Higher education and research cooperation are topics for discussion in Berkeley

FAPESP Week California discusses university training in Brazil and the United States and strategies for expanding institutional cooperation

By Fernando Cunha

Agência FAPESP – The closing panel of the FAPESP Week California symposium at the University of California, Berkeley, on November 18, 2014, featured a discussion of conditions of entry and remaining in higher education as well as the prospects for international research cooperation in California and the state of São Paulo.

In the presentation entitled, “Higher education in São Paulo: recent trends and opportunities,” Renato Pedrosa, from the Department of Science and Technology Policy of the University of Campinas (DPCT/Unicamp), emphasized the difficulty in analyzing the performance of higher education in Brazil, due to the extremely small number of studies on the subject, especially about how people make decisions about pursuing education at this level.

Pedrosa displayed data from the Ministry of Education’s Basic and Higher Education Census, which shows enrollment in public and private institutions increased from 1.5 million in 2007 to 2.4 million in 2013. The same study indicated that, starting in 2008, the number of students enrolled in higher education actually exceeded the number of students who had completed high school by over 600,000.

For him, the increase is due to stimulus programs such as the University for All (PROUNI), the Restructuring Program of Federal Universities (REUNI), Science Without Borders, the expansion of the Higher Education Financing Program (FIES), and measures such as affirmative action policies for disadvantaged students as well as those under the National System of Higher Education Evaluation.

“But today we still have an impressionistic view of the situation and one that corroborates the observation that the need to enter the job market and financially support one’s family, for example, has prevented a larger number of incoming students from remaining in the educational system,” Pedrosa said.

Professor and Associate Dean for Equity and Inclusion in the College of Engineering at UC Berkeley, Oscar Dubón Jr., identifies the challenges his office faces in increasing the capacity to serve students in order to raise the low rate of student admission – 9.5%, compared to the overall university acceptance rate of 18.6%.

For the researcher, UC Berkeley as a whole needs to attract more talent to increase its competitiveness in training technology professionals and developing California’s work force.

“In a state with nearly one million professionals who have graduated in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, and an expected growth of 19% in the number of jobs in the coming decade, we’re graduating only 21,000 students a year,” he said.

Partnerships and international agreements

Ron Gronsky, Special Faculty Assistant to the Chancellor for International Relations at UC Berkeley and researcher in the Materials Science and Engineering Department, says that global engagement is one of the three basic principals espoused by the current administration at UC Berkeley.

“We want to be an international hub, with the presence here of research groups from some of the best universities and high technology companies in the world, that can work side by side with local researchers on the UCB campus,” he said.

With regard to the cooperation strategy, C. Judson King, researcher in the Center for Studies in Higher Education at UC Berkeley, reasoned that research cooperation initiated by contacts between researchers who share common interests is more natural and likely to happen than partnerships initiated through formal agreements between institutions.

“The results of specific projects developed through cooperation are potentially much larger and can go a lot further than those that would be obtained by each scientist working individually,” King said.

The researcher mentioned two examples of institutional cooperation with foreign universities signed by UC Berkeley – one with King Abdullah University of Science and Technology and the other with the American University of Armenia. To him, the challenges of promoting cooperation are more daunting when you begin a joint research effort with involvement by a large part of the academic community of each institution.

“On the other hand, the genuine interest of colleagues in certain topics and common interests could can make it easier to add members to research groups and then move forward to the institution as a whole,” he said.

In closing the symposium, FAPESP Scientific Director, Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, emphasized that institutional cooperation initiated by researchers with mutual interests in specific topics is an effective way to expand institutional cooperation.

“FAPESP can offer several funding mechanisms to promote the exchange of researchers at universities in California and in the state of São Paulo,” he said.

“We have close to 30,000 researchers at universities in São Paulo, and FAPESP may represent an entryway for half of all the science generated in Brazil. This would be a way to establish connections that could lead to a cooperation agreement,” he said.

According to Brito Cruz, international agreements signed by FAPESP have generated many joint projects and new opportunities for collaboration.