Michigan visit

Vera and I met a University of Michigan delegation and accompanied them to meetings at CAPES.  CAPES told the University of Michigan folks that CAPES asked IIE to respect existing MOUs, i.e. if universities have pre-existing agreements IIE will channel students toward them related to the terms of the MOU.   This, he said, is another good reason to come to Brazil and make agreements.

He explained how SwB is working now.  Most undergraduates are assigned through IIE.  Graduate students require a more granular process.  Laspau is administering the graduate programs and will make the selection of programs if prospective students do not have a place in mind.  However, with a conditional letter of acceptance from an American university, students can go to CAPES and receive SwB funding.  CAPES may also issue conditional letters of acceptance.  There is a kind of chicken & egg problem here.  Sometimes students cannot finish their applications and get conditional letters of acceptance w/o conditional letters of support but they cannot get conditional letters of support w/o conditional letters of acceptance.   

CAPES pays stipends of $1300/month.  This is enough in some cities but not everywhere.   There is a $400 addition for high-cost cities.  This is not a finished process and there is still a lot of fluidity.  Some universities supplement stipends. CAPES is getting good cooperation with firms.   There is a shortage of science and engineering talent in Brazil.  Firms are eager to tap into a potential source of the best and brightest applicants.   Sometimes they are very specific.  Petrobras, for example, is interested only in PhDs.  CAPES mentioned Boeing as a good partner.  Boeing sponsored fourteen students in the first group of SwB students.  CAPES didn’t need the money for scholarships this year and instead asked Boeing to sponsor internships.  Boeing will sponsor thirty-one interns this year.

Currently, there are more scholarships available than there are qualified applicants at the graduate level, i.e. every qualified applicant succeeds.  The Michigan folks asked how they could increase their numbers.    They would like to get 15-20 Brazilians a year in the graduate programs.   They said that they were more interested in getting top Brazilian students than in getting money.  CAPES suggested some common sense ways to get more students.  An obvious target market consists of students already at the school, i.e. undergraduates in science and maybe even SwB undergrads.  The challenge is finding them in a cost effective way.  CAPES has lists, but for privacy reasons cannot share them.  Michigan will have to use the old fashioned ways of meeting and greeting.

Applicants to PhD programs at Michigan do not require an MA, but those starting right out of UG will probably require five years to finish their doctorates.   CAPES will pay for only four years.  Michigan did not see this as a problem.  They can fund the fifth year, if needed.   Michigan guarantees support for all graduate students, conditioned on their continued good grades etc.  Michigan has admissions twice a year, although fall semester starts are much more common and graduates around 260 engineering PhDs each year.

The Michigan folks explained what they see as the strength of U.S. engineering students in general and Michigan in particular.   American schools are very welcoming to foreign students.  Michigan has a Brazilian student association and a Brazilian-American professor on the Michigan delegation assured At Michigan, students get lots of hand-on experience.  Michigan students and professors are well integrated with businesses.  There is lots of cross-fertilization, with academics providing brain power and theories and firms contributing money and a practical reality-check.  Making Brazilian education more like this is a goal of the SwB program.  Brazilian universities tend to have a more hands-off and even a vague dislike of working too closely with business.   Michigan has a research budget of $1.27 billion; the engineering departments have “only” $190 million.

CAPES asked the Michigan folks to send more students and especially PhD scholars to Brazil.  They want Brazil more connected to the bigger world of science and engineering.  They are not very worried about Brazilian students going overseas and not coming back.  This could happen sometimes, but Brazil is offering so many opportunities these days that they expect to provide good jobs for all Brazilian technology grads and then still have a labor shortage.  

In the interests of internationalization, CAPES, which evaluates and certifies all university programs in Brazil, is considering adding an international exchange component to its evaluation criteria.  A structure change like this is a big deal.  It will alter the incentive structure and so the reality of how the system works.