quinta-feira, 7 de janeiro de 2010

Advancing countries, bridging continents? The creation of UNILAB, the Portuguese-speaking Afro-Brazilian University of Integration
The Brazilian Ministry of Education has taken the initiative to establish a unilateral Portuguese-speaking Afro-Brazilian University of Integration, a new institution with campuses in various countries. The Universidade Federal da Integração Luso-Afro-Brasileira (UNILAB), as the new institution will be named, is expected to open for enrolment in the beginning of 2010. Hailed as a political-pedagogic innovation project, the university is aimed at strengthening links between the Portuguese-speaking countries in the world, with a particular focus on Africa. What are the core aims of the initiative, and in which ways is UNILAB expected to encourage integration between the participating countries?
A Portuguese-speaking Afro-Brazilian University of Integration is currently being created by a 16-member committee appointed by the Brazilian Ministry of Education. The committee, which has been working on the initiative since December 2008, includes Paulo Speller, Vice-Chancellor of Brazil’s Federal University of Mato Grosso, and Vincent Defourny, UNESCO representative in Brazil, in addition to delegates of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations and several other specialists and academics.
The principal aim of UNILAB will be to encourage and strengthen co-operation, partnerships, and cultural, educational and scientific exchanges between Brazil and other member states of the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries (CPLP), which, in addition to Brazil, includes Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Portugal, Sâo Tomé and Príncipe, and East Timor. The new university will focus on collaboration with the African countries of the CPLP, with the aim to contribute to these nations’ socio-economic development.
Government and education representatives in the countries involved have expressed a strong interest in the establishment of UNILAB as they believe that the institution can help improve the unilateral education of young people from countries now independent from Portugal, and that the university can help reduce the ‘brain drain’ problems currently experienced by African countries. Paulo Speller, President of the UNILAB development committee, explains that at least 90% of African students that went to study in Europe so far ended up remaining in Europe to take up employment there. According to him, this situation is largely due to the fact that the organisations that provided scholarships for these students did not take into account how these African students would find employment in their home countries after graduation in Europe. In other words, the scholarships were not suited to the social-economic development needs of their home countries. Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who strongly encouraged the establishment of UNILAB, commented that with the new university, “young people from Portuguese-speaking African countries will have the opportunity to be trained as engineers in areas that are useful for the socio-economic development in their own countries; in this way, we can contribute to the national development in several African nations”.
UNILAB is intended to become an integrated multi-campus institution with campuses in all the African member countries of the CPLP. Each of these campuses will also be integrated within the regions where they are located. UNILAB’s main campus will be established in the city of Redenção in Brazil’s North-Eastern state of Ceará, approximately 60 kilometres from the city of Fortaleza. Redenção has been selected to host the main campus because it was the first municipality that had abolished slavery in Brazil, and because the region currently does not yet host a university. The main campus is expected to function as an instrument for the strategic social-economic development of the North-East of Brazil.
© The Observatory on Borderless Higher Education, November 2009 1
The new university will offer programmes that will contribute to integration between Brazil and African Portuguese-speaking countries. “We will not offer traditional programmes, but instead we will construct a common identity between the countries, that makes it possible to contribute to the social-economic development of each of the countries involved”, explains Brazil’s Minister of Education Fernando Haddad. Paulo Speller adds that with the establishment of UNILAB, “we will not impose a ready-made recipe for higher education, but we will create channels of communication between different countries, and proposals for joint education and training projects”.
UNILAB’s main campus is planned to open in February 2010, when selected students will be able to enrol. Half of the student places available will be for Brazilian students, and the other half for students from Portuguese-speaking Africa and East Timor. The programmes will be offered through a combination of ‘face-to-face’ lectures on campus and distance education. With a planned capacity to enrol 2,500 students from Brazil and abroad, the new university will prioritise areas of particular importance to the CPLP countries, including agricultural sciences, engineering, health sciences, management of public and private institutions, biology and physics. The curriculum will reportedly take into account the different contexts between countries, and attention will be directed to the development of teacher training programmes to increase the number of professors. Students at the new university will take one part of their studies at the main campus in Brazil and another part of their programme at the university’s satellite campus in their country of origin. Brazilian students will also undertake part of their studies in one of the partner countries abroad. In this way, UNILAB stands out from mainstream higher education institutions by strongly encouraging enrolled foreign students to return to their countries of origin on completion of their studies.
