 30 per cent, from low-income families. Some have problems with adequate space for studying, and we are hearing any reports of anxiety and other mental health issues.
“There is no integrated plan to train professors in online teaching… learning is being jeopardised.”
USP has offered high-speed internet plans to low-income students.
There is no integrated plan to train professors in online teaching… learning is being jeopardised.
– Adriana Marotti de Mello, professor at the University of São Paulo
Marcelo Knobel, rector of the University of Campinas, said his institution was also teaching online, and provided poorer students with Sim cards to access the internet.
He said: “The problem is the government is in denial about the pandemic, and we have to fight against the political atmosphere.”
As of 20 August, Brazil has surpassed 3.3 million cases of Covid-19, and registered more than 107,000 deaths. President Jair Bolsonaro has downplayed the risks posed by the virus and refused to enact protective measures that could harm the economy.
The budget for federal institutions has been cut by R$1.4 billion (£200 million) for 2021, and private institutions have also reported high levels of student dropout and financial losses.
At the end of the first academic term in June, many private institutions fired professors to cut costs. State universities postponed wage increases and implemented hiring freezes to save money.
In October 2019, Brazilian academics voiced their concerns about the cuts instituted by the Bolsonaro government.
Universities were told that their annual budgets would be reduced by 30% effective immediately.
These cuts were opposed by students and academics in nationwide protests, but they were described by President Bolsonaro as “vital to save this country from the economic stagnation of the last 20 years”.