Dreams of Brazil's youth fade as student loans cut
By Stephen Eisenhammer
RIO DE JANEIRO Jan 17 (Reuters) - About 3 million aspiring students in Brazil will find out this month whether they got one of just 230,000 places at a free public university. For many, this year there is no plan B.
Sunk in its worst recession in decades and with its budget under strain, Brazil's government has more than halved the number of low-interest loans it offers for poorer students to attend more numerous fee-paying private universities.
With most public university places going to wealthier students trained for the entrance exam at private schools, the cutbacks place at risk one of the leftist Workers Party's proudest achievements in its 13 years of rule - social mobility.
During a commodities-led economic boom last decade, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva increased education and welfare spending to help 35 million people escape poverty.
For poor Brazilians who miss out on the small number of free university places, a cheap loan from the Fund of Student Financing (FIES) is the best hope of funding a college education and joining the middle-class.
Brazilians who receive tertiary education earn on average 2.5 times more than those who do not, a bigger gap than any other country in the OECD, according to a 2011 study by the group of mostly developed nations.
Now, the reduction in FIES loans to 300,000 has left many struggling students in despair, and exposed the government's failure to undertake deep-rooted education reform.
"It's a really unfair system. Only the rich get the free places," Larissa Roriz, 18, said at a careers fair in a poor neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil's second-largest city. Continuación...