Brazilian Scholarship Scheme Gathers Steam

When the government of a booming economy announces that it will fund overseas study for 75,000 talented students, potential host nations with economies in recession take note. Such is the situation with Brazil and a host of suitor nations.

In July of last year, Brazil’s newly elected government announced that it would be offering 75,000 study-abroad scholarships over the next four years (2011-15), while encouraging the private sector to fund a further 25,000 opportunities. The initiative, known as ‘Science Without Borders’ [2] (SWB), or Ciências sem Fronteiras, is aimed at developing research and human resource capacity in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to help meet the country’s growing demand for qualified engineers and scientists.

In presenting [3] the program, the federal Ministry of Science and Technology [4] points to Brazil’s position as 13th in the world for scientific production (Institute for Scientific Information, 2011) and just 47th for innovation (Global Innovation Index, 2011); this in an economy that now ranks as the world’s seventh largest, thanks to booming commodity prices. According to Brazilian science minister, Aloizio Mercadante, the program has been designed to bring about a ‘quantum jump’ in training for strategic sectors.

Broadly speaking, the government is looking to train students in health and life sciences, and the STEM fields, with an emphasis on engineering and technology. The many priority areas include aerospace technology, agriculture, bio- and nanotechnology, biomedical science, computing, creative industries, engineering, geosciences, medicine, molecular biology, natural disasters, natural sciences, nuclear energy, nutrition, oil, pharmaceuticals, renewable energy and the green economy.

Total investment for the SWB initiative is projected at just under US$2 billion, and funding is being administered by two federal agencies, the Agency for the Coordination and Improvement of Higher Education [5], or CAPES, which will administer 40,000 scholarships, and the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development [6], or CNPq, which will administer 35,000 scholarships.

Private Sector Involvement

With many Brazilian companies struggling to find the skilled workers they need to drive their growing enterprises, the Brazilian government has asked the private sector to step in and help fund the SWB initiative. According to a March 2012 interview [7] with Dr. Glaucius Oliva, president of CNPq, the response from the private sector has been quick and enthusiastic. Within four months of launching the program, the two public funding agencies received commitments from large Brazilian companies to offer the additional 25,000 private-sector scholarships.

The biggest industry funder is the Federation of the Brazilian Banks [8], which is giving 6,500 scholarships. According to Dr. Oliva, “this is not just for people that will go back and work for banks; they know that the Brazilian economy will benefit from having good leadership and trained people that will provide the growth of industry and the economy in general. These people, of course, benefit the banking system. So it’s an investment in the future.”

Brazilian state-owned oil giant Petrobras [9] will provide 5,000 scholarships over the next six years to students who plan to earn degrees in fields related to the energy industry, presumably in response to a direct need for skilled engineers and scientists. However, Oliva notes that the company “sees it as an investment in the whole development of the country: creating markets, new industries, new technologies.”

The plan calls for Petrobras to award 2,754 undergraduate scholarships from this year through 2017, as well as 1,901 12-month scholarships for doctoral students. The other 345 scholarships will go to students who wish to pursue four-year doctoral programs overseas.

Under the visiting scholar part of the broader SWB program, scholarships have been made available for foreign industry employees who want to work for a partner company, a service provider or an R&D center in Brazil. These opportunities are being offered in combination with attractive research funding to young postdocs who can take advantage of three-year fellowships. There are also shorter-term opportunities for more established scientists who may not want to move to Brazil. These fellowships are structured as two-month visits every year for three years at a research lab in Brazil, with the opportunity to have an extra postdoc work for them.

Preventing Brain Drain

To discourage students from staying overseas after graduation, many of the scholarships cover a year or less of overseas study and are sandwiched between periods of study in Brazil at domestic institutions. This is seen as especially important among doctoral students, the majority of whom will complete their programs in Brazil. According to the Ministry of Science and Technology, the places will be distributed as follows:

Scholarship awards will increase as the program matures:

Year New Scholarships per year Remaining from previous year Active scholarship holders in the year New scholarships per year Remaining from previous year Active scholarship holders in the year
2010 500 5,000
2011 3,890 3,890 3,400 3,237 6,637
2012 6,140 250 6,390 10,200 3,400 13,600
2013 10,230 670 10,900 12,200 2,600 14,800
2014 14,740 1,300 16,040 14,200 5,200 19,400
Total 35,000 40,000

Source: Ministry of Science and Technology (2011)

Program Objectives

The government has outlined the following as the program’s main objectives:

Where Will Students Study?

