An analysis of alternative tuition policies for Brazilian public higher education



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Purpose of the Study. A discussion addressing the issue of free tuition versus tuition charges in Brazilian public higher education has involved different segments of society reaching its summit in the early 1980's with each side having strong support. The purpose of this study was to examine four alternative tuition policies: zero, low, high, and full tuition, and the potential impact of each alternative on the federal system of higher education in Brazil. Research Questions. Three research questions were addressed: 1) What are the current funding and expenditure patterns for the federal system of higher education? 2) How do socio-political and economic factors impact tuition policies for the federal system of higher education? and 3) What is the feasibility of each alternative tuition policy and what is its potential impact on the federal network of higher education? Procedures for this Study. Utilizing a case study approach, the focus of analysis was forty-two federal institutions of higher education. Analysis of documents determined the revenues and expenditures of the federal institutions, the average student cost per institution, the socioeconomic characteristics of students, and the financial aid programs presently available. In addition, the positions of the Ministry of Education and Culture (MEC), students, faculty, politicians, educators, and community regarding the tuition debate were summarized. Based on the operational costs and on the total enrollment of the federal institutions in 1980, four alternative tuition policies were analyzed. Findings. Documentary analysis indicated that the federal treasury, the main source of revenue of federal institutions, is mainly based on indirect taxes characterizing a regressive system. The average cost per student in federal universities is at least two times higher than in private universities located in the same urban area. Most students attending federal institutions come from upper and middle class families and have finished private high school. The Ministry of Education and Culture stresses the charge of tuition in federal institutions as a form to implement social justice. Educators also endorse this position. Students and faculty consider public higher education a public good and a governmental responsibility, stressing therefore the free tuition policy which was functioning in 1982. Community leaders and politicians are not consistent in their point of view: they either defend the free tuition policy or argue for tuition charges. The endorsement of tuition charges and the shifting priorities from higher to basic education by MEC lead federal colleges and universities toward the search of new sources of revenue. The examination of Alternative A (free tuition policy) revealed that free tuition reinforces the existing socioeconomic disparities within the student bodies of the federal institutions by fully subsidizing upper, middle, and lower class students. Alternatives C (high tuition) and D (full tuition) proposed tuition levels that do not fit with the socioeconomic conditions of Brazilian students and their families. Alternative B (low tuition) is the most feasible alternative because it suggests a level of tuition (10% of the operational costs) which would be compatible with the socioeconomic characteristics of Brazilian students and their families. Full subsidization would be reduced for middle and upper class students, and tuition revenues channeled to financial aid in a more equitable and efficient way.



Universities and colleges, Brazil, Finance