Brazil cuts funding to universities accused of ‘disorder’

Brazil said Tuesday it has slashed funding by 30 percent to three public universities, which the education minister accused of creating “disorder” by hosting protests against the government of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.

The institutions targeted by the annual budget cuts — the Federal University of Bahia in the northeast (UFBA), Fluminense Federal University (UFF) in Niteroi near Rio de Janeiro, and the National University of Brasilia (UNB), recently hosted anti-fascism demonstrations or debates involving left-wing politicians. 

“Universities that create disorder instead of improving their academic performance will suffer budget cuts,” Abraham Weintraub told Brazilian daily Estado de Sao Paulo.

The budget cuts took effect last week, the ministry said in a statement.

The latest rankings of Latin American higher education institutions published by UK-based Times Higher Education show two of the three universities improved last year. 

UFBA rose to 30th place in 2018 from 71st in 2017, while UNB went from 19 to 16 in the rankings. The UFF remained in 45th position. 

“We received this news with surprise,” UFBA dean Joao Carlos Salles was quoted by Metro 1 news site as saying.

“We were aware of these budget cuts, but we wanted to know what the reasons were. If these are the reasons they are unjustified,” he said. 

“The university is a place for freedom of expression.”

Weintraub replaced Ricardo Velez Rodriguez, who was sacked earlier this month by Bolsonaro after he drew public ire over a range of controversial proposals. 

Bolsonaro sparked a heated debate on Friday by tweeting that his government was considering cutting public funds allocated to philosophy and sociology departments in universities.

“The goal is to focus on streams that generate an immediate return to the taxpayer, such as veterinary, engineering or medical studies,” he said.