The Brazilian Higher Education System

Universities in Brazil are managed by federal government, municipal government, state government as well as there are private universities. Brazil encompasses public and private higher education institutions. Brazil is a home to top quality Universities.  

Brazilian Higher Education: Quick Facts

According to 'National Institute for Education Studies' (Brazil), the total number of students in Brazilian higher education reached 7.3 million in 2013, almost 300,000 enrollments higher than the previous year. 
Brazil has most of the highest ranked universities in the 2014 QS World University Rankings. 23 Brazilian Universities featured in the 2014 QS World University Rankings. The Universidade de Sao Paulo (USP) is at 132 position and Universidade Estadual De Campinas (UNICAMP) at 206 spot, according to 'Top Universities (Worldwide University Rankings, Guides & Events)'.  

Higher Education Institutions: Snapshot

Higher education institutions in Brazil are categorized by Brazil’s Ministry of Education (MEC). They are divided into the following categories-
Universities (Universidades): Universities are state managed, or federally managed, Catholic, municipal or private. A wide range of undergraduate and postgraduate programmes are provided

 University Centres (Centro Universitarios): These are private university level institutions which concentrate on undergraduate teaching and research. 

Isolated Colleges (Faculdades Isoladas): These are isolated or single-faculty non-university higher education institutions. These are basically private educational institutions that emphasize on specific knowledge areas and offer courses at undergraduate and post-graduate levels.

Integrated Schools and faculties of Higher Education (Faculdades Integradas): The Integrated Schools and faculties of Higher Education are consortium of independent education providers. They offer courses at the undergraduate and post-graduate levels.

 Centres for Technology Education (Centros de Educacao Tecnologica):  These are public technological institutions regarded as centres of excellence in technology education. 

Higher Education Qualifications: A Closer Look

Higher education qualification in Brazil is split in two levels: Undergraduate (graduacao) and Graduate (pos-graduacao)

Undergraduate (graduacao)

 In Brazil, the undergraduate degrees are referred to as "graduate" degrees. The undergraduate in Brazil consists of-

Bachelor degree (Bacharelado): The bachelor’s degree lasts for 4-6 years and is provided in science, arts and humanities.

Licentiate (licenciatura): Lasts for 3 to 5 years. It includes subjects related to education and thus qualifies the candidate to teach that subject in secondary education level.

Technology (tecnologia): Lasts for 2 to 3 years and offers a specialized technical training thereby preparing the students for the labor market.

 Graduate (pos-graduacao)

In Brazil, the graduate degrees are called as "postgraduate" degrees (pos-graduacao). Postgraduate degree courses are categorized as: stricto sensu (strict sense) or lato sensu (wide sense).

Stricto Sensu (Strict Sense) Qualifications
Stricto sensu qualification encompasses the Mestrado (Masters), Mestrado Profissional (Professional Masters) and the Doutorado (Doctorate). 

Master degree: The master degree is of 1-2 years and comprises of minimum 30 credit hours. 

Professional Masters: This degree program focuses on developing the professional skills and knowledge mainly in technology discipline.

Doctorate Degree: This degree lasts for 3-4 years of full time study following the Master’s degree program. 

Lato Sensu (Wide Sense) Qualifications
Wide sense courses/programs are postgraduate courses of study that is provided in vocational or professional fields and lead to the title of Specialist (Especializacao). These programmes generally last for 1 to 2 years. 

Admission Procedure

Undergraduate-A national university application system known as SISU (Sistema de Selecao Unificada), managed by Ministry of Education (MEC) is used by public higher education institutions for admissions of the students who have taken the ENEM exam.  You are required to register on the SISU website using your ENEM registration number and password. Universities that are not a part of the SISU conduct their own independent examinations for admissions. These examinations are their own specific versions of the vestibular and ENEM exam. To know more about the admission procedure for Undergraduate Studies in Brazil, Click here.

Postgraduate- You can register online or can ask for the application form via email from the respective institution. The procedure and requirements vary so, contact the respective institution.To know more about the admission procedure for postgraduate studies in Brazil, Click here.

To know more about the admission requirements and procedure, click here

Admission Quotas

In Brazil University admissions, the majority of the federal universities have a quota system wherein a fixed number of spots are reserved for candidates of a certain racial or cultural background who have finished their pre-university studies in a public (state-funded) school. Such candidates can apply under the “quota system” either through the national SISU system or directly at their university if that university has its own independent Vestibular and the national ENEM examination. 

Entrance Examination

The prospective students are required to sit an entrance exam in order to gain admittance to both a public and private university in Brazil. Before registering, you’re required to select the university and course or degree program you wish to take on, as each university runs its own examination.  Depending upon the Higher education institution, you are required to appear for either the “Vestibular” exam or “ENEM” exam, or both. 

Vestibular:  Both public and private universities require students to sit an entrance examination called the Vestibular in order to be admitted to the university undergraduate program.

