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Brazil now has an extensive and decentralized higher education system. In all, the country has 2.448 institutions of higher education, which offer 35,380 undergraduate courses in all regions.

These data are found in the Higher Education Census 2017, released by the Ministry of Education (MEC) and by the Anísio Teixeira National Institute for Educational Studies and Research (Inep), on October 3, 2018.

According to their academic organization, the institutions are divided into 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 integration of teaching, research, and extension activities. These are multidiscipline academic institutions that produce institutionalized intellectual knowledge. Therefore, they must comply with several requirements of the Ministry of Education (MEC), such as having at least one-third of the professors working full-time and one third holding Master’s and Doctor’s degrees.

University centers cover one or more knowledge areas, but they are not obligated to perform institutionalized research. The colleges are institutions that offer university-level courses in just one knowledge area and belong to universities, university centers, or are independent.

Federal institutes are units focusing on professional technical training in a variety of areas. They offer a high school diploma integrated with technical instruction, technical courses, college-level technical courses, teacher education, and graduate studies.

With regard to private institutions, they may be profit or non-profit. The latter include communitarian, philanthropic and confessional institutions.

According to a survey by Inep, which was released in 2017, there are 296 public higher education institutions and 2,152 private, in Brazil.

In all of the 27 States, there are Federal and State universities. Historically, Brazil had no higher education institution until the beginning of the 19th century. After Brazil’s Independence, the first higher education schools appeared, isolated, without the status of university, but giving professional training, especially in the areas of law, medicine, and engineering. The University of São Paulo, which is one of the country’s most important, was founded in 1934.

Numbers and Statistics

The number of university students increased significantly in Brazil, after Prouni was created. It is a program of the Ministry of Education that grants study scholarships to Brazilian university students. The scholarships can be full or partial (50%) in private higher education institutions, in graduate courses, and for specific training courses.

The Higher Education Census 2017, released in October 2018 by the Anísio Teixeira National Institute for Educational Studies and Research (INEP), shows that, despite the economic crisis, the number of enrollments remains stable in private institutions.  furthermore, the report showed that 87.9% of the network of institutions of higher education are private. Another relevant fact is that, of the 2,448 institutions of higher education in Brazil, 82.5% are colleges. See all of the numbers and statistics of the latest Higher Education Census here!


The QS World University Ranking by Subject, released on February 28, 2018, ranked the University of São Paulo () among world’s best universities in 41 of the 48 areas evaluated. USP was one of the 50 best in the world in ten of those areas: Dentistry (15th); Sport Sciences (20th); Architecture (28th); Art & Design (31st); Mineral and Mining Engineering (33rd); Agriculture and Forestry (36th); Modern Languages (42nd); Anthropology (46th); Veterinary Science (47th); and Law (50th). In 21 specific areas, USP was ranked between 51st and 100th; in eight areas, one of the 150 best; and, in two areas, one of the 250 best.

The specific areas are grouped into five broad areas and the overall ranking of the University in all of them rose, compared to the previous year. In Arts and Humanities, USP rose from 114th (in 2017) to 79th; in Engineering and Technology, it rose from 177th to 142nd; in Life Sciences and Medicine, it rose from 129th to 96th; in Natural Sciences, from 155th to 109th; and in Social Sciences and Administration, rose from 146th to 107th.

In the , USP appears as the 121st best university in the world. In 2017 and 2016, the university held 120th place.

As for the , Unicamp is shown as the best in Latin America. The institution surpassed USP, which had been the leader, the previous year; this was the first time that USP had been surpassed by another Brazilian institution in an international ranking. The top 10 also has three other Brazilian universities: Unifesp (Federal University of São Paulo) held 7th place, UFRJ (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro) in 8th, and PUC-Rio (Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro) in 9th.

In this ranking, Brazil has 18 institutions among the 50 best, which is the biggest group among the countries in the region. However, it lost space on the list: in 2016, there were 23 Brazilian institutions. In all, 20 dropped in the ranking; many even scored higher points, but remained behind, in light of the advance of other countries. Of the 81 listed, 32 are Brazilian.

According to the , USP appears as the best University in Brazil, in the 151-200 range. UNESP, which maintained its position, and the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) are in the 301-400 range, that is, among the world’s Top 400. In all, more than 1,300 institutions of higher education were evaluated and the world’s Top 500 were published.

In South America, Brazil maintains its leadership in higher education. The country has 11 national universities in the Top 500, and 18 in the Top 800.  Argentina and Chile total six universities in the Top 800.

This ranking is based on six parameters that include, among others, the number of Nobel Prizes, the number of top level research works published, and the number of times that researchers of each university are mentioned in works related to their disciplines.

In the , the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) held first place, with 97.42 points, and the State University of Campinas (Unicamp) in second place, with 97.31 points. The other eight institutions are: USP (97.24), UFMG (96.81), UFRGS (95.86), UFSC (93.16), UNESP (93.15), UFPR (92.82), UnB (91.61), and UFSCar (90.92).

This ranking is posted annually by the Folha de S.Paulo newspaper, considering 195 in Brazil, and based on instructional, market, research, internationalization, and innovation criteria.