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New study group will present proposals for the 21st-century USP

by Richard Meckien - published Apr 19, 2018 12:20 PM - - last modified Apr 10, 2019 09:51 AM
Rights: Original version in Portuguese by Mauro Bellesa.

Undergraduate courses at USP must undergo an academic and organizational transition, according the study group

"The advance of knowledge in recent decades has accelerated in such a way that it has generated a true cultural shock: one becomes aware of its impact after it has already happened and gone," says the coordinator of the Study Group "USP facing the challenges of the 21st century," Luiz Bevilacqua, a visiting professor at the IEA and former president of the ABC Federal University.

He believes there has never been a time like the present. "There is no prior experience, and there are no models or ready and unique solutions." And the university is not immune to this process: "Being a traditionally conservative institution, USP is subject to grave perplexities, which block the actions that are necessary to survive this shock wave."

Acting properly is an unquestionable need, according to Bevilacqua. "Given the uncertainties of the future, the best strategy is to loosen the ties, flexibilize, and broaden the spectrum of influences on university identity."

To survive the cultural shock it is indispensable to take risks, says the researcher. "It is within this framework that we intend to propose some changes that facilitate the passage through the turmoil of our times." Created at the end of 2007, the group is taking care to limit itself to plausible ("but not inconclusive") proposals, conscious of the "conservatism which imprisons Brazilian universities," according to Bevilacqua.

In his assessment, it is essential to reform undergraduate courses: "They need to undergo an academic and organizational transition. The idea is to offer them in interdisciplinary centers, new units structured from the thematic axes resulting from the convergence and articulation of the classic disciplines.

For the group, postgraduation and research already absorb the various forms of disciplinary convergence without difficulty, but the organization of undergraduation "remains petrified in the form of departments that often no longer respond to current challenges." The objective is to propose actions that allow the academic and administrative restructuring of USP, so the demands of higher education of this century can be met.

"It is necessary to reorganize the main themes, showing the interrelation between them, which was conquered with the recent scientific and technological development." In addition, undergraduation should be directed to the formation of people "with intellectual independence and low aversion to risks, so that the university is a place where learning prevails over teaching."

These changes should not only address the restructuring needs of academic management for professional training purposes. The group see this undergraduation reform as one of the components of a broad framework of changes that Brazilian universities must undergo in order to survive the radical changes that are underway, and continue to contribute to the development of the country.

Based on the identification of the obstacles that make it difficult for the institution to reform, the intention of the researchers is to find the solutions with greater viability - and less internal resistance - that can eliminate or circumvent them. The proposals will be discussed with various sectors of USP and forwarded to the pertinent instances.

The work has been developed in six modules:

  • Cultural context of the 21st century: the cultural shock wave era
  • International context - Impact on higher education
  • Historical aspects of the Brazilian university
  • The Brazilian university in face of the challenges of the 21st century
  • Critical points of the Brazilian university and USP in particular
  • Desirable, plausible and feasible proposals


Luiz Bevilacqua - 5
Luiz Bevilacqua: "At university, learning must prevail over teaching"

In addition to Bevilacqua, other members of the study group are: Arlindo Philippi Jr., from USP's School of Public Health (FSP), Carlos Alberto Barbosa Dantas and Henrique von Dreifus, both from USP's Institute of Mathematics and Statistics (IME), Elizabeth Balbachevsky, from USP's Faculty of Philosophy, Languages and Literature, and Human Sciences (FFLCH), Eugênio Bucci, from USP's School of Communications and Arts (ECA), Guilherme Ary Plonski, deputy director of the IEA, and a professor at USP's Polytechnic School (POLI) and at USP's Faculty of Economics, Administration and Accounting (FEA), Naomar de Almeida Filho, former president of UFBA and UFSB, Paulo Saldiva, director of the IEA and a professor at USP's School of Medicine (FM), and Roseli de Deus Lopes, a professor at POLI.


International context

According to the coordinator, although the academic world is partially responsible for the cultural revolution brought by digital technologies, universities do not evolve in the same speed as the contemporary context.

"Only three decades separate the invention of the world wide web and the virtually universal use of digital communication." For him, the speed of transformation reveals that it is not one more common evolutionary process, but a "shock wave" with the resulting discontinuity.

"It is clear that we are not facing a rapid evolution, but a leap into the future, in which sociocultural transformations also take place rapidly, which makes universities subject to discontinuity as well."

Another aspect of worldwide scope to be considered is the globalization-polarization dynamics of today, which "affects the evolution of scientific, technological, social and artistic ways," says Bevilacqua.

He points out that the main economic blocs have been promoting innovations in higher education, aiming to maintain leadership in scientific and technological production." Since 1999, the European Union has implemented a common model of curricular architecture, creating a network of cooperation between the countries that came to be known with the Bologna Process. The USA government and scientific organizations have recently launched several major university reform initiatives, especially at research universities. It is also necessary to consider the challenges that transnational university networks bring to national higher education systems in countries such as Brazil."

The huge contingent of Brazilians seeking access to higher education makes the country the target of initiatives that treat higher education as a business opportunity, he says. "This makes education a major national strategic issue. This framework has to be taken into account when planning the direction of university education, with academia taking a more proactive rather than responsive role."

The group believes that internationalization in the industry will influence interaction with the business sector in general and industry in particular, forcing the university to leave its walls and discuss the priorities of national development policy with government and business.

USP also needs to be more present in decision-making positions in international education institutions and organizations, as well as offer more programs that are capable of attracting students from all over the world, researchers argue. This presence must be accompanied by larger commitments for the expansion of technical, scientific and social exchange, and the mobility of human resources. This "requires a change of attitude that is not always considered."

"The external mobility of professors and students is intensifying. For the process to be effective, we must also stimulate internal mobility, still incipient in our universities."

Challenging projects

Brazilian universities have evolved faster than the industrial sector and this causes an imbalance between supply and demand of qualified personnel, particularly of masters and doctors, stresses the coordinator. "It is therefore urgent to revise the State's economic-industrial development policy in order to allow the original technological advances to be achieved and new horizons for graduate students to be opened."

In his opinion, USP must question the direction of state and federal development policies, which currently bring difficulties for graduates: "We should approach representative bodies of the business sector, and representatives of the Legislative and Executive Powers to formulate policies stimulating national development from major challenging projects."

"USP needs to be involved in this dimension of development policy for its own survival and for the good of its students." He emphasizes that it is also necessary to follow this line of action in relation to the social and human sciences by stimulating cultural projects.

The classification of universities by performance as a reference for priorities and investments is another issue to be analyzed. This can not be done without careful critique of the evaluation criteria, according to Bevilacqua.

"USP must interact with the State to discuss these criteria and standards of performance measurement. In addition, when analyzing the procedures of the various agencies, it must check how they interfere in its internal policy."