Forging Radical Alternatives in Higher Education: The Case of Brazil

Tristan McCowan


In recent years, new forms of higher education have emerged that challenge many of our assumptions about what a university is. In Brazil there has been a particular flowering of these alternative universities, on account of the wave of popular mobilisation following the end of the military dictatorship, aided by political support from the centre. These new institutions are characterised by distinctive aims or missions, whether relating to a particular ethnic or cultural group, a social or political movement, regional unity and intercultural exchange, or a spiritual calling. This article assesses the role and prospects of these institutions and analyses the ways in which they have positioned themselves in relation to the mainstream. The two factors of resources and recognition are found to be critical elements in ensuring their viability and success. However, dependence on funders and conformity with accreditation requirements also constrain the possibilities of embodying their distinctive vision. Finally, broader implications are drawn out for understandings of educational institutions, in light of Illich’s deschooling critique.


Alternative universities; Brazil; deschooling; higher education reform; institutional theory

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