Com base em estudo em colaboração com Elizabeth Balbachevsky sobre os possíveis impactos de uma política neo-populista de direita sobre o sistema universitário brasileiro, para publicação, oferecemos as seguintes conclusões, que compartilho aqui:

As argued above, populism is an old, well-ingrained component of modern Brazilian politics. A relevant trait of populist governments is their focus on serving the demands posed by the organized interest of groups, which are deemed to be part of the government’s vital constituencies, rather than the interests of the median voter. When it comes to public policies, populist governments tend to split them into a number of lines of action, each of them serving the interests of a particular constituency. This trait gives a patching flavor to entire policy subsystems.

In the current Brazilian experience, higher education policies experienced this dynamic in the left-oriented populism in the era of the Workers’ Party dominance. Not only higher education policies were split into a number of contradictory policy orientations, but also high impact decisions were made without consideration of the means for their sustainability in the medium and long term. Thus, for example, in the apex of the REUNI program, new campuses mushroomed everywhere. However, just three years after its adoption, the universities found out that there was no provision for the resources needed for making these new campuses fully functional. In the same way, when FIES was remodeled, the government contracted thousands of loans with students in the private sector without provisions that would guarantee their renovation for at least four years. When the golden era of the commodities boom ended, tens of thousands of students were left with debts they are supposed to pay, but without the promised support for them to finish their studies.

This style of policy-making creates a number of idiosyncratic dynamics inside the public universities, ranging for defensive moves in budgeting processes for protecting short-term local interests, to exacerbating the autonomy of subunits and internal constituencies, each of them searching for access to extra-budgetary resources that would support their specific agenda. Our more recent experience, with the far-right neo-populism and neo-nationalism are producing stresses of another nature.

Our more recent experience, with the far-right neo-populism and neo-nationalism are producing stresses of another nature. First, there is the combative tone adopted by the new Minister of Education. In his initial speeches, universities were often depicted as the enemy: a corrupted den dominated by the “cultural Marxism” that must be defeated. While just weeks ago the minister dropped from this open confrontational approach, the wounds are still open. The worst legacy of these clashes is the defensive mode adopted by all stakeholders when it comes to discussing the future of the Brazilian universities. As an institution under siege, there is no room to discuss change and reform. Any move in this direction is a threat that must be defeated by all means. This mood makes the public Brazilian university more conservative and averse to change and reform.

The most important threat to university life in these perilous days comes from two other sources: first, the reflexes of the radicalization that the Brazilian society has been enduring since the traumatic process of President Roussef’s impeachment. Radicalization has also been fed by the ghastly events of the 2018 electoral campaign, and by the clashes between left and right that marked the first months of the new government. Second, there are the repeated moves from the President and his collaborators disqualifying the policy-relevant knowledge produced not only by the university but also by public agencies and institutes.

As argued before, the worst long-term effect of these two processes is undermining the social role of Brazilian universities as social forums, the argumentative space for excellence, where social forces could experience new policy ideas, causal beliefs, frames, and policy paradigms. These dynamics impoverish the policymaking processes, making decisions more prone to voluntarism and improvisation, regardless of their viability, sustainability, and even consequences. For the university, the continuation of these dynamics saps its social relevance, diminishing the support it can muster inside the society to face new threats and challenges posed not only by the immediate political process but also by the changing social environment created by the emergence of the knowledge society.




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