Gomez is correct in arguing that Brazil’s schools need attention; the country spends five times more on college students than on elementary-school students. But it’s not clear that more money would help. “The problems go much deeper than that,” said Jerry Davila, a professor of Brazilian history at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. “To give you an idea, across Brazil, elementary school education is handled by municipal governments and secondary education is handled by state governments. You don’t even have a single school system in most cities.” While various universities, he noted, are supported by a mix of funding sources, the best are federally funded. International educators have suggested that primary and secondary schools manage funds inefficiently at best (as Davila suggests), or corruptly at worst. A 2012 study indicated that deep problems in the infrastructure and facilities mean that increased funding won’t necessarily improve student achievement.
But Gomez’s other concern—that students would try to stay abroad—hasn’t emerged as much of an issue. (Lube is, by his own account, a rare exception.) The U.S. government grants Brazilian students a particular kind of visa that requires the student to return home after a designated period, Davila said. (Lube got special permission from the Brazilian government to continue his education in Vancouver.)
Despite the concerns, Science Without Borders appears to have been a success. “This is a brilliant thing the president of Brazil has done,” according to Allan Goodman, the president and CEO of the Institute for International Education, a New York City-based non-profit. Undergraduates get the education they need but still receive their degrees from their Brazilian institution. “[The program] is really efficient—it immediately satisfies the needs of employers,” he added.
Davila agreed: “Within the limited timeframe that we’ve seen, it’s worked tremendously well.”
Although they agree that Science Without Borders has been successful, Goodman and Davila are doubtful that a program like this could happen now in the U.S. Just as Brazil has ramped up Science Without Borders, the U.S. has decreased federal funding for exchange programs such as the US-Brazil Higher Education Consortia Program. Study abroad is more popular than ever at U.S. institutions, but not much of the money is coming from the federal government (through loan subsidies or grants, for example) the way it is in Brazil. “I think the outcome of Science Without Borders will be that not only will Brazilians know about America, but the other way around. And I think it will happen,” Goodman said. “I just wish there were more countries making the kind of investment in this kind of international education that Brazil is doing.”
His horizons sufficiently expanded, Lube hopes to return to Brazil someday, perhaps to work for a manufacturer. But his time in Canada has shifted his focus. “I don’t think anymore about nations—I don’t think I belong to Brazil, I belong to the world,” he said. “My wish is to enhance the lives of people everywhere, not just in Brazil.”