O Estado de S.Paulo, 8/6/2012
Following a series of strikes at Brazil’s federal universities which started in May 2012, Simon Schwartzman, an education expert and a past Fellow of the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, offered comments in an interview to daily O Estado de S.Paulo. This is a summary of the interview, available here in the original version in Portuguese.
While many on strike argue that all professors should be paid equally in order to create a better environment for education, Schwartzman offers some insight on the importance of prioritizing performance.
Labor unions leaders have stated that equal pay helps to protect the academic autonomy of the federal universities. Schwartzman believes, however, that upholding merit of teaching is an integral aspect of Brazil’s system of higher education. Universities could improve by observing performance, assessing professors and analyzing feedback from peers and students to see how professors compare. With external assessment, the professor’s performance can be objectively assessed. An outstanding performance would be awarded with higher pay or even promotions. This is precisely the autonomy that Schwartzman argues labor unions should strive for, which is finding the most successful teaching methods and exercising them. Without this system of performance-based evaluation, Schwartzman says Brazil’s federal universities could enter a vicious cycle of uninspiring teaching and a lack of motivation from students to research and innovate. When this happens, disenchanted professors and students transfer to private universities, further hurting the education integrity of public universities.
Brazil could learn a lesson from the myriad of public universities world-wide that charge tuition fees. Schwartzman suggests by charging tuition to those who can afford it and offer scholarships to those who cannot, Brazil’s public universities could gain some financial autonomy and gain the freedom to decide how they fund programs, research, and development of the university.