High School National Exam or ENEM (Exame Nacional do Ensino Medio): This exam is used by some of the Universities in place of Vestibular for admissions to the Undergraduate program. 

Proficiency in Portuguese

Certificate of Proficiency in Portuguese for Foreigners or CELPE-Bras (In Portuguese: Certificado de Proficiencia em Lingua Portuguesa para Estrangeiros ): All the international students applying to study in Brazil are required to demonstrate their Portuguese language proficiency and this can be done by taking a CELPE-Bras exam. The CELPE-Bras is offered in Brazil and many other countries with the help of the Brazilian Ministry of International Relations (MRE). 

Proficiency in English

The scores of either TOEFL or IELTS are needed-

Test of English as a Foreign Language: TOEFL tests the proficiency in English language in academic settings.

International English Language Testing System: IELTS tests the proficiency in English language of non-native speakers.

Top 10 Universities in Brazil: A Quick Look

Universidade de Sao Paulo (USP)
The first Brazilian university in the QS University Rankings: BRICS (2014) is the Universidade de Sao Paulo (USP), ranked 7th among BRICS universities. It is the Brazil’s largest University.

Universidade Estadual de Campinas (UNICAMP)
The Universidade Estadual De Campinas (UNICAMP) holds the 9th spot in the QS World University Rankings: BRICS (2014). It is the only other Brazilian university that makes it into the top 10 of the QS World University Rankings: BRICS.

Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ)
The Federal University of Rio de Janeiro – UFRJ is a Brazilian public and free university known for its top class education and research. UFRJ is ranked at 21st position in the QS University Rankings: BRICS (2014).

Universidade Estadual Paulista “Julio de Mesquita Filho” (UNESP)
The Universidade Estadual Paulista “Julio de Mesquita Filho” (UNESP) is a public, multi-campus university and ranks at 30th place in the QS University Rankings: BRICS (2014).

Universidade Federal de Sao Paulo (UNIFESP)
UNIFESP hold a 32nd spot in the QS University Rankings: BRICS (2014). The UNIFESP is a multi-subject university with six campuses.

Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (UFMG)
The Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (UFMG) is among the largest federal universities in Brazil and ranks at 40th position in the QS University Rankings: BRICS (2014).

Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS)

The Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul holds a 38th  position in the QS University Rankings: BRICS(2014).The Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS) has four campuses and separate buildings of the Business School and the Institute of Arts.

Pontificia Universidade Catolica do Rio de Janeiro – (PUC-Rio)
The Pontificia Universidade Catolica do Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Rio) is a private non-profit Catholic University that ranks 45th in the QS University Rankings: BRICS (2014).

Pontificia Universidade Catolica de Sao Paulo (PUC-SP)
The Pontificia Universidade Catolica de Sao Paulo ranks at 43rd in the BRICS ranking (2014).

Universidade Federal de Sao Carlos (UFSCar)
The Universidade Federal de Sao Carlos (UFSCar) ranks at the 44th position in the BRICS ranking (2014). 

Tuition Fees

The Brazilian Federal Constitution has set up the “right for free public education” up to the post-graduate level, therefore most public universities in Brazil only charge a registration fee for pupils. Most higher education institutions in Brazil are managed by the federal government, municipalities, or the state government. Federal and state higher education institutions are referred to as ‘Universities’ and tuition fee is free, while municipal governments managed institutions charge tuition fees at times.
Private higher education institutions in Brazil are mainly university centers or integrated faculties/schools and charge fees that vary depending upon the degree programs provided. 

Grading System

In Brazil Higher education, a grading scale 0-10 wherein 0 is the lowest and 10 is the highest is used. Also, a letter grading system is used.

Letter Grade

  1. Grade
  2. Grade Description (In Portuguese)
  3. Grade Description (In English)
  4. US Grade
  • E
  • Excelente
  • Excellent
  • A
  • MB
  • Muito Bom
  • Very Good
  • A-minus-
  • B
  • Bom
  • Good
  • B
  • S
  • Aceptable
  • Average
  • C
  • R
  • Aceptable
  • Average
  • C
  • I
  • Defieciente
  • Fail
  • F
  • D
  • Defieciente
  • Fail
  • F

Double Letter Grading

  1. Grade
  2. Scale
  3. Grade Description (In Portuguese)
  4. Grade Description (In English)
  5. US Grade
  • SS
  • 9.00-10.00
  • Superior
  • Superior
  • A
  • MS
  • 7.00-8.99
  • Medio Superior
  • Medium Superior
  • B
  • MM
  • 5.00-6.99
  • Medio
  • Medium
  • C
  • CC
  • Credito Concedido
  • Credit Granted
  • P
  • MI
  • 3.00-4.99
  • Medio Inferior
  • Medium Inferior
  • F
  • II
  • 0.00-2.99
  • Inferior
  • Inferior
  • F
  • SR
  • Sem Rendimento
  • Fail
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