Initially the authorities were looking at universities only in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Germany, but that has been extended to include universities in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Holland, India, Portugal, South Korea, and Spain. In total, 5,800 scholarships will be offered for study in the new host countries in 2012/13. The deadline for applications is April 30.

In the ministry’s July 2011 presentation that accompanied the launch of the program, it was stated that priority would be given to the top 50 universities in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings [10] and QS World University Rankings [11], while also stating that it had identified 238 foreign universities with which it wanted to work. It is somewhat unclear if the ministry is sticking to that original list or amending and adding to it as it develops relationships with brokering organizations in host countries.

A pilot program in the United States began last August through which the Brazilian agencies made a limited call for students and received 7,500 applicants. The initial plan was to provide 1,500 scholarships, although according to numbers released by the Institute of International Education [12] it looks to be closer to 700 in that initial cohort.

In December of last year there was an official launch, with opportunities available in France (1,500), Germany (2,500), Italy (1,500), the UK (2,500), and the United States (4,500). According to CNPq president Glaucius Oliva, within a month of opening the application window 36,000 students had applied for one the 12,500 yearlong undergraduate scholarships available in 2012. A total of 2,000 students also have reportedly been selected for graduate scholarships and postdoc fellowships.


A British delegation of high-ranking politicians and university leaders visited Brazil a month before the official announcement of the program in July of last year. The two-day visit resulted in the announcement [13] of 450 new scholarships over five years for Brazilian students through private channels, such as Santander Universities Network [14] and Britain’s BG Group [15], the once state-owned natural gas company, in addition to a commitment for increased cooperation.

Currently, there are about 1,300 Brazilian students at universities and colleges in the UK. Under the SWB program, the country plans to welcome an additional 10,000 students. The partnering organization in the UK is Universities UK [16], although management of the program is being handled by the UK HE International Unit on behalf of Universities UK.

There are not yet any students in the UK under the SWB program, but the UK HE International Unit will begin accepting applications for September 2012 undergraduate placements beginning on April 26, with a deadline of May 15. A total of 77 British universities will be eligible to receive students in the fields of biological sciences; chemistry, mathematics & physics; computer science; earth and environmental sciences; engineering; and health sciences.

Students will spend 12 months in the UK, with three months on an industrial placement or being supervised by the university to undertake an industrial project. There will also be approximately 600 scholarships for full PhDs available to Brazilian students. An initial 20 scholarships are being offered for study at the universities of Nottingham [17] and Birmingham [18].

Under the agreement, universities will receive £15,000 ($24,000) per student. This package covers the student’s academic program, English language provision as appropriate, student support, accommodation, an industrial placement or supervised industrial project and administrative support within the host university. Students studying for full PhDs will receive £15,000 per year. The Brazilian Government will pay travel and living costs directly to students.


On March 20, the Canadian Bureau for International Education [19] (CBIE) announced the launch of Brazil’s Science Without Borders program for Canada-bound [20] undergraduate students. Under the agreement, as many as 12,000 Brazilian students will attend Canadian universities over the course of the scholarship program, which will initially focus on undergraduates who will study for up to 12 months in Canada, with a possible two additional months of language study.

The CBIE, the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, and Languages Canada [21] are working with CNPq and CAPES to broker the program. However, a consortium dubbed CALDO [22] that includes the University of Alberta [23], Laval [24], Dalhousie [25] and the University of Ottawa [26] took the initiative in November of last year by signing agreements with the two Brazilian funding agencies prior to the broader CBIE agreement. The CALDO consortium is operating as an application clearinghouse for the four universities, which are apparently trying to establish themselves as preeminent options for Brazilian students in Canada.

