Brazil’s new Latin American and global integration universities launched

As 2009 drew to a close, Brazil’s Senate granted official authorization for the establishment of a new, very different kind of university in Brazil – the Federal University for Latin America Integration, otherwise known as UNILA.

Unanimously passed on December 16th 2009, the Bill now enables UNILA to formally announce itself as a university, instead of a fledging project under the banner of the Institute for Advanced Studies, with oversight by the University of Parana, in the Brazilian state of Parana.

UNILA is one of three regional integration universities launched by Brazil’s President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in 2006 to advance Brazil’s interests within the region and globally. The other two university projects are UNILAB – the Afro-Brazilian University of Integration, and UNIAM – the University of Amazonian Integration.

These Brazilian initiatives were the latest addition to a rapidly changing higher education landscape around the globe, and one that is set to continue in 2010 (as implied in a recent NY Times report about the implications of the collapse of Dubai’s overheated economy for branch campuses such as Michigan State University and Rochester Institute of Technology).

Dubai’s spectacular meltdown in December was matched by a stunning $61m launch party for Saudi Arabia’s ‘House of Wisdom’ – the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, or KAUST which Kimberly Coulter covered for GlobalHigherEd.

As Kris Olds wrote in his introduction to Coulter’s entry:

KAUST is a unique experiment in how to organize an institution to facilitate innovation in scientific knowledge production, a secure and efficient compound (hence Saudi Aramco’s involvement), a defacto sovereign wealth fund, a demonstration effect for new approaches to higher education in Saudi Arabia, and many other things (depending on standpoint).

So what do these initiatives have in common? Money aside (KAUST has an endowment of around US$11bn), but like KAUST, Brazil’s three new universities reflect a shared ambition: to use international higher education networks to advance cultural, political and economic projects.

However while KAUST is aimed at developing a world class national university in Saudi Arabia via the recruitment of global talent (academics and students), state of the art buildings and cutting edge development projects, UNILA, UNILAB and UNIAM are aimed at creating a ‘supranational’, ‘global’ and ‘regional’  university respectively, drawing upon staff and students from within the wider region, or from across south-south networks (UNILAB) – though each,  as I will show below, have distinctive visions and territorial reaches with UNILAB the most global.

In August of 2009, I had the privilege of attending the official launch of UNILA.  Close to the fabulous Iguacu Falls,  in Foz, Parana, UNILA is being developed on a 43 hectare site granted by Itaipu Binacional, the bi-national energy company running the huge hydro-electric dam providing energy to Paraguay and the southern cone of Brazil.

The objectives of UNILA are to pursue inter-regional trans-disciplinary research and teaching in areas of joint interest of the MERCOSUL member countries (Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, Uruguay) focusing, for example, upon use of natural resources, trans-border biodiversity, social sciences and linguistic research, international relations as well as relevant disciplines for strategic development.

Unlike KAUST, however, whose model is US-oriented (in becoming the MIT of the East, the ‘Stanford by the Seashore’), UNILA’s mission and approach to knowledge is shaped by a distinctive Latin American commitment. Each course has a Patron and a Founder.

The first Patrons have been chosen for being Latin American names who have left relevant academic-scientific contributions associated to a field of knowledge , while course founders have been appointed for the high academic prestige in their respective fields of knowledge as well as renowned international competence in their specialities.

10 Professorial Chairs have been appointed to UNILA. Each Chair has a mandate to develop courses in ways that are inspired by, and advance, the intellectual legacy of the Patron. For instance, in the area of science, technology and innovation,  founding Chair, Hebe Vessuri, will draw inspiration from the patron Amilcar Herrerra (1920-1995) – an Argentinean geologist who valued inter-disciplinary knowledge and who have argued that the solution to problems lay not with science as progress, but in the interface with policy and politics.

These patrons are clearly not the organic intellectuals of the ruling classes. Many of these patrons, such as the Chilean writer Francisco Bilbao (1823-65), and Paraguay’s Augusto Roa Bastos (1917-2005), have spent years in exile.

The target student population for UNILA is 10,000 students enrolled in undergraduate and post-graduate programmes leading to MA and PhD degrees. Entrants will be required to sit a university entry examination that will be offered in two versions: one with a Portuguese language requirement for Brazilian citizens and a Spanish Language for the foreign candidates of eligible member countries. Lectures will be offered in both Portuguese and Spanish, as it is expected that half of the teaching staff will be from the regional member countries.