Interestingly, the establishment of UNILAB is part of a wider effort by the Brazilian government to more closely integrate Brazil within international higher education networks. In a similar set-up to UNILAB, two other universities are currently being created to encourage collaboration and international student mobility between Brazil and other nations. The University of Latin American Integration (Universidade Federal da Integração Latino-Americana, UNILA) is one of them. Proposed in 2007 by Brazilian President Da Silva and with a total budget of US$76 million, the public university is also expected to open for enrolment in 2010. Aimed at encouraging further integration of Latin America, particularly between the MERCOSUR countries of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, UNILA will offer Bachelor’s, Master’s and doctoral programmes in the areas of culture, languages, human rights, politics, economics and technology. UNILA will be strategically located in Brazil’s southern city of Foz do Iguaçu, Paraná, at the tri-national border shared by Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. Eventually, the Brazilian Ministry of Education aims to have a total of 10,000 students enrolled in the university.
The University of Amazonian Integration (Universidade Federal da Integração Amazônica, UNIAM) is the third new university to be created. UNIAM will be established as a public multi-campus university, with a main campus in the Brazilian city of Santarém, and three satellite campuses in the cities Itaituba, Monte Alegre and Oriximiná, all located in Brazil’s state of Pará. The main aim of the new institution will be to encourage social-economic integration of the Amazon region, which includes not only parts of Brazil, but also areas of eight surrounding countries. While it is unclear at the moment when the new university will open for enrolment, by 2013 UNIAM is expected to offer 41 programmes at Bachelor’s, Master’s and doctoral levels. The Brazilian government will reportedly cover the US$107 million budget that will be needed to pay for the establishment and personnel costs of the new university until 2012. (Please refer to the Observatory’s 27 June 2006, 5 November 2008, 13 March 2009, 3 April 2009, 1 June 2009 and 3 September 2009 articles for information on other (transnational) higher education developments in Brazil, and to its September 2009 report for an analysis of transnational higher education programmes in Latin America more widely.)
Described by the Brazilian Ministry of Education as particular ‘political-pedagogic innovation projects’, the three new universities are all intended to enhance regional and international integration and demonstrate to the world that it may be possible to unite different countries through education.
© The Observatory on Borderless Higher Education, November 2009 2
The creation of UNILAB will be based on a linguistic (and to some extent, cultural) network somewhat akin to the regional higher education collaboration that is currently being established in Europe as part of the Bologna Process and Lisbon Strategy. The Bologna Process and Lisbon Strategy have been developed to enhance intercultural understanding between participating nations (through joint programmes and increased student and staff mobility), and particularly to make European higher education more competitive in the global knowledge economy (through harmonisation of degree structures and more effective research planning and co-ordination). Although based on a different historical rationale, UNILAB’s core purposes are similar: to encourage student mobility between Brazil and the Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa and accelerate the social-economic development in each of these countries. The fact that the countries involved share a common colonial history and the fact that they are now striving to enhance their social-economic development, unites them.
In some ways, the form of international higher education collaboration envisaged in the creation of UNILAB may be easier to create than that established under the Bologna Process, as all countries involved in the UNILAB development share a similar language. While English is the current global language, Portuguese is also a widely spoken language and one likely to become more important given Brazil’s growing economic power in the world. Furthermore, as a common language is one of the key factors in determining global directions of international student mobility (see the Observatory’s June 2009 report), the UNILAB initiative is likely to increase student and staff mobility between the Portuguese-speaking nations.
Nevertheless, despite cultural-linguistic similarities, there are likely to be cultural differences between the Portuguese-speaking countries in Latin America, Africa and South-East Asia. These cultural specifics will need to be taken into account if the university’s curricula are to be relevant to, and closely integrated within, the specific social-political and professional contexts in the different countries. While it is not yet clear in which ways UNILAB’s programmes will be linked to local employer organisations in the various nations, the programmes adopted at the new university will reportedly not be imposed, partly because lecturers will come from different nations and partly because the curricula are to be relevant to all countries involved.
The creation of UNILAB is an ambitious project, but the emphasis on collaboration and linking programmes to common research areas and local contexts are initial promising signs for success. Globally, ‘south-south’ higher education collaboration (between developing countries themselves) is increasing, and developments such as UNILAB have the potential to bring together experts from countries that face similar social-economic challenges to create solutions that are workable in many of their countries. The fact that the initiative for the Portuguese-speaking Afro-Brazilian University of Integration comes from Brazil, a fellow formerly colonised nation, rather than from the colonising country itself, may also increase the willingness to collaborate. If the new university will manage to develop and operate based on its founding principles, it could become an instrument that can not only help advance socio-economic development in different nations, but that can also enhance integration between countries on different continents.

© The Observatory on Borderless Higher Education, November 2009 3

Escrito e publicado pelo The Observatory on Borderless Higher Education

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