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Universities, especially public, maintain regular groups and lines of research, in which Doctoral, Master’s and even undergraduate students from scientific initiation programs participate, under the guidance of professors. Learn more from a panorama of Brazilian universities and their involvement in research and innovation.

Brazil currently has an extensive and decentralized higher education system. All together, the country has 2,457 higher education institutions, which offer 41,953 undergraduate courses in all regions. The data are included in the Census of Higher Education 2020 and were released by the Ministry of Education (MEC) and the “Anísio Teixeira” National Institute of Educational Studies and Research (INEP) in February 2022. According to the survey, there are 304 public and 2,153 private higher education institutions in Brazil. 

In line with their academic orientation, the institutions are classified as universities, university centers, colleges, and federal institutes. They can be public or private, linked to federal, state or municipal governments. 

Universities are characterized by the integral nature of their teaching, research, and extension activities. They are multidisciplinary academic institutions that produce institutionalized intellectual knowledge. To do so, they must follow the requirements of the Ministry of Education (MEC), such as having at least one-third of the teaching staff working on a full-time basis and one third with Master’s and Doctoral degrees. 

University centers include one or more areas of knowledge, but institutionalized research is not mandatory for them. Colleges are institutions that offer higher education in only one area of knowledge and can be part of a university, university centers, or independent. 

Federal institutes are dedicated to technical training, providing professional skills in different areas. They offer a high school education integrated with technical education, technical courses, university technology courses, undergraduate, and graduate degrees. 

As for private institutions, they may or may not have a for-profit purpose. Among those that do not have this objective are the community, philanthropic or confessional types. 

In all 27 states, there are federal and state universities. The fact is that Brazil did not have any higher education institutions until the beginning of the 19th century. After the Independence of Brazil, the first advanced schools emerged, in a scattered fashion, without university status but with a professional focus, especially in the areas of law, medicine, and engineering. The University of São Paulo, one of the most important in the country, was founded in 1934.

Numbers and Statistics

The number of university students increased significantly in Brazil after the creation of ProUni, which is the Ministry of Education program that grants scholarships to Brazilian students in higher education institutions. Scholarships can be full or partial (50%) in private institutions of higher education, in undergraduate and sequential courses for specific training. 

The 2020 Higher Education Census, released by the “Anísio Teixeira” National Institute of Educational Studies and Research (INEP), reports that the number of admissions remains stable in private institutions. In addition, the material showed that 87.6% of higher education institutions in Brazil are private. Another relevant fact is that, of the 2,457 higher education institutions in Brazil, 77% are colleges. See all the numbers and statistics referring to the last Higher Education Census here.


According to the assessment of the QS World University Ranking 2022, Brazil is the Latin American country with the largest number of world-renowned universities. Two of Brazil’s universities are ranked among the top ten in Latin America: the University of São Paulo (USP) and the State University of Campinas (UNICAMP). 

This time, 35 Brazilian educational institutions were included in the ranking, eight more than in the previous edition. Although Brazil has the largest number of recognized universities in Latin America, none of them were among the top 100 in the world. 

USP achieved the best position with 121st place, followed by UNICAMP (219th place) and the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ – 369th place). USP has been among the top universities in the country for years and has maintained its position in relation to the ranking of the previous year. 

The institutions are ranked according to six indicators: academic standing, reputation for employability, citations per university, proportion of faculty per student, and number of international faculty and students. 

In the 2022 Times Higher Education (THE) British magazine ranking, published in September 2021, USP appears as the best Latin American university, ranked in the same position as last year, in the group of 201-250, the second best Brazilian university in the ranking is UNICAMP, classified in the 401-500 group. In all, 70 Brazilian universities are included in the ranking of 1,662 universities from all over the world.

According to theRanking Xangai 2021 (Academic Ranking of World Universities – ARWU), USP continued to hold its position as the best university in Brazil, in the group of 101-200. The Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS) is tied in second place with Paulista State University (UNESP) and the State University of Campinas (UNICAMP), which are included in the group of 301-400. 

This ranking is based on six parameters that include, among others, the number of Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals, the number of first-level research publications, and the number of times researchers from each university are cited within their areas of expertise. 

In the Folha University Number (RUF) 2019 ranking, USP held first place with 98.02 points and UNICAMP second with 97.09 points. The other eight institutions are: UFRJ (97.00), UFMG (96.72), UFRGS (95.68), UNESP (92.67), UFSC (92.58), UFPR (92.02), UnB (91.21) and UFPE (89.77). 

The Folha de S.Paulo newspaper establishes an annual ranking. This year included 197 Brazilian universities and takes into consideration instructional levels, market placement, research conducted, internationalization, and innovation achievement.