The Brazilian government has agreed to pay international fees for undergraduate students, but has insisted on domestic fees at the graduate level. The four CALDO universities already have offered to discount the fees for graduate students [27], according to The Globe and Mail [28]. The four universities will enroll 2,840 students, with doctoral students making up the biggest proportion, according to a spokesperson for the consortium.

According to the CBIE website, most of the AUCC’s 95 member institutions are participating in the SWB program. There are about 500 Brazilian students currently at Canada’s colleges and universities.


In December, a high-level French delegation including Prime Minister François Fillon and Gérard Binder, chairman of the CampusFrance [29] board, visited Brazil. An agreement was signed between CampusFrance and Brazil’s two SWB agencies, CAPES and CNPq, in the presence of Brazilian President of Dilma Rousseff.

Under the agreement, France will welcome as many as 10,000 Brazilian students to its campuses over the next four years, with an initial cohort arriving in September of this year. CampusFrance is working in collaboration with the Conference of French University Presidents [30] to administer the program.


German universities began welcoming Brazilian students to their campuses in February of this year. The managing organization is the German Academic Exchange Service [31] (DAAD), which has established a user-friendly website welcoming Brazilian students and providing an easy-to-navigate database [32] of all approved programs

In February, DAAD opened the ‘German House of Science and Innovation [33]’ in São Paulo, which is hosting offices for universities and university consortiums to launch recruiting and partnership-building efforts.

Germany’s Humboldt Foundation [34], which promotes international research cooperation, has an office at the new São Paulo location through which it will be working with CAPES and CPNq to adopt a joint funding mechanism for Brazilian postdoctoral researchers in Germany. The specifics of the program are currently being worked out.

United States

In the United States this semester, participating universities welcomed their first SWB arrivals (650 in total). This followed state visits to Brazil by President Barack Obama in March of last year and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in June. Clinton and Brazilian Minister of External Relations Antonio de Aguiar Patriota issued a joint statement [35] promising enhanced student exchanges at the undergraduate and graduate levels in science and technology.

The Institute of International Education [36] (IIE) in New York is currently acting as the broker between U.S. institutions interested in hosting Brazilian students sponsored through the CAPES-funded part of the program.

At the graduate level, scholarship applications will be brokered through LASPAU: Academic and Professional Programs for the Americas [37]. Under the terms of agreements with both CAPES and CNPq, LASPAU will provide scholarship administration services for Brazilian students pursuing doctoral degrees to begin in the fall of 2013 and will cooperate with CAPES and CNPq to promote other activities in science and technology between the United States and Brazil. The two agreements call for a total of some 1,500 Brazilians to be placed by LASPAU in PhD degree programs in the United States over a three-year period.

Brazilian students that arrived this semester are mainly at the undergraduate level. According to the IIE application [38] on its website, students interested in studying in the United States must first be nominated by their institutions in Brazil. Those nominated names are forwarded to CAPES, which then selects students to be placed by IIE in those U.S. institutions chosen by CAPES to host scholarship recipients. Student applications and transcripts are handled centrally by IIE, which sets the academic standards for incoming students through an integrated application system. There is a final review by CAPES/CNPq, including students’ institution and field of study, before they are accepted into the program.

According to IIE, programs in the United States wishing to participate in the scheme should: offer strong coursework relevant to STEM fields; accept documentation through IIE including the Common Application, TOEFL scores, academic transcripts; have welcoming policies for international students, including support services, housing, meal plans, and internship assistance.

According to a January presentation in Washington D.C., IIE expects roughly 70 percent of students under the SWB program to study in the U.S. Of the 650 students that are currently here, 580 are sponsored through IIE/CAPES and 75-100 are sponsored through CNPq under individual arrangements with U.S. institutions. They have arrived from 81 different Brazilian universities and are studying at 104 U.S. universities in 42 states. A total of 66 STEM fields are represented, with over half in engineering. About half of the students are taking ESL classes as part of their program.

A second call for scholarship applications is underway, and IIE expects an additional 100 universities to take part in the program in the fall semester.

