It is huge, fifth in the world both in land mass and population, in both cases just behind the United States, but unlike the United States Brasil’s population is not aging quickly. It is instead moving at a sustainable gait into productivity that is, becoming over the age of 18 and under the age of 65, at a rate that could be sustained for another 50 years. If Brasil had an adequately educated population, it would surpass all but China and the US in its GDP in 10 years.
My interest in Brasil peaked when I read somewhere that the “inflation basket” (the goods and services that are priced every month to determine the rate of inflation) contained, in Brasil, a “bikini wax.” Last month a bikini wax was $11 in Rio and $75 in NY but in NY it was not part of the inflation basket. Men and women in Brasil love to show their bodies at beaches and carnival, but that was not what caught my eye, it was for sure a sign of more than culture, it was a sign of a youthful population.
I went to Brasil last week to learn about their higher education system, its characteristics, challenges and opportunities. In Brasil, if you are smart enough to score very high in the Vestibular (the university qualifying exam) you can go to a state university or federal university and pursue the career of your choice, free of charge. Unlike the U.S., the talented are concentrated in public institutions, while some private institutions are expensive and prestigious; the flagship state institutions are prestigious and free.
Unfortunately for Brasil, the numbers of places available in these institutions are not nearly enough and in a climate of increasing college-age populations, private (less prestigious and not as well staffed institutions) provide 71% of the degrees, which leaves out many talented but poor or middle class individuals, without legitimate options.
The Berlin-based Corruption Perceptions Index showed Brasil coming up from 79 to 77 in the world last year, while the U.S. ranked 22nd on the list, down from 19th last year, with a score of 7.1 out of 10, compared with 7.5 in 2009. There are government efforts on their way to improve transparency and through it curtail corruption.
In the transparency department they seem to be doing very well. The first Revenue Watch Index has been released. The report evaluating 41 countries with oil, gas and mining resources was released by U.S-based Revenue Watch Institute and Transparency International. It ranks Brasil in the top position, and Turkmenistan at the bottom.
In some of their attempts at transparency, we could envy their diligence, as there’s nothing like that in this country. Google created the 2010 Brasilian Elections platform, which includes interactive maps that track candidate movements across the country and shows the results of previous elections. It also includes a YouTube channel where citizens can pose questions – the best of which are voted on by users and answered by candidates on TV.
The No Criminal Record Campaign, created by the Movement against Electoral Corruption, monitors whether candidates are following the Criminal Record Law, which says those convicted of serious crimes like corruption cannot run for office.
The Excellencies project, created by Transparency Brasil, puts information online about more than two thousand lawmakers, using government and newspaper data. Conscientious Vote tracks the performance of politicians in the São Paulo state legislature and in the state’s city councils. Vote on the Web translates legislation into clear and simple language, allows users to say whether they support or oppose it, and then compares their votes to the candidates’ positions.
Open Congress offers a variety of information about politics and elections, including data on parliamentary votes, presence at legislative sessions, proposed laws, and information on political parties. Democratic City is a space for citizens to discuss municipal politics and elections. Adopt a Politician helps citizens blog about the legislative activities of a lawmaker.
Brasil is a fertile climate for foreign institutions to enter the higher education market. The economic and social needs of Brasil are huge and the people are willing to tackle them with creativity and energy. Insofar as universities thrive in a climate of transparency, Brasil’s efforts are laudable.
It is probably more rewarding to create a Brasilian/German or a Brasilian/British or a Brasilian/American campus there than anywhere else in the world, where having a bikini wax is not nearly as important.