Ciência sem fronteiras: What next for the programme?

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Vivienne Stern

Vivienne Stern is the Director of Universities UK International (UUKi) which represents UK universities around the world and works to enable them to flourish internationally.

Prior to her role in UUKi, Vivienne was Head of Political Affairs at Universities UK. In this role she led the sector's response to several major pieces of legislation relating to universities, including the Higher Education Act 2004. She previously worked in the UK Parliament for the Chair of the Education and Skills Select Committee, and as a higher education policy specialist working on topics including quality, student experience, innovation and university-business links.

As well as being the Director of Universities UK, she is also a member of the Board of the UK India Research and Innovation Initiative, the Strategic Partnerships in Higher Education Fund, the British Council's Education Advisory Group, and a number of other Boards and Committees.

She is a graduate in English Literature from the University of Cambridge.

In the last decade, Brazilian higher education has assumed a far more visible role within the international arena, partly – perhaps primarily – because of national government investment in a large-scale student mobility programme.

Ciência sem Fronteiras (CSF) has been an enormously influential scholarship programme within the international higher education landscape since the early 2010s. The CSF programme saw rapid investment on a global scale – dwarfing most existing scholarship schemes – followed closely by instability, as political and economic crises struck the government that had fervently championed CSF. As we look back from 2016 on the first five years of CSF its future is uncertain, but its legacy is more than worthy of our considered analysis.

Nor is CSF the only scholarship programme in which the Brazilian government has chosen to invest. The PEC-PG programme, for example, brings foreign students from developing countries to Brazil as part of the country's commitment to overseas development and, possibly, soft power. Regardless of what comes next for CSF, Brazilian scholarship programmes are now a topic of considerable interest to education professionals, researchers, and potential applicants around the world.

We have commissioned a new mini-series within 'Measuring Success?', charging knowledgeable insiders and researchers to reflect on what has been achieved, what has been learned, and what the future might hold. In the opening contribution, Vivienne Stern considers the UK-Brazil relationship and the shape of CSF 'phase 2'.


Recently, I joined representatives of several UK universities and a stellar gathering of Brazilian university leaders, along with staff from Brazil's Ministry of Education, funding agencies and university networks, for the third annual Education Working Group, hosted by the British Embassy in Brazil. The meeting coincided with a visit by Mark Garnier MP, Trade Minister, with responsibility for – amongst other things – education.

The meeting represented something important: a mutual commitment on the part of the UK and Brazilian governments to deepen cooperation in education, research, innovation and skills development.

For the UK, following the result of the referendum and the decision to leave the EU, this relationship is more important than ever. The government rhetoric is about a Britain with new relationships, not looking inwards, but seeking to engage more strongly with a broader range of partners around the world. While we want to see strong relationships with European partners, particularly in research collaboration and student and staff exchange, this new network offers a significant opportunity for universities to demonstrate how we, working together with partners across the world, can lay the foundations for strong engagement politically and economically.

Our discussions focused on many things. In particular, we learned a huge amount about the ambitious programme of secondary school reform to which the Brazilian government is committed, which aims to improve English language; increase the relevance of school curriculum to the labour market and, crucially, to increase the number of young people remaining and succeeding in education.

As a salutary reminder of the scale of the challenge, it is worth noting that many Brazilian schools operate a shift system with some pupils studying at night and holding down jobs during the day. These students are less likely to complete their education, entrenching social disadvantage.

Ciência sem Fronteiras (CsF)

What does this have to do with Ciência sem Fronteiras (CsF) – or Science without Borders – the programme which sent 11,000 Brazilian students to the UK between 2012 and 2016? Many in the UK would like to know what comes next. Will there be a second phase – and what will it look like?

From the perspective of Mendonça Filho, Minister of Education, the future of the programme has to be understood in the context of the wider challenge facing Brazilian education. This, in turn, has to be understood in the context of a protracted political and economic crisis. The second phase of CsF, when it comes, has to deliver real value for Brazil – and as the minister explained, funds invested here have to be used as efficiently as possible, in order to create lasting and widespread benefits.

The good news is that the government remains committed to a second phase of the programme and that, although the focus of political attention is on secondary education, there is still a real sense of urgency about strengthening the role that universities can play in the future of Brazil.

What will phase two involve?

Several things are clear. The new programme will start from a different perspective. It will be less concerned with individual opportunities to study abroad, and more concerned with seeing student mobility as part of a broader approach to internationalisation of Brazilian institutions. The programme will be dramatically smaller in scale. It will focus attention on building Brazilian university networks internationally; mobility will be predominantly postgraduate, at least in the near term; and Brazilian universities will have more control over where their students study, as part of agreements with international counterparts.

As a result, there is work to do. Both in Brazil and the UK some universities have very well developed international links and infrastructures capable of building on supporting mobility of students, to create partnerships in other areas. Other universities need more help.

On both sides there will be a need to foster new relationships and strengthen existing ones. Since the UK is a world leader in the internationalisation of higher education, we also have a lot of experience we can offer. Our challenge is to build on the momentum created by the first phase of CsF to ensure the Brazilian government has our full support in realising deeper benefits in phase two.

I should note that the Brazilian agency chiefs we met were warm in their assessment of how the programme worked in the UK. There is a recognition that, despite the relatively high costs of study in the UK compared to some other higher education systems, the quality of the experience was exceptionally high. The UK has also led the field in making strenuous efforts to extend the benefits of the first phase, as our recent report on CsF in the UK shows: UK universities have invested in collaborative research, hosted workshops, encouraged UK students to spend time in Brazil, and worked to establish links between industrial partners as a result of the involvement of industry in providing placements for Brazilian students who were part of the programme. Several universities have also opened offices in Brazil to support research collaboration, and the number of jointly published articles has dramatically increased, benefiting both the UK and Brazil.

So we have a very strong foundation to build on. We have mutual commitment and very similar ideas about the real prize, which a second phase of the programme now offers: not just a great opportunity for individual students, but a great opportunity for universities to achieve something with lasting significance for both countries. I look forward to seeing the results.

The Measuring Success blog series draws from the ACU's experience in scholarship design, administration, and analysis, and our connections in the sector, to explore the outcomes of international scholarship schemes for higher education.