If you work in any area of international education, you’ll know that Brazil is being hailed as the ‘next big thing’. Brazil is investing in its HE provision at home, it’s providing an unprecedented number of scholarships for its students to study abroad, and by all accounts EFL businesses there are booming.
Brazil is an emerging market full of promise, and no one wants to miss out on an opportunity. But does it hold promise for everyone? There is no doubt the announcement made last year by Brazil’s president regarding the 75,000 scholarships being funded for Brazilian students to study overseas caused some universities in the UK to spring into action and push Brazil to the top of the ‘priority market’ list. Those scholarships are part of the ‘Science Without Borders’ initiative, and they will be awarded to students studying mainly on programmes in the STEM fields at the world’s ‘best’ universities. A number of UK universities will be prime candidates for receiving those Brazilian scholars, but what about the rest of us?
I’m thinking specifically of my own University, the place where I work. We aren’t a top institution, we aren’t well-known, we aren’t research intensive and don’t offer any programmes in the STEM fields. Yet, at our international team meeting last week, Brazil was mentioned as a new possible priority market (we’ve never done any work in Brazil before). Brazil is hot right now, and I can see how we might not want to miss out on the action, but does it make sense for us? The same question could be asked at two dozen or more UK universities, I think. Should we be doing it (and investing quite a bit of money) just because everyone else is?
Certainly we aren’t going to get many (if any) of the scholarship students. And historically, the UK has not been a favourite destination for Brazilian students who choose to study for a degree overseas. From 2003/4 to 2010/11 the UK saw a 28% increase in Brazilian students studying at degree level, which might seem significant. But take a look at the total numbers – in 2010/11 there were 1385 Brazilian students studying for a degree at UK universities – and we see that Brazil isn’t even in the top 30 sending countries to the UK. Most Brazilian students who come to the UK to study do so at the postgraduate degree level, and, encouragingly for my university, the majority of them are studying subjects we offer such as business/management, education, marketing and design. Even so, numbers have been so low in the past that we’ve never seen Brazil as a country where we’d make much of an impact recruiting students.
When discussing an international student recruitment plan, it makes sense for a university to target markets where it has the best chance of raising its profile and attracting students. It doesn’t make sense to follow ‘the next big thing’ just because it’s what’s hot; some UK universities will do really well in Brazil moving forward, but some will not.