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Brazil has an extensive and decentralized higher education system. The nation has a total of 2,608 higher education institutions, which offer 40,427 bachelor-level programs in all of its 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 the creation of PROUNI, the Ministry of Education program that grants scholarships to Brazilian students in higher education institutions. Scholarships can be full or 50% for private institutions of higher education, for undergraduate, and for specific sequential training courses.

The 2019 Higher Education Census, released by the Anísio Teixeira National Institute of Educational Studies and Research (INEP), shows that the number of enrollments has remained stable in private institutions. In addition, the material reported that 88.4% of the network of higher education institutions are private. Another relevant fact is that 79.6% of the 2,608 institutions of higher education in Brazil are colleges. Get more information on all the numbers and statistics referring to the last Higher Education Census, see link (Portuguese): https://download.inep.gov.br/educacao_superior/censo_superior/documentos/2020/Apresentacao_Censo_da_Educacao_Superior_2019.pdf


According to the evaluation of the QS World University Ranking 2022, see link: https://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings/world-university-rankings/2022, Brazil is the Latin American country having the highest number of world-renowned universities. It has three of the best universities in Latin America ranked among the top 10: the University of São Paulo (USP), the State University of Campinas (UNICAMP), and the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ).

This time, 27 Brazilian educational institutions were included in the ranking, see link: https://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings/world-university-rankings/202, five more than in the previous edition. Although Brazil has the largest number of ranked universities, none of them figured among the top 100 in the world.

USP holds the highest position at 121st, followed by UNICAMP (219th) and UFRJ (369th). USP has been among the top universities in the country for many years, but had a slight drop compared to the previous edition, where it held 115th place on the list.

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

As for the ranking of the British Times Higher Education (THE) magazine of 2022, see link: https://www.timeshighereducation.com/world-university-rankings, published in September 2021, USP figures as the best Latin American university, and holds the same position as it did last year, in the range of placings from 201st to 250th; the second-best ranked Brazilian university is UNICAMP, found in the range of placings from 401st to 500th. In all, 70 Brazilian universities are ranked among the 1,662 institutions covered worldwide.

According to the Shanghai Ranking 2021 (Academic Ranking of World Universities – ARWU), see link: https://www.shanghairanking.com/rankings/arwu/2021, USP continued to hold its place as the best university in Brazil in the range of placings from 101st to 200th. The Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS) is tied for second place with the State University of São Paulo (UNESP) and the State University of Campinas (UNICAMP), which are in the range of placings from 301st to 400th.

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

In the 2019 Folha University Ranking (RUF), USP was in first place, with 98.02 points, and UNICAMP in 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 annual ranking established by the Folha de S.Paulo newspaper, for this year included 197 Brazilian universities and considered such criteria as instructional level, market, research, internationalization, and innovation.