By way of contrast with UNILA, UNILAB is the most global in ambition. This unilateral Portuguese-speaking Afro-Brazilian University of Integration will have  campuses in various  Portuguese speaking countries (Brazil, Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Portugal, Sâo Tomé and Príncipe, and East Timor). Expected to open for enrolment in the beginning of   2010, UNILAB is hailed as a political-pedagogic innovation project (see here for information on UNILAB developments).

The principal aim of UNILAB is to encourage and strengthen co-operation, partnerships, and cultural, educational and scientific exchanges between Brazil an member states of   the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries (CPLP) listed above. UNILAB will also focus on collaboration with the African countries of the CPLP,  aiming to contribute to these nations’ socio-economic development, including reducing ‘brain drain’ problems currently experienced by African countries.

UNILAB is intended to become an integrated multi-campus institution with campuses in all the   African member countries of the CPLP. Each of these campuses will also be integrated within the regions where they are located. Its main campus will be established in the city of Redenção in Brazil’s North-Eastern state of Ceará, approximately 60 kilometres from the city of Fortaleza. Redenção has been selected to host the main campus because it was the first municipality that had abolished slavery in Brazil, and because the region currently does not yet host a university. The main campus is also expected to function as an instrument for the strategic social-economic development of the North-East of Brazil.

In a report carried by the Observatory for Borderless Higher Education on these initiatives, Brazil’s Minister of Education, Fernando Haddad, commented:

We will not offer traditional programmes, but instead we will construct a common identity between the countries, that makes it possible to contribute to the social-economic development of each of the countries involved.

The third, more regional, initiative, Universidade Federal da Integração Amazônica, or UNIAM, will be established as a public multi-campus university, with a main campus in the Brazilian city of Santarém, and three satellite campuses in the cities Itaituba, Monte Alegre and Oriximiná, all located in Brazil’s state of Pará.

The main aim of UNIAM will be to encourage social-economic integration of the Amazon region, which includes not only parts of Brazil, but also areas of eight surrounding countries.

UNIAM’s  main campus will be established in the Brazilian city of Santarém, and three satellite campuses in the cities Itaituba, Monte Alegre and Oriximiná, all located in Brazil’s state of Pará. The aim of the new institution will be to encourage social-economic integration of the Amazon region, which includes not only parts of Brazil, but also areas of eight surrounding countries.

While it is unclear at the moment when the new university will open for enrolment, by 2013 UNIAM is expected to offer 41 programmes at Bachelor’s, Master’s and doctoral levels.  The Brazilian government will reportedly cover the US$107 million budget that will be needed to pay for the establishment and personnel costs of the new university until 2012.

Described by the Brazilian Ministry of Education as particular ‘political-pedagogic innovation projects’, these three new universities are intended to enhance national, regional and global integration, and demonstrate to the world that it may be possible to unite different countries through education.

These are fascinating initiatives likely to liven up the global higher education landscape in 2010. They reflect not only emerging regionalisms, but potential shifts in the sites and stakes of global and regional knowledge production and power.

Susan Robertson

London (cools), Dubai (spirals down), and the state of global higher ed

Apologies for the slow pace of posts to GlobalHigherEd, but we’ve been overloaded at work of late in Bristol and Madison.

My undergraduate ‘Intro to the City’ class today focused on the ideas of Saskia Sassen, the prolific scholar based at Columbia University. We focused on Sassen’s ideas in relationship to the nature of global cities, and the operation of global city networks. Today’s class corresponded with some articles in the Financial Times about London (‘London cooling‘, 11 February 2009) and Dubai (‘Laid-off foreigners flee as Dubai spirals down‘, 12 February 2009), both of which help students ground what Sassen writes about so insightfully.

londoncoverIn preparing some class handouts of both newspaper articles, I followed the London links in the FT article through to an informative 2008 report regarding London’s changing labour markets, and its relative position in relationship to the rest of the UK.  The report is replete with direct and indirect information about the nature of London’s education sector, and about the implications (e.g., high housing costs) when a city/country (over)valorizes financial services and in doing so creates a dynamic where other important services sectors (including higher education) get overshadowed.  The relationship between higher education, research, and the global city formation process, has rarely been examined, and is one topic we will explore further in 2009.