While not part of the SWB program, IIE is helping to broker deeper academic relationships between U.S. and Brazilian institutions of higher education through its International Academic Partnership Program [39] (IAPP). Eighteen U.S. colleges have been selected by IIE to travel to Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia, Campinas, and Piracicaba from April 14-21, 2012. They will be participating in a yearlong series of training activities to help each institution implement and sustain partnerships with institutions in Brazil. They will also visit Brazil’s Ministry of Education, CAPES and CNPq.

The participating U.S. campuses are: Baruch College, CUNY; Brandeis University; Brookdale Community College; Chatham University; California State University, Fullerton; Daemen College; East Tennessee State University; Illinois State University; Monroe Community College; Monterey Institute of International Studies; Queens College, CUNY; Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey; Stevens Institute of Technology; University of Massachusetts, Amherst; University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth; University of South Florida; University of Toledo; and Washington State University.


The Netherlands Organization for International Cooperation in Higher Education [40] (NUFFIC) began accepting applications for SWB-funded study at Dutch institutions of higher education March 16. The initial focus, as with other receiving countries will be at the undergraduate level. A portal [41] has been established to help Brazilian students navigate the application process.

A delegation from Australia’s leading research universities [42], or Group of Eight (Go8), was in Brazil this March hoping to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Brazilian government. Go8 communications director Kerrie Thornton said the meetings would be focused on the Science without Borders program. Go8 executive director Michael Gallagher said there was considerable interest in double degrees, student exchange and research collaborations.

The University of Bologna [43] is hosting the administration of SWB programs in Italy. In November, 14 Italian institutions, including 11 universities, signed partnership agreements with CAPES and CNPq. These institutions are now accepting applications through April 10 for the 2012 academic year.

In Sweden, the aircraft manufacturer Saab is working with the CISB [44] (Swedish Brazilian Innovation & Research Center) to offer internship and research projects. Researchers who are interested in conducting security, airspace and defense research in Sweden can submit proposals through a purpose-built website [45], with an April 30 deadline for the current round of funding. Saab is co-financing the project with CNPq for a total of 100 scholarships, with 30 to be awarded in the first round for full-time researchers, whether they are seeking their PhD degree or already hold one.

In South Korea, top research universities KAIST [46], Postech [47], Seoul National University [48] and Yonsei University [49] signed memoranda of understanding with CNPq in September of last year, while two memoranda of understanding and letters of intent were signed between Brazilian and Korean science and technology agencies in support of joint calls for scientific projects and collaboration in bio and nanotechnologies. The National Institute of International Education [50] (NIIED) also signed an MOU with Brazil to support the training of Brazilian engineers and scientists in Korea.

Indian authorities were expecting [51] to reach an agreement with President Rousseff to host students under the SWB program during her visit to India at the end of March for the fourth meeting of the heads of state of the so-called BRIC nations – formed by Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Indian host institutions have reportedly been identified in New Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore, although exact scholarship details and numbers are still uncertain.

The coordinating offices in Belgium are through the Conseil Interuniversitaire de la Communauté Française de Belgique [52] and De Vlaamse Interuniversitaire Raad [53]. In Spain, the Ministry of Education [54] is coordinating the matching process, while in Portugal it is the Council of Portuguese Universities [55].

Final Note

Less than a year after its official announcement, the Science Without Borders program appears to be moving forward with a full head of steam. Top officials from both of the public funding agencies have been travelling the globe signing agreements with coordinating agencies and host institutions, while broader scientific and academic cooperation agreements are being forged as a result of these SWB-inspired meetings.

Brazilians have not traditionally studied abroad in large numbers, but that is clearly changing. As Brazilian science minister Aloizio Mercadante pointed out at the inception of the program, this represents a ‘quantum jump’ in training for Brazilian students in the STEM fields. More broadly, however, this also appears to be a golden opportunity for Brazilian institutions of higher education that are looking to expand their international collaborative efforts. They have the backing of their government, which has been energized by a president that is prepared to sell the project internationally and provide the funding promised to make it happen.

As Oliva, the CNPq president described in early March, “in the very first year of her government, the president decided to postpone the decision about buying a large number of fighter jets, but she didn’t blink when she decided to invest $3 billion in this scholarship program.”