Brazil is not a country that receives a great deal of attention in the UK media: just the occasional flurry of interest around election time. One measure of this is the steady decline in the number of Latin America studies centres in UK universities. Many were set up in the 1960s; but more recently, and regrettably, they have died off one by one.
This is unfortunate: what happens in Brazil matters for the UK and the world. Brazil is the largest country in South America, occupying nearly half of the continent's landmass; the seventh largest country in the world by population with over 216 million people; and the ninth largest by national income (GDP). It has the world’s greatest wealth of biodiversity with 10% of known species found within its borders - including 100,000 different types of insects.
Some 238 languages are spoken, reflecting the country's diverse history and population - São Paulo is the third largest ‘Italian’ city in the world, and Brazil has the largest community of ethnic Japanese outside of Japan. Brazil is perhaps best known for the Amazon: around 60% of the rainforest is located within its borders, acting as a crucial carbon sink and mitigating the effects of climate change. It is also home to the world's largest tropical wetland: the Pantanal, located in western Brazil. The country is a global leader in the production and use of renewable energy, with over 40% of its electricity generated from hydropower.
The University of Birmingham’s decision to launch officially our Brazil Institute. This caps over 10 years of strategic engagement by the University in Brazil. Over that time, we have developed a profile as one of the most committed UK institutions in Brazil.Professor Robin Mason ORB, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (International), University of Birmingham
Of course, Brazil has faced well-known challenges over the last decade or so. It continues to have high inflation, low growth, high unemployment rates, and one of the highest levels of income inequality in the world. Under Bolsonaro, higher education budgets were slashed, and the country turned inwards. But the new government in Brazil brings some hope of improved prospects for the country. The phrase that is being used is "Brazil is back". De Gaulle may once wryly have said "Brazil is the country of the future… and always will be". There is, though, a real sense of Brazil re-emerging to occupy its rightful place on the international stage.
That, then, is the backdrop to the University of Birmingham’s decision to launch officially our Brazil Institute. This caps over 10 years of strategic engagement by the University in Brazil. Over that time, we have developed a profile as one of the most committed UK institutions in Brazil. In May, this was recognised by Brazil's Minister of Education, Camilo Santana, with whom we signed a protocol of intent setting out the shared commitment to collaborate more closely through the establishment of a Brazil Institute at the University. The event was hosted by the then-Ambassador, His Excellency Fred Arruda; Professor Mercedes Bustamante, the President of CAPES (the Brazilian federal government higher education agency), also attended. We are the only UK institution with an agreement of this type with Brazil's Ministry.
All this helps to support the distinctive portfolio the University has in Brazil: a set of projects often defined by place-based relevance. Our collaborations with Brazilian research partners in health, nanotechnology, environmental science, transport, and energy address the key challenges that have impact in not only Brazil and the UK, but the rest of the world. The power of partnership is demonstrated in the way that we combine distinctive expertise with state-of-the-art facilities. A prime example is the Chico Mendes Visiting Chair Programme, awarded to us by CAPES to advance academic excellence in sustainability and social justice.
Birmingham’s ambition through our new Institute is to deepen and widen the University’s engagement with Brazil; to contribute to strengthening the partnership between the UK and Brazil; and to be recognised internationally as the leading UK centre for Brazilian engagement. We officially launch the Institute on the 24 November 2023, where the new Ambassador of Brazil to the UK, His Excellency Antonio Patriota, will declare that "Brazil is back", and where we will showcase some of the great work that we are involved in with Brazil.