Back from Brazil: Reflections on the potential of new partnerships

Tom Traves on Canada's largest-ever education mission to Brazil

- May 10, 2012

President Traves signs an agreement with Fernando Coasta (centre), rector of the University of Campinas, and the Hon. Gary Goodyear, Canada's minister of state for science and technology.
President Traves signs an agreement with Fernando Coasta (centre), rector of the University of Campinas, and the Hon. Gary Goodyear, Canada's minister of state for science and technology.

Last week, Dalhousie President Tom Traves returned from Brazil with a slight cough, seven new agreements with major universities and funding agencies, and a first-hand perspective on one of the most exciting recruitment and research opportunities facing Canadian universities in the years ahead.

“It’s unprecedented that a country would create a scholarship program along the lines that Brazil has done with Science Without Borders program — 100,000 scholarships, over a four-year period, for students from Brazil to study abroad,” explains Dr. Traves. “That’s a remarkable development.”

The program sparked Canada’s largest-ever international education mission to Brazil – an AUCC (Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada) delegation of 30 university presidents, led by Governor General David Johnston, on an eight-day, four-city trip to showcase Canada’s universities and strengthen relationships with a rapidly-growing economic powerhouse.

The delegation travelled to Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Brasilia and Campinas. Over the course of the trip, 75 new partnerships between Canadian universities and Brazilian institutions, scholarships and student mobility programs were announced. On Dalhousie’s part, Dr. Traves signed agreements with several of the universities visited, including University of Sao Paolo, State University of Sao Paolo and University of Campinas. These agreements will create new opportunities for student mobility and research collaboration.

Opening Dalhousie’s doors

It was also announced that Canada will receive 12,000 of the Science Without Borders students over the next three or four years – a very large allotment, considering Canada’s relative size to some of the other countries in the mix.

Dalhousie is eager to open its doors to those students. Dal is part of the CALDO consortium, a partnership of research-intensive Canadian universities that has launched a unique one-stop program-matching service to link prospective students from Brazil to the institution that best fits their interest.

Through CALDO, Dalhousie could welcome as many as 25 new students from Brazil this fall, and a working group of university leaders has already been struck to consider what unique accommodations might be needed, such as increased ESL support.

“It’s rare to have a notable increase in international students from one country,” says Dr. Traves. “There’s a great opportunity here to diversify the student body by attracting a significant number of Brazilian students, both undergraduate and graduate. Right now we have eight students from Brazil at Dal, but it would be really nice to have 80, or 280, in the future. That is a good thing in and of itself, and consistent with our long-term enrolment management plan.”

Research opportunities

As he travelled with the delegation, Dr. Traves toured major research centres, took part in a conference on international education, and met not only with students who are considering studying in Canada, but Dal alumni who now work in Brazil at universities or with the government.

“Brazil has a number of fine universities, and at Dalhousie we’ve had longstanding relationships with Brazilian academics, welcoming many graduate students in the past,” he says, adding that there are several areas where Brazil’s universities share common research interests with Dalhousie.

“Brazil is a country with a huge coastline, for example, along which most of its population lives. So they have a host of marine management and ocean-related public policy issues. And of course, Dalhousie is a global leader in exactly these areas, and we see real opportunities to pursue joint research and policy interests with them.”

Dr. Traves says that Canadian university collaborations with Brazil represent “a partnership of equals,” adding that he found their universities and research institutions extremely impressive. This isn’t surprising when you consider the extent of their investment: their national agricultural research agency, for example, has 2,000 researchers distributed across 50 different centres. And by law their national energy company, Petrobras, spends half of its $1.6 billion R&D budget in the university sector.

Partnering with an emerging powerhouse

Brazil’s ties to Canada are strong: Canada already has more investment in Brazil ($11 billion in 2009) than in India and China combined. The university sector is poised to be a significant part of that growing relationship.

“Brazil is emerging as a global power,” notes Dr. Traves. “They now have the sixth-largest economy in the world. They have all sorts of challenges and issues that they’re well aware of and are trying to address through government initiatives, including this scholarship fund, but they are going to be a country and a civilization that really matters in the long-term future.

“For both Dalhousie and Canada, it’s a relationship that ought to be further developed.”

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