The Dubai article (‘Laid-off foreigners flee as Dubai spirals down‘) in the New York Times is interesting as it examines what happens when a speculative ‘house of cards’ (a wanna-be global city) starts to crumble. I sent this article to a close friend who is CFO for a European TNC (with major investments in Dubai, amongst many other countries). His quick response via email: “a reminder that when something looks too good to be true, it is!  I never could understand how Dubai worked, and now we all know it’s because it didn’t work.” This article is approaching viral like status, and is one of the most blogged about articles this week (link here see we what Google’s blog search engine trawls up).

Now, if Dubai is collapsing, as it might be, what does this mean for all of the foreign and joint venture universities initiatives (e.g., Dubai Knowledge Village (which is hosting Boston University, Harvard University, London School of Business & Finance, Michigan State University, Rochester Institute of Technology), British University in Dubai, Duke University, University of Wollongong, American University in Dubai), tempted into Dubai via offers of subsidies and streams of grant income, potential student demand (including from expatriates based in the city and region), and the sheer glamour (and buzz) of operating in an ‘emerging market’ and fast developing global city? And what does it mean for the Indian migrant students profiled in Neha Vora’s 25 June 2008 entry ‘Globalized higher education in the United Arab Emirates – unexpected outcomes’?

While this is not something we are conducting research on, we would be happy to post guest entries (including entries from credible anonymous authors, if necessary) from people who have something insightful to say about the current situation in Dubai. Sadly we won’t be hearing much formal reporting or analysis from Dubai, despite its publicly stated desire to be a creative global knowledge hub, a hotspot of the knowledge economy.  As the New York Times reports:

No one knows how bad things have become, though it is clear that tens of thousands have left, real estate prices have crashed and scores of Dubai’s major construction projects have been suspended or canceled. But with the government unwilling to provide data, rumors are bound to flourish, damaging confidence and further undermining the economy.

Instead of moving toward greater transparency, the emirates seem to be moving in the other direction. A new draft media law would make it a crime to damage the country’s reputation or economy, punishable by fines of up to 1 million dirhams (about $272,000). Some say it is already having a chilling effect on reporting about the crisis.

Last month, local newspapers reported that Dubai was canceling 1,500 work visas every day, citing unnamed government officials. Asked about the number, Humaid bin Dimas, a spokesman for Dubai’s Labor Ministry, said he would not confirm or deny it and refused to comment further. Some say the true figure is much higher.

“At the moment there is a readiness to believe the worst,” said Simon Williams, HSBC bank’s chief economist in Dubai. “And the limits on data make it difficult to counter the rumors.”

Crises do have a funny tendency to highlight contradictions.

Kris Olds

Globalized higher education in the United Arab Emirates – unexpected outcomes

Editor’s note: today’s guest entry has been kindly prepared by Dr. Neha Vora. Dr. Vora recently received her PhD in Anthropology from the University of California, Irvine. As of Fall 2008, she will be Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Women’s Studies at Texas A&M University. Her current research focuses on the dynamics of race, class, and gender in the United Arab Emirates and how they affect the large Indian migrant population. By focusing on the overlaps between state and expatriate discourses, she considers how migrants, who officially do not have access to citizenship or permanent residency, are often participants in the production of forms of exclusion and exploitation in contemporary Dubai. Dr. Vora also holds an MA in Women’s Studies from San Francisco State University. Her next research project will focus on the recent influx of American Universities into the Gulf Arab States, including Texas A&M!

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In 2006, I was in Dubai conducting research among the large Indian migrant community in that emirate. Several of my younger informants, it turned out, had attended branches of US-accredited universities, which were a relatively new arrival in the Gulf States. My research, which focused on forms of identity and belonging among differently situated South Asians, was mainly concerned about the question of what it means to belong to a place like the UAE, where despite family histories that sometimes go back generations, one has no access to citizenship or even permanent residency. I started to notice that almost all of my informants, while staking certain historical, cultural, and geographic claims to Dubai and the UAE, vehemently denied any desire for formal belonging. In fact, the exclusion of the UAE’s overwhelmingly non-citizen population was predicated in many ways on the participation of non-citizens themselves. However, one group of informants differed greatly in how they spoke about their status in the UAE, and these were the young people who had attended foreign universities in the Gulf. They were actually quite politicized. They spoke of themselves as “second-class citizens” and expressed anger at what they felt to be systemic discrimination against South Asians in the Gulf. And, surprisingly, they attributed their awareness of their own exclusion directly to their university experiences, at schools like American University of Dubai, University of Wollongong, and American University of Sharjah, among others.

