Public Policy and Educational Planning – 05/26/2023 – Sou Ciência
Brazil is experiencing a collapse in enrollments in higher education and the numbers of course dropouts (dropouts) are the highest in history, as we discussed in a previous article on this blog. In the private sector, the reasons are the students’ lack of ability to pay and the reduction of the subsidy program created in the Lula and Dilma governments, the Fies. In the public sector, after continuous growth in enrollments since the early 2000s, we started to lose students and enrollments since 2017. In 2021, 97,000 fewer students enrolled in public universities compared to 2017, according to data from the Census of Education. Every year fewer students enroll, vacancies remain idle, in free and good quality Universities – let us remember that in all classifications and rankings, public Universities perform significantly better than private ones.
What is happening so that public, free and quality vacancies are not occupied?
The reasons are diverse, but in this article we will discuss the crisis of the so-called “student assistance”. The purpose of the Student Assistance Policy is to provide conditions for reception, inclusion, permanence and completion of enrolled students, minimizing the effects of regional, income, schooling, ethnic-racial, cultural, social inequalities, among others. With this, they aim to promote meaningful and quality experiences in the academic environment for all people.
With the recent expansion of Public Institutions of Higher Education, many students have arrived at Universities. Some of these young people do not have enough resources to achieve their goals, which demands measures from institutions that guarantee everyone the right to stay and complete the chosen course, as well as a good use of this experience.
Providing access to the University was just the initial step towards democratizing Higher Education – with the expansion of vacancies, the number of institutions and the policy of quotas. But this step alone is not enough. It is essential for freshmen to be able to remain healthy and fully. This implies housing, food, transportation, health, digital inclusion, access to culture, sports, pedagogical support, as well as the inclusion, participation and learning of students with disabilities, global developmental disorders or high abilities. These are actions that reduce failure and dropout rates at Universities.
For this, it is essential that educational institutions have permanence programs to assess the different needs and act to meet them. Undoubtedly, these actions revert to the benefit of the students served, but not only. They also reverberate throughout Brazilian society, which now has well-trained citizens and professionals ready to contribute to the social and economic development of the nation.
In this sense, they are fundamental conditions for promoting citizenship and helping to repair the historical absence of groups traditionally excluded from higher education. Facing these challenges becomes a reality when they are assumed genuinely and collectively. And it is clear that this requires resources and, for public institutions, a perennial and stable budget allocation.
At the beginning of the expansion of the federal universities, with Reuni, the Federal Universities relied on increasing resources from the federal government to fund student stays, through the National Student Assistance Plan (PNAES), as can be seen in the graph below. As of 2017, however, the amounts have dropped, despite the expansion of vacancies, the inclusion of quota students and the drop in the average level of income of Brazilians, which places federal institutions and their students in a situation of great vulnerability.
In 2020, the country was devastated by the Covid-19. Many institutions suspended their face-to-face activities, to ensure social isolation as a form of prevention, and readjusted the academic calendar with remote teaching activities. The challenges for student permanence in the period were immense, it was necessary to contribute at least a little more resources to guarantee internet access to students from all over the country. In federal universities this occurred, as shown in the graph.
These Universities had to formulate emergency actions, in the midst of a fall in budgetary resources for investment and funding and attacks by the then federal government, to avoid dropouts, minimize the effects of social, racial and gender inequalities, promote and prevent harm to mental health and ensure accessibility and digital inclusion for students.
It was a period that required a lot of effort for students to stay, but the post-pandemic period has been equally challenging, as in addition to the sharp drop in PNAES resources, it has been presenting new demands that require improvements to the stay policy. It will be necessary to recognize the new needs and the variables that have negatively interfered with student presence at the University. However, for them to be evaluated fairly and to undergo improvements, it is essential to count on the active participation of the beneficiaries of assistance in this remodeling.
It is necessary to continue to guarantee the presence of diversity within the universities, which has provided an increase in the quality of training and academic production for all, by bringing questions and proposals for new epistemologies, new problems and understandings of existing phenomena. From this perspective, reflecting on student permanence is thinking about the new possible directions for Universities, as well as their responsibility to act to face the historical inequalities of our country. It is urgently necessary to recompose and expand the student retention policy to reverse the enrollment collapse. Brazil cannot lose a generation without access to Universities – at a time when we most need to prepare youth to rebuild our country.
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