The Methodist University of Sao Paulo (UMESP) is a privately-owned, philanthropic institution that began life as a faculty for theology in Sao Bernardo de Campos, Sao Paulo state, in 1938. In 1997 it was formally granted university status, with its three campuses in Sao Bernardo de Campos and one in Sao Paulo itself specialising in humanities, biology, business and technology. Its communications course was named the best in the country, and now Luciano Sathler, himself a communications specialist, is part of the team seeking to extend UMESP’s international reach to help further expand the university in tandem with the country’s growing demand for higher education places.
The Report Company: What direction do you believe Brazil’s education system should follow in the coming decade?
Luciano Sathler: The universalisation of education in Brazil is now a reality. Considering our illiteracy levels in the 1950s, we have moved forward reasonably fast, and with the constitution of 1988, the eradication of illiteracy has really become a priority for the government. Universalisation means that every child has to be in school, but even now attendance in high schools is low and there are large discrepancies between age and grade, because of truancy or failing one year or another. Plus, there is a great bottleneck in higher education. According to the ministry of education’s higher education census, there are seven million students in higher education and most of them are in private sector. The figure should be twice that.
We have achieved universalisation, but the strategy employed up to now is no longer sufficient. We now have to work on quality, not quantity, especially for basic education. For higher education, quality remains a keyword, too, but access is also very important. Around 74 percent of higher education places in Brazil are in the private sector, which is unusual, as in other countries public schools dominate.
Since the public sector is not efficient enough in Brazil, especially for basic services like education, health and safety, some kind of partnership between the public and the private sectors should be created to ensure access to higher education. We need to work on several different fronts such as innovation and applied technology in higher education. In order for the country to advance in our current era of information, the so-called STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) disciplines are very important, so our higher education sector needs to be redirected. Even the private sector won't be able to do it without the support of the public sector, and only then it will be able to handle things like applied research, technology, development, internationalisation, international partnerships, bilingual professors and students.
As for basic education, the challenge is how to improve quality in a continent-sized country with regional and cultural inequalities, where income concentration produces dependency with no desire to improve basic education standards. To achieve public, high-quality, basic education schools, we have serious problems to overcome, both with infrastructure, because some schools have no sewage system, water or electricity, and with the training of teachers. Limited teachers make limited pupils, after all. If teachers are not excited and well trained, they will not be able to stimulate their students positively to reach their potential. We also have the problem of functional illiteracy, which is very high in basic education and even exists in higher education.
“We have achieved universalisation, but the strategy employed up to now is no longer sufficient. We now have to work on quality, not quantity, especially for basic education.”Tweet This
TRC: What could a partnership bring to UMESP?
LS: I see benefits when we talk about partnerships to support us in our project of maintaining the tradition and quality of our institutions. We have been present for 140 years and we reorganised as a network of schools in the last six years. We are professionalising our management and engaging our education system with new technology tools. This will allow us to last another 140 years.
TRC: Do you think that higher education institutions need to become more business-minded in order to succeed?
LS: We are a philanthropic, community-oriented institution and we will grow and become stronger, but our results will not fill anyone's pockets. Our profits will be reinvested fully in the institution.
TRC: Does UMESP value the idea of internationalisation?
LS: This is an absolute priority for us. As part of our strategy, our president was elected the president of International Association of Methodist-related Schools, Colleges, and Universities (IAMSCU), but we are still developing our strategy to become truly international.
I was the Latin American president of the World Association for Christian Communication (WACC) and we participated in two UN meetings in Geneva and Tunisia and the World Summit on the Information Society. More recently, we created a group to conceive a fundraising strategy to run alongside the internationalisation strategy for students, professors and research projects. The Methodist Church was created in the UK and, although it grew more in the US, there are a lot of Methodist churches there. As a Methodist university and a network, we are looking for partnerships both with companies and other educational institutions that have an interest in, or relationship with, Brazil.
“The challenge is how to improve quality in a continent-sized country with regional and cultural inequalities.”Tweet This