In the last decade, the options for higher education in the Gulf have expanded. Higher education is one of the major focal points of non-oil development in the Gulf States, and it is of particular importance to the rulers of the United Arab Emirates. The American University of Sharjah (AUS), for example, is affiliated with American University in Washington, D.C. and confers a degree equivalent to a US four-year university. The proliferation of colleges like AUS (pictured to the right, courtesy of the AUS website) means that a large number of expatriate middle-class children, who used to have to go abroad for higher education (usually to India, Australia, Canada, the US, or the UK), are increasingly able to stay in the UAE through the time of their college graduation. Therefore, many South Asian young people I interviewed, unlike their parents or even their slightly older counterparts, had not previously considered the reality of perhaps having to migrate to another country to find work, settle down, and start a family. Here, I consider briefly how the recent influx of American and other foreign universities into the Gulf works to produce Indian youth as both parochialized South Asian and neoliberal transnational subjects, who in turn reinforce Dubai’s economic growth as well as the divide between citizen and non-citizen in the UAE.

Many scholars have connected the globalization of American universities with other trends in the university system geared at profit-making enterprises (see for example Altbach 2004; Morey 2004; Poovey 2001). In addition, there has been an increase in “market” language to speak about the university—students are considered “clients,” educational offerings “products,” and extracurricular and other options “value-added.” The marketization of education is by and large seen as a negative by American academics, who lament the contemporary commodification of higher education, part of which is indexed by the increasingly transnational nature of universities and the neoliberal orientation of international curricula. Gulf-based projects such as Education City in Qatar and Knowledge Village in Dubai seem to be prime examples of these processes, particularly in light of recent WTO negotiations to further liberalize the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), which specifically includes higher education as a commodity service.

Gulf governments, faced with large demographic imbalances between citizens and expatriates, who make up the majority of the workforce in many countries, find foreign universities attractive because they provide educational opportunities for citizens that make them competitive both at home and abroad, and because they will potentially generate—after large initial investments—non-oil revenue. Foreign universities are also attractive to expatriates, who are barred from attending state schools. However, these students, particularly those who have spent their lives in the Gulf, are simultaneously inculcated into parochial national identities and an exclusion from the UAE nation-state. In addition, and perhaps conversely, the globalized American university, lamented by scholars as an erosion of the liberal ideals of the university, is providing space and opportunities for unexpected liberal politicizations and calls for rights by South Asian young people in Dubai.

When I asked Indian and Pakistani young people who attended these schools to talk about their childhood experiences, I learned that they grew up almost exclusively in South Asian social and cultural circles. Their family friends, their neighborhoods, their own friends, their schools, their leisure activities—these all produced for them a sense of Dubai (pictured here) as an Indian or Pakistani ethnic space in which they did not experience a lack of citizenship or belonging. Only in the university setting, when they began to interact with Emiratis and other expatriates, often for the first time in their lives, did they seem to develop a greater sense of the citizen/non-citizen hierarchy and the fact that they were in fact foreigners in their home. The university was a space in which all students were technically on equal footing—they had equal access to facilities, they excelled based on grades and not ethnicity, and they interacted socially with a wide range of different nationalities and ethnic groups. However, it was the very space of the academy that highlighted to my informants their difference from other groups, for they experienced direct racism and practices of self-entitlement from their peers.

