When I wrote about some of the reasons Brazil's president should reschedule her Washington visit last week, I mentioned that Brazil had yet to crack the top 10 countries that sends university students to the United States. But the Institute of International Education just released their new statistics for the 2013-2014 school year, and there's good news: Brazil is now number 10 in the world of countries that send students to the U.S., with a 22.2 percent increase from the previous year. Brazilians now make up 2 percent of the foreign student population in the U.S., the same as Mexico and Japan, and close to Canada (3 percent). This is partially a result of the government's Science Without Borders program, which has provided nearly 75,000 scholarships for students to pursue advanced degrees abroad since 2011.
The flows in the other direction, however, are still lagging. The number of U.S. students studying in Latin America and the Caribbean rose only 1.8 percent in 2013; the number of students going to Brazil rose around 4 percent during the same period. There's potential for a bigger increase, though, as a new innovation fund launched this year will provide funding to encourage and fund U.S. study abroad in the Americas.
Besides defraying the costs of studying in both countries, one major factor is language. The Brazilian government realized what a big issue this was given challenges some students were facing once they got into classrooms abroad, and it's especially difficult for those who may not have been able to afford extracurricular language classes or bilingual school during their secondary education.
Just today, the government announced the launch of Languages Without Borders, a program like Science Without Borders that will offer scholarships for university students and professors to learn a foreign language online, and in some cases, in another country. The government had previously begun offering free online English courses last year. Now, Languages Without Borders will also provide opportunities for foreigners to learn Portuguese. As someone in college who was intimidated by having to take classes in Portuguese and opted instead to go to Spanish-speaking countries, I think Brazil is on the right track. Now the United States needs to follow its lead by doing more to provide better funding and support for foreign language learning, especially languages like Portuguese, Chinese, and Spanish.
Photo: Science Without Borders students meet before traveling abroad, in 2012; Brazil's Ministry of Science and Technology.