Higher Education Should Strive to Sharpen Minds, According to Minister of Education

Video - Minister Renato Janine Ribeiro

In the assessment of Renato Janine Ribeiro, Minister of Education, the university of the future should be conceived in terms not only of training for specific careers, but also of comprehensive cultural development to broaden and diversify people’s worldview. He spoke on this issue at a workshop with participants of the Intercontinental Academia (ICA) held on the morning of Friday, April 24.

Janine, who is also member of the IEA’s scientific committee for the ICA and coordinator of the institute’s The Future Beckons research group, stressed that his exposition was not an official speech as minister, but a utopian exercise aimed at reflecting on what the university might become in the next forty or fifty years.

For him, the main issue to consider when imagining the university of the future is the need to go beyond professionalization: “We must think of a higher education system more concerned with sharpening minds to help them understand reality better.”

The professional life of many graduates from some of the most popular university courses in Brazil attest the need for change. According to Janine, nearly 20% of medical school graduates do not go on to become doctors. “This should set off an alarm signal, because students devote six years to a very difficult and very specific course and then leave everything aside,” he noted.

The situation is more worrisome in law schools. The minister said that although data are not accurate, most graduates do not pass OAB’s bar exam and, therefore, do not practice law. The same pattern is repeated in management courses and many others. “We are convinced that we have to change our curricula to offer broader university courses.” The first step toward this, he pondered, is to revamp the agendas of the universities and prepare them for changes that are already underway, two of which he underlined: diminishing social inequality and increased longevity.


Recalling ideas of French thinker Alexis de Tocqueville, “a shrewd observer of the 19th century political scene,” Janine said we are moving into an increasingly egalitarian world, in which social inequalities will not disappear but will lose their old justifications, a world that will see significant advances in the rights of those who were formerly excluded from it.

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Minister Renato Janine Ribeiro“Looking at the past 250 years, one can see that equality has indeed increased in terms of social justice, freedom and diversity, with greater inclusion of women and other groups historically discriminated against,” he said.

Social mobility in Brazil over the past decade would be example of this. Janine recalled the well-known images of the social pyramid and lozenge: in 2005, Brazilian society could be represented by a pyramid: a base made up of 100 million people in conditions of great poverty and misery, the so-called D and E classes; the mid-range, corresponding to the C class, had 50 million people; and at the top were the 40 million that constituted the privileged A and B classes.

By 2010, the pyramid had given way to a diamond-shaped lozenge: the base was reduced to 50 million people; the mid-range doubled in size to encompass 100 million people; and the top richest gained momentum, rising to 50 million. “In five years, 25% of the population in extreme poverty joined the C class, acquiring lower middle class status.”

If society is becoming more egalitarian, Janine reckoned, one can assume that access to university will tend to become a universal right. “If we hope get close to providing higher education to everyone that wishes, the university will have to be different: it cannot continue to focus on professional training, but must provide an overall cultural education that gives meaning to people’s lives,” he concluded. The university will become part of the life of every citizen and an expression of the education required for a person achieve personal and professional fulfillment in life.

In his view, Brazil is already moving toward broad access to higher education, although it is still far from reaching the ultimate goal. He cited some data to support his point of view: in 1968, when he became a Philosophy undergraduate, Brazilian universities had approximately 100,000 students. In 2003, the number was already slightly more than 3 million, and today it exceeds 7 million, or 20% of the population in the 20-29 age bracket. “When a country reaches the 15% tier, it ceases to be elitist in terms of access to higher education. Thus, we are currently no longer an elitist nation. We still have a long way to go, to be sure, but we have progressed,” he said.


The second transformation mentioned by Janine refers to the exponential increase in the population’s life expectancy. According to the minister, we are moving toward a time when to live 100 years will no longer be an exceptional feat and will become commonplace. “In this new world, the choices you make when you’re 20 cannot determine the results you will obtain when you’re 60,” he warned.

For Janine, increased longevity brings up the question of openness to changes, which are likely to become more frequent as age advances. That’s because people that live longer remain in the labor market for a longer period and will have more time to change their professional career.

“Currently, we deem it more important that you remain true to the profession you studied than faithful to your partner. But we live in a world where

Workshop with minister Renato Janine Ribeiro on the University of the Future - April 24, 2015

 changes happen and are normal. People will change their identity several times throughout their life, and this includes changes in occupation and jobs,” he said.

The new scenario on the horizon imposes a more flexible university system, the minister explained, capable of preparing students to shift from one area to another, without this being seen as a sign of failure or immaturity. He questioned the current mindset that sees the withdrawal from a university course as a personal failure. “Why? Life goes on. You have to accept the idea of change. A college degree cannot dictate one’s future life and need not be a definitive professional milestone.”


To explain the model of the university of the future he has in mind, Janine used as an example the project of an experimental interdisciplinary humanities course that he developed for the University of São Paulo, but was never implemented.

The course was divided in four semesters, the first of which would have “Modernity” as its central theme: the disciplines would revolve around the emergence of the modern age and would discuss above all rationalism, relying on authors like Descartes, Durkheim and Max Weber. The perspective of the visual arts and literature would also be included, with analyses of novels centered on problematic heroes, such as Don Quixote and Madame Bovary, which represent  “the shadow, the dark side of Modernity,” he said.

The second semester would offer disciplines centered in anthropology and in antiquity, and would establish a counterpoint to modernity. The third would include disciplines enabled students to discuss post-modernity, focusing on contemporary thought and on critiques to modern thinkers.

According to Janine, the course was designed to offer students different views on the same subject. Sociology, for instance, is concerned with studying the flaws of modernity. Anthropology is averse to modernity and does not believe in progress and in a hierarchy of cultures. And Political Science tends to believe that the world can be better if it becomes more rational, which is what modern thinkers assume.

“The courses would not be mere expositions of content, but different lenses through which to see social phenomena. Students would learn to analyze events from the most appropriate perspective. There is no single universal lens.”

He said that, much like the university of the future, the course would broaden people’s worldview. “We must become cultural and scientific polyglots; we must know the different areas and disciplines and how to integrate them,” he said.

In addition to Janine’s conference, the ICA program includes two others sessions that discuss the theme “University:” a master class on the 80th anniversary of the University of São Paulo, with former president José Goldemberg, which took place on April 20, and a debate with university presidents and education experts about the future of the university, held on the afternoon of Friday, April 24.