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«Uncle Sam Wants You» | Clóvis Rossi

Veteran Folha de S. Paulo columnist Clóvis Rossi reports on efforts to increase the flow of academic exchanges between the U.S. and Brazil.

I translate a selection.

In Dilma’s case, the American hunger for Brazilian exchange students matches the president’s own appetites: she has adopted the program as a personal priority and trumpeted it in all the countries she has visited.

For those who have not heard of the program, Science Without Borders seeks to promote the consolidation, expansion and internationalization of science and technology, driving Brazilian innovation and competition through academic exchange and international mobility.

Finding qualified applicants for the government program is managed by the Institute of International Education, about which more later. 

The program provides for 101,000 full scholarships for Brazilian students, 75,000 of them financed by the government and the remainder by private enterprise. Obviously, the U.S. is not its only partner, but it is the largest: within four years, its plan is to place 50,000 Brazilian students in U.S. universities.

Imagine that a quarter of these keep a Web log of their experience.

There will always be «americaphobes» who say that Uncle Sam is trying to brainwash us poor ignorant Tupi indians. But this is nonsense. Only those who fail to use their brains suffer brainwashing.

After all, China — today the principal rival to the U.S. — is the country that sends the most students to U.S. universities — 202,000 in the academic year 2010/11.

What drives American diplomacy is the firm conviction that the “American way of life” is seductive enough to capture hearts and minds, especially in the universities. After, 13 of the 20 most renowned academic institutions in the world are American. Of the other seven, 5 are English-speaking — a fact that has stymied the expansion of the scholarship program.

Rossi goes on to discuss the problematic state of English-language education in Brazil. It is indeed a dismal scenario, but then again, U.S. universities do not prepare legions of Lusophones either.

In the meantime, the Estado reports on the irritation of Brazilian diplomacy with the treatment of Brazilian scholarship students.

Dilma Rousseff landed in London yesterday and attacked Great Britain over the treatment afforded to Brazilian fellowship students from the Brazilian government’s Science Without Borders program. In a meeting with PM David Cameron, Dilma made no attempt to hide the government’s qualms over the difficulties faced by students and researchers in receiving a visa.

The government says Britain is obstructing the concession of visas by, among other things, requiring an English test which, in the view of Brazilian diplomats, is designed to keep Brazilians out. Britain is also said to be limiting the visa holder’s stay, which then expires before the term of the fellowship, which in most cases runs from 12 to 15 months. Finally, the Brazilian claim that students are being lumped together with immigrants. For Brazilians who visit England as tourists there is no  visa required for stays of up to 3 months.

The government is irritated because the fellowship students receive public funds that benefit the British economy to the detriment of the fellows.

The Phantom Critique

The program had been the subject of criticism earlier in the week in an article published by the Estado de S. Paulo — the anti-American straw man alluded to but not speeled out in Rossi’s argument, I would guess.

The program apparently figures in the negotiations with striking university instructors in some way. Let me read up on that. Brazil’s education sector is hellishly complicated.

In any event, the program issued a request for correction to the Estado. I translate

On July 25 of this year O Estado de S. Paulo published an article on Science Without Borders — Ciência sem Fronteiras (CsF) — headlined “Program is criticized at meeting of Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science (SBPC).” The statements attributed to the president of the (SBPC), Helena Nader, and the National Association of Graduate Students (ANPG), Luana Bonone, were taken out of context and do not reflect the views of these two leaders.

With regard to your story, SBPC and ANPG wish to clarify that

1. Contrary to the impression given by the Estadão, the SBPC and ANPG are wholeheartedly behind the CsF program, in the belief that it will improve the education of a large number of excellent Brazilian researchers.

2. SBPC and ANPG consider the CsF to be an important mechanism for the internationalization of Brazilian science, an objective featured, by the way, in the latest National Post-Graduate Education Program.

3. The SBPC and the ANPG believe that because the program is still very recent, it will require adjustments to ensure its continuous improvement.

4. An issue of concern to both  SBPC and ANPG is how CAPES and CNPq are working to guarantee the return of these scientists, affording them the opportunity to implement at home what they have learned overseas and to increase the output of Brazilian scientific research.

There it is, the crux of the question: brain drain, to which we can add the patent wars and the dubious, to some, neutrality of the scientific commons.

CAPES promotes the expansion of graduate and post-graduate education. CNPq is the National Council on Scientific and Technological Development.

5. With that, the SBPC and ANPG would ask the Estado to correct the information it published.

The IIE

The IIE, which brokers aid for Brazilian and U.S. candidates for exchange programs, is managed mostly by venture capitalists and receives corporate support from global companies and organizations active in Brazil, such as

  1. GE
  2. Dupont
  3. NASA
  4. International Paper
  5. NCR
  6. * Braskem
  7. The Smithsonian
  8. * AES
  9. AMGEN
  10. Boeing

As to Boeing and GE, the Brazilians are exceedingly jealous of incursions into the market for their home-grown Embraer civilian aircraft and the SuperTucano turboprop fighter — I like to call it the «Killer Cessna». It has been sold to the Colombians, who used it to take out the legendary FARC leader Tirafijo.

The Tale So Far

Let me just put it this way: you can find influential Brazilians sympathetic to the view that Brazil ought to be producing its own Nature, History and Discovery Channels that put Brazilians in front of the camera rather than behind the screen in the dubbing room and Foley stage.

Bart Simpson, voiced by a woman in the original, comes out sounding like a mixture of Goofy and Sean Penn in Fast Times at Ridgemont High

A bone of contention in this same vein has been the use of the Alcantara missile launching station in Maranhão, in return for which the Tupi government has reportedly asked for much more generous technology sharing.

The same logic applies to software acquisition, where incentives for use of open source software is in place to the detriment — in theory — of software houses that charge royalties.

Making my living as I do translating academic and some governmental research and outreach, among other things, I tend to root for a richer flow of memes between our two great nations, and all that stuff.

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