Daniel C. Levy, distinguished professor of education administration and policy studies at the State University of New York at Albany sends me the posting below:
Your sad blog
Sometimes, Simon, I fear you’re at your best when the system is at its worst. The critique, delivered soberly, is blistering.
• I may be a little unclear on the implied periodization. There’s the contextual distinction between Brazil’s and Latin America’s public (national) sector but then the Renato de Souza proposals show that in reality the distinction wasn’t as sharp as we might’ve hoped (for Brazil’s sake). While I’d always figured that the contrast was valid and indeed fundamental, I’d also figured that the large expansion of the federal system in absolute terms and particularly in poorer states with fewer well prepared students and faculty greatly limited the contrast. I’m struck also by the strong association of the private sector with access for the poorer students; of course that’s largely true in the Brazilian/Asian trajectory as opposed to the Spanish American, but I’d thought that the expansion of the federal sector meant there was also considerable SES overlap.
• Probably I’d also underestimated the breadth of the Renato failure or of the Lula looseness. Lula’s Prouni seemed sensible. Though I was aware of the social quotas, I hadn’t realized the federal system was commanded to nearly double its size (of course upon a weak human resource & financial resource base) or the extent of CEFET academic drift (really too weak a term for such political processes)with reward parity with universities. A system that only maintains per student expenditure while doubling its intake, which means reaching less privileged students, invites grave problems in performance and academic and social legitimacy. I guess proponents believe such progressivism will be healthy in the long run as well as politically expedient in the short run but maybe this thought is too generous.
• While the reforms you valiantly continue to advocate are surely the right ones, it’s difficult to be hopeful. To me, a huge advantage Brazil enjoyed and took considerable advantage of in the period I focused on in my last book (To Export Progress: The Golden Age of university assistance in Latin America, 2005) lay in its late development. The taking advantage was building sane structures and practices, with differentiation including restrictiveness. Once that crumbles reform requires undoing expanded and entrenched structures and interests. We have positive examples globally of increasing institutional autonomy with some increase in evaluation too but rarely of differentiation after a system is made so homogeneous in policy.
• The sad tale makes one think more about not only the distinction between Brazil and Latin America in higher education but between the populist radical regimes and the populist moderate left regimes in Latin America. Of course there are differences in both arenas. Even you don’t drive even me to be so beaten down as to forget that.