While primary and secondary education in the UAE tends to follow national lines, higher education is very diverse. AUS, for example, is home to students from over seventy nationalities. For almost all of the students at universities such as this one, diversity is experienced up close in ways that it has not been before, even though they have lived their lives in a very international space. In Dubai, social, cultural, geographic, and work spaces are very segregated and defined by systemic inequalities. By entering a university space that is modeled, in most cases, on American academic institutions, these young people are placed on equal footing, at least theoretically. However, my informants recounted many incidents that made the transition into this type of egalitarian space very interesting and sometimes difficult. All of the young people whom I spoke to about being South Asian in Gulf universities told me that the thing they found most difficult was the behavior of Emirati and other Gulf Arab nationals. In our conversations, they spoke of incidents in which “locals” would cut in front of them in the cafeteria line, would expect them to share their notes and even their homework, and would speak in Arabic in mixed Arab/non-Arab social gatherings in ways that made them feel excluded. It is unclear just to what extent the social hierarchies outside of the university impact what goes on in the university itself, but while students are afforded more equality than they would be under the UAE’s legal system or in the workplace, there are inevitably ways in which these distinctions between groups seep into the university setting. AUS is an excellent example. The university, with which I was affiliated during my fieldwork, was definitely more open to the study of expatriate groups in the UAE than national universities would have been. AUS seemed happy to sponsor my residency and the professors I spoke to in the International Studies department were interested in my topic. However, after spending many days at AUS, I began to see some unique entanglements of American academic ideals and UAE societal structures.

While AUS has a stated policy of non-discrimination, houses students of all nationalities together, and attempts to enforce egalitarianism in terms of grades and even rules against cutting in line, the staff and faculty pay structures are still nationality-based. Of course the university has an official stance on fairness, but several people I spoke to at the university, both white and Indian, told me that Indians get paid less for the same jobs, particularly administrative positions. The low-wage work such as landscaping and cleaning is almost 100% done by South Asians.

Because AUS is in Sharjah, it also follows some of Sharjah’s strict decency laws. Men and women are housed in separate dormitories on different sides of the campus and women have a curfew that they have to follow or they are reported to their parents. In addition, tank tops and short skirts are banned from campus, as is any public display of affection between men and women. In the classroom itself, which often has members of the ruling families as students, faculty members do practice a certain amount of self-censorship. They do not criticize social and economic hierarchies in front of their students because they never know how influential or connected their students might be. While American universities exist in the Gulf, tenure, if available, is tied to US home universities, and jobs are bound to visas that can be revoked at any time for any reason. Classes at these universities teach Islamic cultural history and Gulf Studies, but they do not provide much information about expatriate communities or their histories in the Gulf. Professors also told me how divisive the classroom can become when they broach topics such as migration, so they tended to tread very lightly or avoid such topics altogether.

Experiences such as the ones above, inside and outside of the classroom, were the focus of my informants’ narratives about their feelings of being “second-class” in the UAE. Ironically, it was the egalitarian platform of the university, and not the segregated environment of their childhoods, that showed them the realities of inequalities in the UAE. For these young people, then, the university experience was doubly unsettling—they had to face the impending realities of perhaps settling outside of the Gulf, and they had to face the knowledge that they did not belong in the place where they felt most at home.

This personal politicization is an unintended consequence of the private university system in places like Dubai. So, as more and more South Asian migrants raise their children in Dubai, and my informants themselves start families in the Gulf, what impact will the growing number of international universities have on the Indian community? These young people were among the first to experience not having to go abroad for higher education, and despite their sense of being temporary, many were settling down (without feeling “settled”) in Dubai. In fact, some had already procured jobs in Dubai or taken over their fathers’ businesses. The sense of insecurity and the idea that they would have to move abroad did not translate to an actual move in many cases. However, the tenuousness of their lives in Dubai hindered actual assertions of political belonging.

I left Dubai feeling that the “system” was less fixed than I felt when I arrived. The differences in politicization between young Dubai-born Indians and those in their parents’ generation were stark. These young people spoke of citizenship and rights with a sense of injustice and entitlement, and in so doing, they laid claim to Dubai in ways their parents did not. The opportunity to remain in Dubai uninterrupted, as it becomes the norm for middle-class South Asian families, might increase these feelings and lead to forms of resistance and activism that the young people I interviewed did not presently consider a possibility. And the demographic impacts of expatriates who are educated in the Gulf are unclear. On the one hand, citizens have access to more education and training; on the other hand, expatriates who do not ever have to leave may begin actively to assert belonging in the domains they previously accepted as unavailable to them, like the nation.

Neha Vora