A new public university is sprouting in a rather remote region in the state of Bahia, in Brazil. The region is well known as a tourist attraction, owing to the natural beauty of its beaches, and also as a producer of cocoa. The region has a strong economic potential, but remains extremely poor, and without a public university.
This new university will not be “more of the same” on the Brazilian landscape. It will launch a completely new concept in the Brazilian higher education, with integrated modules at different levels and the intensive use of digital technologies. The new Federal University of the South of Bahia (UFSB) will have three campuses in the cities of Itabuna (main campus), Teixeira de Freitas and Porto Seguro. These campuses will coordinate a decentralized network of “university colleges” in a broader geographic area. The idea of these colleges is similar to the American community college, but making more extensive use of on-line teaching to urban centers within the region with more than 20,000 inhabitants and complemented by “presential” activities on Saturdays. Most courses will require around 1200-1600 hours, typically one-year of study, after which the students can continue in short technical programs, or to three-year “so-called” interdisciplinary bachelor degrees or an interdisciplinary teacher education degrees. After these initial modules, the student can opt to continue in a more traditional degree program (such as medicine or engineering, for example), or to continue on to a professional masters degree.
There will be an aggressive affirmative action and social inclusion plan, with quotas for students who studied in public schools and from low-income families, so that participation will reflect the racial/ethnic proportions of the larger society. On the campuses, the quota will be 55%, while for the community colleges it will reach up to 85% of the students.
Besides the novel curriculum structure and attention to access and mobility for continuing study, the plan is also ambitious regarding pedagogy. The institutional infrastructure will be supported with new technology for virtual learning. The project will require significant learning commitments between faculty and students, engaging students through classroom attendance, partial attendance, and self-paced learning (Keller method). The pedagogical practices will be structured around problem-based learning, active learning teams, shared learning strategies, and workshops of evidence-oriented practices.
The construction of the new university will start this year with the completion predicted by 2020, when there will be 29 municipalities in the network offering 10 residences, 12 interdisciplinary bachelor degrees, 5 interdisciplinary teacher education programs, 15 post-secondary technological courses, 30 undergraduate courses, 19 Master programs and 9 PhD programs. More than 9,000 places per year are projected for the first cycle (7,000 in the community colleges and 2,600 in the interdisciplinary degrees); 1,000 in the second cycle (professional courses); and 700 graduate students, with a total of approximately 11,000 places per year. The predicted cost for the implementation is around R$ 200 million (roughly US$ 87 million), and the project will employ 617 faculty members and 623 technical and administrative staff. The estimated annual budget will be around R$ 120 million (US$ 52 million) per year.
Prof. Naomar de Almeida Filho, past president of the Federal University of Bahia, leads the implementation of the new university. He is inspired by the legacy of Anísio Teixeira (1900-1971), an important intellectual in Brazilian higher education, who coined the term “Universidade Nova” (New University) that is anchored in the basic pillars of social inclusion, commitment to basic education, regional development and academic excellence.
The development of this university is a huge challenge, considering the lack of current infrastructure, the quality of the basic education in the region, and the need to attract well-trained faculty and staff. In addition, the project introduces many novelties to the Brazilian higher education scenario so it will certainly be necessary to overcome various cultural barriers, not only in the labor market (that will eventually hire future graduates) but also in the governance of the higher education sector (regulation, assessment, and the academy itself). It will be interesting to follow the development of this great idea, which already deserves credit for helping to break through the strong inertia of the higher education in Brazil.
Further information about the Federal University of the South of Bahia can be seen at: http://www.ufsb.edu.br/