BRAZIL: Olympic and World Cup boost for universities

With an array of government ministries working closely together to channel millions of dollars into polishing up the dozen Brazilian cities poised to host the 2014 FIFA World Cup and to raise an Olympic village in Rio de Janeiro by 2016, the higher education sector has been one of the surprising beneficiaries.

The Ministry of Education's tenacious efforts to increase enrolments have been given a kick as thousands of Brazilians are entering university classrooms for the first time to fill some of the expected new jobs.

In the wake of the announcement that Brazil will host two of the world's largest sporting events, the Ministry of Tourism has directed almost a million dollars to provide university-level training.

Government officials predict that before the first World Cup match and the arrival of the Olympic torch, there will be high demand for skilled workers to service the 300,000 foreign tourists expected to attend the events.

Announcing its new programme, Antonio Pedro Figueira de Mello, Rio's Secretary of Tourism, told the press: "It's very important to begin now training the professionals who will work directly with the tourists. We believe we will create a culture of good service, building a positive image that [shows] the carioca [people from Rio] are the most hospitable [people] in the world."

The Ministry of Tourism has provided $862,000 to subsidise classes. Rio de Janeiro's Rio Tourism Company plans to offer the Rio + Hospitable programme at Estácio de Sá University, which will help professionals working in the service industry. The Federation of Enterprises of Passenger Transport of the State of Rio de Janeiro also launched language classes late last year for its 40,000 workers.

Divina Marcia Santos, coordinator of non-credit courses at Estácio de Sá University, told the press: "For some students this will be their first opportunity to attend a higher education institution."

While the new rush of students taking courses does not translate into long-term degrees, the new attention has helped to broaden accessibility to higher education. After all, attracting new students and widening access has been the focus of the government's efforts over the last decade.

The challenges to increasing enrolment are great. The government aims to have 10 million students enrolled in higher education, up from today's nearly six million students. Currently around 40% of school-leavers enter higher education, and the goal is for this proportion to reach 50% of youngsters between 18 and 24 years. With limited places available in tertiary institutions, distance learning will be expanded to boost student numbers.

The Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics reports that Brazilians attend school for an average of seven years, with about 10% of the population illiterate. The United Nations Human Development Report shows that enrolment ratio for primary, secondary and higher education in Brazil was 87.5% in 2008.

Government efforts are already beginning to pay off. The federal government's Action Plan in Science, Technology and Innovation's 2010 report, released in December, showed that the number of masters and doctorate degrees produced in Brazil has doubled over the last decade, with 41,000 and 12,000 degrees awarded respectively.

In 2009, 161,000 students were enrolled in postgraduate programmes at Brazilian universities, and in the past decade the number of graduate courses has nearly doubled, to 2,700. Recent government investments have triggered the sharp increase in the number of graduate programmes and scholarships, with more than 160,000 scholarships given in 2010 alone.