Igor Utsumi

Igor Utsumi

Staff Writer
The Brazil Business


Universities in Brazil

Igor Utsumi

Igor Utsumi

Staff Writer
The Brazil Business


Despite initiatives to unify the entrance to higher education courses, many Brazilian institutions have their own selection process. This article will give an overview of the universities in the country.

Entering Brazil’s higher education is quite different from many other countries, including the United States and European nations. In general, universities do not require the students’ school history, recommendation letters, or any kind of resumé, so, basically, the students' performance during high school is not analyzed. The only way in is usually the vestibular.

The vestibular consists of a test, with one or more stages, where topics taught during high school are applied. Therefore, the only educational requirement is a high school diploma. However, the format and the subject of this kind of test are really variable.

Fuvest, the vestibular by Universidade de São Paulo or USP, one of Brazil’s most recognized universities, for example, has two stages: in the first one, there are 90 multiple-choice questions. The subjects are generic, like Math, History, Biology, and Portuguese. The second stage brings only specific matters to each candidate, according to his selected course. Other universities may choose tests with a different number of questions, subjects, and stages.

Public and Private Universities

There are over 2,300 higher education institutions in Brazil. Basically, there are two kinds of educational institutions in Brazil:

  • Public ones, that are free and where no tuition fees are charged
  • Private ones, where students must pay the tuition charges

Public Universities are institutions where all the costs are covered by a governmental body. Most of them are federal, but some are also maintained by a specific state or city hall. Students do not have to pay a fee for studying at this kind of institution, being responsible only for their books, transportation, and living costs.

Private universities are maintained by an institution or corporation, requiring a monthly fee, among other taxes. In a government’s attempt to insert more Brazilians in private universities, some programs were created. Two of the main ones are Programa Universidade para Todos, or ProUni, and Programa de Financiamento Estudantil, or Fies.

ProUni was created in 2004 in order to offer full or partial scholarships in private universities, to students of public schools that have a family income below three Minimum Salaries. Fies provides funding of the tuition fees based on the family income, accepting students that live with up to ten Minimum Salaries.

It was already said that public universities are better than the private ones in Brazil, which is not considered entirely true nowadays. Many private institutions have better infrastructural conditions and, also, have more modern courses. However, the tradition of the public institutions, and the fact that students are not charged for studying, are relevant factors.


Enem, or Exame Nacional do Ensino Médio, is a test that has been used as the main entrance to several universities in Brazil since 2009. It was originally created to measure the learned knowledge during high school by Brazilian students. Nowadays, the test is responsible for unifying the access to higher education courses in Brazil, and is formulated and supervised by the Ministry of Education.

This exam is largely adopted by public universities in Brazil. However, the number of private universities choosing Enem over its own vestibular is growing. In general, Enem might be used in four different ways by the institutions:

  1. As the only way to be accepted by a university
  2. As the first stage of the institution’s vestibular
  3. Combined with the vestibular, generating a single grade
  4. As a way to choose students for remaining spots in a course

The test consists of one essay and 180 questions, divided into four knowledge areas:

  1. Nature Science and its Technologies
  2. Human Science and its Technologies
  3. Languages, Codes, and its Technologies
  4. Math and its Technologies

The test might also be used as a way to select students that qualify for programs like ProUni. Over 7.1 million people were enrolled on the 2013 version of Enem.

Prep Courses

It is very common to see students enrolling for Prep courses, known as cursinhos in Brazil. They are offered by institutions specialized in it, with their own books and teaching methods. Many cursinhos are also tailor-made for some tests, leaving subjects aside to focus on more relevant themes to their students.

The biggest number of students enrolled in this kind of prep courses is the ones that did not successfully enter a higher education course immediately after high school. However, there are also plenty of adults seeking to get another degree, as well as students battling for disputed spots in courses with a really high demand, such as Medicine, Law, and Engineering.

Cultural Differences

It is not only Brazil’s higher education that is unique. Unlike other countries, the entrance of students in a university does not necessarily represent moving away from mom and dad’s house, especially if the institution is located in the same city where the student lives in. As a matter of fact, some Brazilians keep living with their parents even after graduation.

Another curious fact is that, a big part of the ones that decide to move do not go to the university campus, for example. That happens for one simple reason: there are generally no rooms or dorms for everybody. Instead, they either share an apartment with other students or go to a república, which is not far from a fraternity house outside the campus.