Universities hit back as Brazil slashes scholarship funds

Students and professors protest sharp budget cuts ordered by President Jair Bolsonaro's administration, in front of a banner with a message that reads in Portuguese: "Disorder is this Government", at the University of Brasilia, in Brasilia, Brazil, Tuesday, May 7, 2019. The message is a response to Education Minister Abraham Weintraub, who announced cuts for the university because of what he called a disorder. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
Brazil's Education Minister Abraham Weintraub attends a Senate hearing on budget cuts of public universities, in Brasilia, Brazil, Tuesday, May 7, 2019. Federal public universities, generally the country's most competitive and highest-ranked schools, were stunned last week when the Education Ministry announced a 30% cut in their funding. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)

RIO DE JANEIRO — University deans and education experts in Brazil expressed their concern Thursday about the future of academic research after the education ministry announced it had blocked all forthcoming scholarships for master's and doctoral students.

Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Education Personnel, a foundation linked to the country's education ministry, said Wednesday it had shut down the system awarding new higher education scholarships as part of a wider effort to slash public spending.

While Brazil's government claims it is implementing the budget cuts across the board and in an equal way, some say the latest move could be politically motivated.

Far right President Jair Bolsonaro has vowed to oust "leftist ideology" from education, which he says is ruining the country's academic environment. Bolsonaro and Education Minister Abraham Weintraub have argued in favor of letting students film teachers during class time, in an effort to fight the alleged leftist indoctrination.

The scholarships for master's and doctoral students had helped many students with living costs over the course of their studies. Scholarships that had already been awarded will not be withdrawn, officials said, but it will impact those that were already in the application process.

Antonio Claudio, dean of Fluminense Federal University, said Thursday the move compromised the universities' ability to do academic research.

"It was already very difficult," Claudio said, mentioning the recently announced 30% budget cut for all federal universities in the country.

According to Claudio, 95% of Brazil's academic investigations are carried out with the help of masters and PhD students. "The real motor of research is our post graduate students," he said from Brasilia, where he was to meet with education officials.

Claudia Costin, who was senior director for education at the World Bank in 2014-2016, said this latest cut targeting scholarships was "terrible" news.

"Brazil intends to join the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development but is following a path that distances us from those countries, in terms of education, science and technology," Costin told The Associated Press.

Earlier this month, the Education Ministry announced it would freeze 30% of all federal universities' budget, as well as public education institutions, triggering widespread criticism from worried university staff and education experts.

Before announcing the cut, Weintraub told the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo that he had cut the budget of three federal universities because of their ideological stance and poor performance.

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