Minas Gerais is full of good universities. We visited three: PUC-Minas, UNA and UFMG.
PUC-Minas is the largest PUC in the world with more than 56,000 students. The campus is beautiful as you can see from the pictures. We visited with some of the university leadership and then did a talk about the U.S. education system. I was surprised by the crowd. It filled the lecture hall and they said that they had to move to a bigger room. This turned out to be the general rule in Belo Horizonte. I think it is because they don’t see diplomats as often as people in Rio or São Paulo. We are always delivering our talks in Portuguese, which I also think is important.
UNA is a private for profit university. It has ten campuses around Minas. There was real professionalism around the place and they are obviously prospering. For-profit institutions present a bit of a dilemma for us. Of course, we can cooperate with them, but making grants etc. is a problem. Some of these schools, like UNA, are very well run and they attract ambitious, upwardly mobile people and they can be very flexible and innovative.
We did a lecture there too, to another very full room. I was particularly impressed that they got this big crowd at 8pm on a Friday night. I had underestimated the ambition of the students. Some came to see us, but it was not uncommon for them to be at school at night. In fact, after our hour-long talk, many of them went on to even later classes. You have to respect their discipline.
Finally, we went to the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG), another great university. This visit was the ostensible reason for coming to Belo Horizonte. We were meeting returned Science w/o Borders students. We did a focus group with about sixteen of them. Their experience in the U.S. was good. Like others we have met, they talked about the greater flexibility and hands-on approach in the U.S. They were impressed with simple things, such as professors being on time and keeping office hours. Their principle problems related to coming back home. Some said they were having trouble getting their credits properly recognized.
Our focus groups are very useful not only because we learn a few things but also because it is good general contact work. Students are pleased that we come out to talk to them. I am really interested in their impressions. As I wrote in other places, focus groups are not statistically valid, but as I am getting more and more of similar comments I am getting more confident that the picture is accurate. SwB is working and it is benefiting both our countries.